For my previous February Fandom Fest entry
, I wrote about the anime I love so much that I have an icon dedicated to it (my default).
This time, I'm going to write about the other anime I love so much that I made some icons dedicated to it: Darker Than Black.
Like Princess Tutu, Darker Than Black has a small but rabid fanbase, and this is because it is completely awesome. All the anime fans I know with whom I've discussed the show weren't too impressed. Criticisms I've read described it as "bad scifi," to which I say either they watched it in English (the English dub, while well-acted, is so badly written as to have changed script, characters, everything that makes the show great, rendering a wonderfully multi-dimensional show flat, so please please, watch in Japanese!), or they didn't get that there is nothing literal about anything going on; it's entirely allegory. The oracle who reads the stars in poetry might have tipped 'em off about that, but anyway, /rant.
For starters, this show on the surface couldn't be more polar opposite of Princess Tutu. Brutal, bloody (it does a fair job of living up to its name), taking place in a slightly altered modern-day reality of the seedy underbelly of Tokyo, specifically focusing on the employees of a crime syndicate (and, occasionally, the cops who try to stop them, and more commonly, competing crime syndicates or other bad guys involved in bad things), Darker Than Black is a far cry from fairy tales and ballet and romantic intrigue and Mr. Cat. Look a little beneath the surface, though, and you'll get a window into themes I guess I just have a thing for ... and that many of us have a thing for, I'd guess, because it has a lot in common with SPN, as you shall see.
The basic story is that main character Hei (all the main characters in this crime syndicate have Chinese names, and Hei, at least, poses as affable Chinese exchange student "Li") is one of many "contractors" who appeared in Tokyo after a big blast (it turns out Hei was at ground zero but survived) caused all the stars to change. The stars each now represent various contractors, which are people who now have some kind of special ability (which can usually be used as a weapon; Hei's is the power to electrocute), but have to pay for using the ability with some compulsion (some better than others; this person has to sing, that one has to dog-ear pages, but d'oh, one guy has to break his own fingers--did I mention the show is quite brutal?), hence the "contract." When a contractor uses their power, their star shines more brightly, and when they die, their star falls. (Again, people who are trying to make this show into scifi, it's a metaphor!)
Another kind of person was created along with contractors (although they're quite rare; most people stay the same as they ever were, and in fact the government tries to keep people from finding out about contractors): "dolls," who are devoid of emotional response or evident personal will or volition, and have the ability to send their spirits out via various materials (glass in one case, water in another) and thereby "clairvoyantly" see what's happening someplace. This is, naturally, another skill valuable for use by crime syndicates, who regularly hire both dolls and contractors, because people who became contractors also had a big emotional change; basically they're sociopaths, completely self-serving and more or less indifferent to the suffering of others.
But this is all just the brilliant structure that made possible the exploration of all the different facets of the scenario and the wonderful characters at the heart of the story. The first season (of two--24 episodes in the first season, and only 12 in the second--I literally cried when I realized the other discs in my S2 collection were a Blu-Ray version of what I'd already watched and I didn't have a full 24 eps to watch, because the show is THAT GOOD) is carefully constructed in pairs of episodes each dedicated to exploring one of the main characters and their backstory, or some aspect of the plot, some aspect of contractors, etc.
The writing is amazing, the characters are fantastic, the metaphors are rich and deep, the angst and feels are intense. ( Gifs and more text under cut. )
... made fascinating and complex as you see a fragile relationship develop between him and beautiful, vulnerable blind doll Yin (also employed by their crime syndicate), who can only see in her clairvoyant spirit form. Female detective Kirihara relentlessly hunts ruthless contractor Hei (he wears a mask when he does his dirty work, so she's never seen his face), but considers sweet Li-kun a good friend. A hapless private investigator (and his anime-lovin assistant who gets the hots for Hei) notices Li at the scene of many of the situations he's hired to investigate, but dismisses it as mere coincidence, thinking he solved the investigation thoroughly, when--just like Sam and Dean are always doing when law enforcement think their own cops took care of it--Hei is really the one getting to the heart of it and bringing it to resolution.
This is that rare show that came up with a brilliant concept and really did everything with it, played out its every facet, all while pursuing a fascinating mystery, in both seasons (and keeping things a little mysterious by the end, because again people, the point is not the science, it's the allegory!!).
So, to sum up, it's got everything: it's dark, it's funny, it's brutal, it's tender, it's realistic, it's metaphorical, it's sexy, it's deep, it's scientific, it's spiritual, it's clever, it's silly. If you're into character and allegory and sexiness and depth, this is your show.