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Darker Than Black Season 2 + OVAs Complete Series Blu-ray Anime Review

9 min read

Life after losing what means the most to him turns Hei to new lows.

What They Say:
The intrigue and danger continues in Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor. Hei – aka the masked killer, BK-201 – encounters Suo, a young Russian girl whose life changed the night a meteor fell to Earth. With Contractors attacking from all sides and the mysterious organization Section 3 closing in, Hei must fight to keep Suo alive.

This limited edition comes with a chipboard art box.

Contains episodes 1-12 and OVAs 1-4 (Kuro no Keiyakusha: Gaiden).

The Review:
The audio presentation here isn’t much of a surprise but it’s definitely good overall as we get the original Japanese in Dolby TrueHD 2.0 and the English language mix gets a bump up to 5.1 in Dolby TrueHD. Naturally, the English mix has a bigger sound to it when it gets to the action sequences but the Japanese mix feels a bit richer and fuller for its forward soundstage presentation in that it ties it together just a bit better. Both tracks have a lot to offer overall with a good, clean sound to it that hits all the right notes. When the action kicks in, they both do really well with nods to the 5.1 for going the distance more, but when it comes to the dialogue and overall immersion, I found myself preferring the stereo mix. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally released in 2009, the transfer for this TV series and OVA is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show is split across two discs with eight on the first and four plus the four OVA son the second. The series works with a lot of dark colors and handles it well with a solid look to it and some real vibrancy during many of them, especially with the action scenes. The show has a very good look about it, as expected from a BONES series, and the transfer doesn’t disappoint in showing off the fluid animation when it hits and the detail in all the backgrounds. It’s definitely what I wanted out of the season in terms of visual presentation.

The packaging for this release is aimed more at those that bought the complete collection on DVD as it’s a DVD size box that has room for two keepcases. What’s in the box is a filler piece and one single sized keepcase that holds the three DVDs and two Blu-ray’s that make up this set itself. You can swap out the filler box for the first season set and have it all in one place. Having bought the singles, this doesn’t help me at all. The heavy chipboard box is very nice as it has an older looking BK-201 pulling aside his mask against a very dark background of purples and blacks which makes it very ominous looking. The back cover puts a cleaner looking version of him along with Yin with a bullet hole through the glass that covers them which causes a neat shatter look to it that works well, all of which is set against a night time cityscape up close. It hits all the right notes for the series and just looks slick.

Inside the box, we get the filler piece that uses artwork from the first season collection as well as the single sized keepcase that holds this new season. The clear keepcase uses the shattered image artwork for its main piece which again looks good, though I would have liked to have seen other artwork used. The back cover has more character artwork and a good layout below it with a small strip of decent shots from the show and a quick breakdown of the basic plot idea and the four arcs here. Add in a clean listing of the extras and more artwork and it’s definitely appealing as it uses soft grays, black text and cool character artwork to tie it all together. The technical grid is definitely busy since it covers both DVD and Blu-ray options but they color code it for easy reading and it’s all laid out well and cleanly. There is a reversible cover here that uses the same layout design and puts Suo as the main cover character while changing out the back cover artwork for BK-201. No show related inserts or booklets are included.

The menu design for this release is very, very basic with a simple strip along the bottom with a good, thin but very legible section with the navigation itself. That in total takes up maybe ten percent of the screen though while the rest of it is given over to a variety of action scenes and some good quieter ones. The menus that use a lot of clips from the shows aren’t necessarily bad, but there’s something a little extra simple here that keeps it from feeling too thematic. The simplicity has its pluses as it does fit with the show to some degree but I had hoped for something a little more. The navigation strip also serves as the pop-up menu and loads quickly with very easy access times. Due to licensing restrictions, the subtitles are tied directly to the Japanese track so they can’t be turned off. They’re not burned in but locked on. This is something we’re starting to see a bit more of and hearing it as becoming a bit more of a requirement in order to stem off some reverse importation. It’s not something I’m in favor of but I do understand it. And since I need subtitles in order to understand the show, it’s not a harm in not being able to turn them off. But in principle, I’d much rather not see this become commonplace.

