My last two posts focused on seasons one and two of Darker Than Black, a niche action Anime that I’ve been obsessed with over the past month for its flaws just as much as what is good about it. However, since the OVA is only four episodes, I may as well make the review short and sweet and then finally assess this series as a whole. If You’d like to read my other reviews to catch up, I will link them below.
With that squared away, let’s get to the good stuff.
This short but sweet OVA takes place between both seasons and follows Hei and Yin as they attempt to run from the Syndicate and live a happy life together. However, Hei’s rather antisocial and distant habits are hard to break and there is a feeling that they won’t be able to get away no matter how hard they try. To make matters worse, Yin is evolving as a doll, causing her to act almost like a completely different person.
In just four episodes, we see how Yin becomes possessed by Izanami (the villain from season two), apprehended by Section 3, and how Hei started working for the CIA, leading right into the opening events of Gemini of the Meteor. It is a lot of ground to cover and while the show realistically checks off all those boxes, I never felt like the story revelations discovered here made the story of Gemini any less stupid.
The story in these four episodes is still superior to that of Gemini, what with Yin’s inner turmoil and Hei’s efforts to protect her. this season further expands upon the theme of contractors evolving in a way and does so in an interesting way. My biggest complaint is that I didn’t feel that emotionally attached. Were this short OVA a longer third season perhaps this would have been the redemption of the series. At the very least, Hei is much more likable than in Gemini.
Having an entire arc dedicated to Hei prior to the events of season two allows us to see what made him revert to being so dark in season two. In terms of his relationship to Yin, he is exactly what I was expecting him to be. Even with better writing though, he still isn’t quite what he used to be. Once again, Hei’s character arc in season one saw him become more emotional and human while still being badass where it counted.
The main conflict of the OVA should have been Hei trying to peel off that mask only to be crushed by Yin’s disappearance. Obviously, this wouldn’t change Hei’s complete bastardization in season two but at least it would have contextualized things. Besides, if we start talking about how to improve season two, we’ll be here all day and I already have a review where I rant about that enough. The rest of the characters aren’t exactly super memorable either.
Yin is cool because we see the evolution that made her so much more interesting, but also the downside to that evolution and how she battles with this entity trying to control her. Apart from her, the supporting cast isn’t all that memorable, but at least the contractors have cool super powers which lend themselves to better fights and the OVA is no exception.
You know, Darker Than Black really forgot that one of its major strengths was in the sheer likability of the supporting cast. This was because of better writing and a two episode format which gave more time to organically flesh out the characters. Here, we have a few villains who are primarily memorable for their abilities and honestly, that is what made some of the villains in season one memorable too.
In the very first seconds of Darker Than Black: Gaiden, we are thrown into a huge fight scene and it felt great. The backdrops, the urban setting and even the soundtrack all made me feel like I was watching the epilogue to season one, just with a higher animation budget that is used to perfection.
This OVA has- hands down- the two greatest fights in the entire series. Fluid animation, combined with creative use of super powers by both allied and enemy contractors and a driving electronic beat throughout. The soundtrack courtesy of Yasushi Ishii is still just as stellar here as it was in season two and is a fine replacement for Yoko Kanno, although it does lose the noir charm.
Ultimately, I can only recommend this OVA to those who have watched or plan to watch Gemini. It is a build up to the events of that season so it works well when paired up with it. Otherwise, if you aren’t interested in watching season two, then this OVA probably isn’t worth your time.
The Series in Review
Darker Than Black was a good show. Not monumental and certainly not terrible. It was fun and I loved it. Sadly, for whatever reasons, whether it be production committees making demands based on what’s popular, or perhaps genuine decisions from the creators, the show was followed up by a sequel that had half the number of episodes, half the charm and half the heart, yet still miraculously saved by exceptional choreography I still show to my friends to this day.
What is worse is that the second season sold more, despite those flaws. It shows in its availability. Season one can no longer be found anywhere unless you want to pay over $200 for the DVD box set or over $500 for the Blu-ray which I managed to get for just $200 (keyword: JUST). Meanwhile, the second season is still distributed by Funimation for a little less than $30. That’s the second season plus the four OVA’s by the way. In theory, a good deal. In practice… well at least it looks nice.
It is sad how sometimes, shows just go out of print for good. It’s especially a shame because even if Darker Than Black isn’t amazing, I will defend that it is anything but bad. It would be awesome if the series gained some cult classic status because for what it is worth, this series is pretty damn fun. Judging it by its first season alone, I have no regrets putting Darker Than Black slightly below the other Studio Bones greats. The sequels are an example of a niche series attempting to have the best of both worlds. Trying to maintain and even revive what made the original good while trying to pander to a new audience.
Darker Than Black is sadly destined to recede into obscurity, but I hope my review of the first season at least gets more people to check it out. Thank you for reading and as always, see you next time.