Darker Than Black Episode 1

Chinese Goth Psychic Secret Agents fight French Psychic Secret Agents in Tokyo.

Darker Than Black is one of the new shows BONES is debuting this spring. It’s written and directed by Tensai Okamura (Wolf’s Rain) with music by Yoko Kanno and animation direction by Takahiro Komori.

The first episode gives a brief outline of the world the show is set in. Something called the Hell Gate has caused Tokyo to lose it’s sky and created super powered people called Contractors, as well as emotionless mediums called Dolls.

The protagonist Hei is one such contractor and in the avant-title sequence we see him battle a french contractor in search of a package. Hei is shown to be a killer with little emotion in this sequence, which makes the sequence of events after the titles run fascinating. Hei calls himself Li Shunsheng, a Chinese exchange student, and moves in next door to Chiaki, a young scientist in possession of the package that both the French contractor and Hei are after. He saves her numerous times and befriends her, all the time showing a markedly different personality to that he had at the start of the episode.

Whether this is just pretence in order to get the package, or something else remains to be seen, but I thought it was good narrative choice. Giving the viewer the knowledge right from the start that this seemingly innocent student is actually some kind of psychic killer adds to the sense that the normal humans in the story are out of their depth dealing with the Contractors, makes Hei more of an anti-hero and the story more suspenseful. It will be interesting to compare this with BONES other series due out soon, The Skull Man, as the protagonist in that is also a killer and an anti-hero (to what degree will depend on which Skull Man manga they are adapting).

The animation is fine, though apart from the avant title animation, there is nothing here that flashy.  What it does have a lot of is nice naturalistic shot compositions and there are some lovely background paintings. The only duff scene for me was the meeting of the police round the table, where it fell too much into talking head/moving mouth shortcuts. My favourite sequence overall was of Hei/Li moving in, there’s some charming charicature work with the landlady that has a well matched vocal performance.

One other thing to note is that the show seems to be built up around 2 episode story arcs, whether these all build into a big story remains to be seen, but it’s an interesting approach and one that I can see working based on the success of Black Lagoon’s distinct arc approach. Definitely a show worth a look, as most Bones shows at least hold up animation-wise throughout a series and this has plenty of promising aspects beyond that.

Oh and there’s a talking cat in it.