The only extras included in this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences as well as two commentary tracks by the English language production team; one for episode four and one for the OVA.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The first season of Darker Than Black really hit the right marks for me with how it presented itself, visually and with its structure and characters. While it gave us an unusual but fascinating world where the stars were gone and contractors now walk the world, it did it by working everything in two episode stories. Through the short form storytelling, the world expanded, the cast grew and we got concise pieces that when taken as a whole was thoroughly engaging and you didn’t even realize it. Unfortunately, the second season, coming in at half the length, goes to tell one overall story without that structure and it definitely has a difference in flow and feel. While I won’t say things felt dragged out, it’s a more leisurely work without quite the same focus that it needs to really be intense.

The series also has an awkward way of getting to the point. While we get the twelve episode series that tells the tale of events a couple of years after the end of the first season, we also get a four episode OVA series that came afterward which actually bridges the two seasons. The release has it in its order of release, as these came out after the TV series, but in watching it in that order I think it would have been better served to be seen prior to the series. It’s a very engaging piece that takes us through the time after Hei and Yin were making their escape from Japan after the events of the Gate and found themselves caught up in more trouble with the remnants of the Syndicate trying to track them down. With Yin becoming something else other than a normal doll as most thought she was, the need to get to her before she Awakens was critical and pushed people to new limits in order to do so. There’s some good tension to it but also some leisurely moments as well with Hei being tense as they do their best to escape.

This background, in my humble opinion, makes the TV series itself far more engaging. It spends a good part of its first half focused on the new characters introduced with Suo, a young girl whose brother was turned into a contractor two years prior during an event when she was out camping with their father. It paralyzed her brother but we don’t learn his ability until much closer to the end of the series. Where the series focuses is in that it seems like everyone wants to get their hands on her brother Shion, whether it’s the FSB, remnants of the Syndicate or just other contractors being used for layered purposes. What the confusing early moments lead to is that Suo ends up on the run after her father and brother are killed and she wants to understand the truth of it all.

Her meeting up with Hei takes a bit of time overall before they really connect, but there’s an uneasy alliance between the two. Hei has fallen into the bottle since losing Yin as he continues to try to track her and find out where she was taken and he’s filled the empty time with work for the CIA. Or at least what he thinks is the CIA. When he ends up with Suo in his hands, he decides to teach her the craft of being a contractor as she realizes she has ability as well in the form of sniping with a massive rifle cannon that generates out of her like the Rose Bride from Revolutionary Girl Utena with the sword. Suo’s turn to a more serious side after the deaths has her in a position for Hei to use her, and that’s all he really does for awhile as he copes with his own issues.

The series has a larger play going on, which makes more sense again when you view the OVAs first. It doesn’t cut the mystery out but it makes the movements and patterns more interesting to watch. Especially when we see Kiriko enter the story as she’s brought into a secret group known as Section 3 that’s responsible for cleaning up the whole Syndicate mess. Getting told that Hei is still alive is more than enough to get her involved, taking on a new name for it and going wherever she needs to in order to find him. Her story serves as a useful look at things from an outside perspective and as the story reaches a surprising level when Yin is brought into it, it’s definitely humanized by her views on things since she’s often the only normal person involved with events.

In Summary:
The second season of Darker Than Black is an interesting extension of the first, but one that definitely maintains the visual beauty of it all. The first season never hit Blu-ray, though the trailer did regularly, and I wanted to see it in high definition quite a lot. The second season is largely similar, just with some different locations and a more consistent cast, so there’s a lot to like with how it looks. This season in terms of story is definitely different though, a more personal one and a look at Hei in a light that’s certainly not flattering. In a way, I know I had wanted more of the same with this run and I didn’t get it so there’s some disappointment to it all. But when looked at as a whole, it’s a thoroughly engaging effort when you pull back just far enough and realize what it is that it wants to do. Darker Than Black has a great concept and this season shows us a transitional state for the property, bringing closure from before and showing where it can go next. It can serve as an end point but also a start point and I know I’d certainly want to see more.

Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD Language, English Subtitles, Commentary Tracks, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-

Readers Rating: [ratings]

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: November 8th, 2011
MSRP: $64.98
Running Time: 400 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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