25 Days of Anime - #8: Darker Than Black

Ten years before the start of the anime, two zones known as Hell's Gate and Heaven's Gate opened and caused the emergence of Contractors, humans with limited superpowers. These superhuman Contractors are not the jack-of-all-trades types like comic-book icons, but instead are granted use of one specific power (some more powerful - and arguably more practical - than others). Each Contractor must pay a price through some regular habit, even if it is something as strange as folding the corner of each page in a book or eating dandelions.

Most Contractors view themselves as separate from humans - not just because of their powers, but also due to their logic-driven nature. Contractors rarely show genuine emotion, and some consider themselves superior to humans. But just because they all share similar traits does not mean they all serve the same cause. Some Contractors act in the interest of their own greed or power bids, others operate solo, doing their best to stay out of the spotlight. Lead protagonist Hei works for a mysterious organization known as the Syndicate in hopes that he can find out what happened to his sister all those years ago when the gates open.

Hei works alongside three others. Mao is a fellow contractor whose ability to control other bodies left him in control of a cat after his original human body was lost. Though he is not of much use in a fight, his previous experiences are something he hopes will serve Hei well, even if Hei chooses to ignore his advice at times. Yin is a Doll - a being that is as semi-human as a Contractor - bearing the appearance of a young woman and incapable of expressing emotion. Huang is a human whose past investigations found him caught up in the Syndicate's affairs. His perspective is perhaps the most interesting (once the show gives further back story on Huang), as he does not care much for Contractors and has effectively been forced to work for the Syndicate.

Darker Than Black's storytelling method is an interesting one, as it spends plenty of time balancing present-day events as they unfold with Hei's past. One of the earliest Contractors of interest to Hei that comes onto the scene is Havoc, who was also involved in the business regarding Heaven's Gate. Havoc was one of the most feared Contractors of all, and Hei believes she may know something about what happened to his sister. Also a major point that comes into play is Hei's brief interactions with police officer Misaki Kirihara, who is tasked with investigating cases concerning Contractors. As each Contractor has a star that correlates to them in the night sky, it isn't terribly difficult for Kirihara and her colleagues to keep track of how many Contractors are out there. The challenge is figuring out which star belongs to which contractor, as well as who these contractors actually are. And since Hei always wears a mask when on a mission, he has earned himself two other names - his official designation "BK-201" and his nickname "The Black Reaper", the latter of which is a nod to his skill and efficiency as a Contractor.

The story of Darker Than Black is concerned first and foremost with Hei, and his time in the spotlight increases late in the show. That said, the anime does well to sufficiently explain who his allies and enemies are, as well as what importance each of them has to the tale at large. The series presents an interesting blend of superhero-style conflict with a detective story, as there are a number of factions all gradually honing in on Hell's Gate in Tokyo. Darker Than Black presents a great balance of the stylized action with believable consequences, and alien abilities within a real and practical setting.

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