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Darker Than Black Season 2 + OVAs Complete Series Anime DVD Review

11 min read

A sequel whose story lives up to the series name.

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.

The Review:
Audio:
The feature is presented with two audio tracks- a 5.1 English track and a Stereo Japanese mix. For the purpose of this review the Japanese track was used and it is a mostly solid one. The audio track is free from dropouts or other distortions and it gets its point across as dialogue is delivered clear while also doing a very good job of mixing in the background music. It also does a good job handling the various and sudden changes in sound level that can occur in a series that makes good use of dialogue to carry a story as well as complimenting it with a good deal of action to back it up.

Video:
The Television series portion of this release originally aired late in the 2009 Japanese TV season and it is presented here in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, complete with an anamorphic encode. True to its name there is a good deal of black found within the series and the encode does a good job with presenting the color well in all its various faces, from the lighter black of Hei’s ragged coat to the much more solid black that the night can bring, all portions this spectrum comes across fairly well. Color on the other hand doesn’t quite fair as well as they can be bright when appropriate but some shifting, blocking and banding can be present and really strong reds see some bleed. Other than that there is some ghosting and noise that are present but by and large the action comes across rather fluid and well.

Arriving after the TV series, the OVAs are a bit of a step up in terms of production value as one would expect from the format though they are also plagued with the some of the same color, noise and ghosting issues as the television episodes.

Packaging:
This review is of the DVDs only but the packaging was covered in Chris Beveridge’s review of the Blu Ray portion of the releases’ review.

As for the DVDs themselves, FUNimation chose to split the 12 episode television series across two discs at 6 episodes a piece and then put the 4 OVA follow up/prologue onto its own separate disc. The first disc features an image of the story protagonist Suo sitting on the floor and holding her anti-tank riffle up as she leans against a full length mirror which offers the illusion that there are two of her on half the disc while the other half is black with the series name and disc number in white. The second disc uses the same split in image/black label balance with the color portion showing a naked Yin with her eyes open and her hands clasped around a flower in front of her as she is inside a device which is seen with in the show. The OVA disc continues the same image setup motif with its image having a young Suo and Shion holding hands against a backdrop that has a ruined wall and a large orange moon hanging in the dark sky.

Menu:
The menus themselves use a basic pattern of being around 2/3 black screen while an image fits in the last 1/3. On Disc One the Main Menu features an image of Suo from early in the series holding her camera while the Episode screen uses an image of the three investigators from Section 3, the Audio uses the image of Yin in the machine from the label of the second disc and the Extras menu uses a close up of Suo and Shion from the third disc. Disc Two uses an image of a crouching Yin in a white summer dress as she looks off to the right for the main menu image while the other sub menus use the same images on the same screens as Disc One. The final disc contains the OVA episodes and it uses the same set up as the other discs with the Main menu having an image of a bedraggled and haggard Hei against a red background while the other screens use the same images as before.

For all the menus the options are presented in a white colored font that changes slightly blue when highlighted which isn’t the best use of an indicator I have ever seen but it is serviceable enough. The menus are largely very responsive to changes in selection and do so quickly as well as implement selections when chosen with minimal delay.

Extras:
The extras depth depends a bit on how one classifies the OVA. For the purpose of this review it was added to the content portion of the grade but if one considers it an extra it greatly expands on the ones present. Regardless to one’s take on the OVA as extra or not, FUNimation includes a few clear extras in the form of Episode 04 Commentary, OVA Part 1 Commentary and Textless Songs which is somewhat standard for them but still above the more industry standard of just textless songs.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Darker than Black: Gemini of the Meteor came on to the scene in an odd way in that the actual difference in years between the original series 2007 air date and the sequel’s 2009 date kind of reflect in the time that has passed in that world. And that time hasn’t been kind to Hei in the least. When the viewers last saw him, he and Yin had become fugitives from the mysterious Syndicate and had begun a life on the run as Hei has decided to side with Yin over his former masters.

Now however his world has gone to hell- which is saying something considering the nightmare like situation in which all the character live when at any given time they may suddenly find themselves gaining spectacular powers at the cost of having to complete an odd form of reparation for its use while also losing much of what makes them human in the first place.

The series itself begins in Russia as many of the world’s intelligence agencies have been researching a scientist named Dr Mikhail Pavlichenko and his son Shion and have decided it is time to move in to capture them. Shion also has a twin sister, Suo, who tries to help out her somewhat dysfunctional family as her father is always preoccupied with his research while her brother has become a contractor who is trapped in a wheelchair as his reparation for some use of his power.

The series is largely told with Suo as its protagonist as she has to cope with the sudden upheaval in her life of first her best friend becoming a contractor and then her family house being raided as she hears her father killed by a man with a voice the fans of the franchise will recognize and by use of a similarly recognizable power. When Suo later runs into Hei she is forced to ally herself with him despite the large resentment she holds for him- resentment she doesn’t even bother to try to hide. As they travel the two will pick up some familiar faces (or at least voices) to those who have watched the previous series as they make their way to Japan where both Suo’s mother lives and where her brother has told her he is going.

On this trip Hei will take on a new role in trying to train Suo in the maximum use of her new power when she gains the contractor ability to manifest and use a large anti-tank gun. At the same time Suo displays some rather odd behavior for a contractor though as she retains more emotions than most seem to, including her strong dislike for Hei which seems to waiver toward something else at times. Even if it weren’t for her believing Hei killed her father the pit Hei has fallen into emotionally- and the way he reacts to his pain- are major turn offs both to her and likely to those who remember the Hei they last saw at the end of the previous series.

The Hei the viewer meets here is a far darker one then they last saw. This Hei seems to have traded in his large consumption of food for an equally large consumption of alcohol and his affect has become far more flat and contractor like. To add to this his once neat appearance has changed as well as his trademark mask has picked up some scars and his one stylish coat is now frayed and tattered in places. Adding to this he tends to treat Suo rather roughly and without much regard, but perhaps most astounding of all is his stated mission that he must kill Yin.

Now this ragtag group will try to make their way from Russia to Tokyo with many of the world’s intelligence agencies on their heels as they struggle to try to figure out what their role is in this world while trying to avoid being put into a specific role by some agency. What they may find in their travels though may shatter everything that they believe in when more secrets of the change in Yin are revealed and when Suo is forced to face a truth that is simply to horrifying to believe yet impossible to escape.

Just for the icing on the cake, Hei is going to have to be trying to face off with some powerful figures after his powers have been sealed which forces him to rely more on his physical skill than even before if he is going to complete the mission that has him transporting Suo to Tokyo while also teaching her to survive as a contractor. With seemingly the world against them are these few figures going to be able to prevent a new tragedy or is the path they follow one where fate has already laid out the tracks they will be unable to jump from?

Also included in the set is a four OVA series that was created after the second series that helps explain how it was that Hei had fallen to the level that he did since his break with the Syndicate. As the story unfolds the danger that Yin starts to pose to the world is revealed even though Hei is reluctant to believe it as he has come to be more than just fond of the doll. These OVAs are a pretty important piece in establishing how Hei and Yin have reached the point that they have and why Hei has been tasked with ending Yin’s life- and why he accepted.

When the second season of Darker Than Black aired I was one of those who was an early adopter and taken completely back by the sizable changes that had occurred in the characters, though for some reason I never finished watching the series at the time. With the release of the series by FUNimation I decided to give the OVAs a watch first and I found that they took a good deal of the “punch” out of the changes as the surprise element was a major factor in my initial enjoyment of the series.

That isn’t to say that the OVAs don’t serve a purpose but in retrospect I find that they work better for my enjoyment as a piece that exists to be watched after the TV series simply because of the change in tenor they provides. The series itself works on a remarkable level in some respects as the writers seem to have gone out of their way to try to wring as much emotion as they can out of the viewer with the early introduction of a changed Hei as well as the struggles Suo encounters when her friend becomes a contractor but the OVA mitigates some of the off balance nature the second series arrives with.

While the original series felt more like an action series spiked with some heavy emotions to me this series feels like just the opposite- one where the action exists almost to give form to some of the despair at times, though at other times it feels like it exists to give the viewer a break from the weight the emotions bring as well.

The series doesn’t forget its roots though as it brings some characters fans remember back from the first season in a way that helps the plot to work from two ends toward the center where the heart of the conspiracy behind events lie. Even in the first series, Hei largely was an action character who left most of the detail work to others and it really hasn’t changed here. What has changed is that the series aimed for a large and (mostly) singular arc which the original series pretty much avoided. This change allows for more time to be spent with Suo and July than they would have seen in the first and it allows for the writers to be far more clever in their approach and the twists they can throw in. Not that those always work though as at times some of the elements seem to be fighting each other for screen time on occasion which can weigh down the work somewhat. Still in the final measure this sequel series delivers far more than it fails and it does add an interesting, though rather dark, twist into this fantastical world.

In Summary:
The follow up series to the original Darker Than Black delivers on many of the ideas that made the original a success while also throwing many of the characters down an even darker course than the first series dared. In many ways this emotional rollercoaster stands at an odd angle as it presents what will be an incredible shock to franchise fans from the outset but it actually saves its biggest blows for later after lulling the audience in to a carefully weaved trap. The approach of using a single story is a divergence from the original series’ structure and its (amazingly considering how the original played out) darker turn playing on the psychology of its characters leaves a rather impactful, though a bit flawed at times, journey in its wake.

Features:
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episode 04 Commentary, OVA Part 1 Commentary, Textless Songs

Content Grade: B (includes OVAs)
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: November 8th, 2011
MSRP: $59.98
Running Time: 400 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

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