I just finished watching season two of Darker than Black last night. For those of you unaware, Darker than Black is a rather edgy supernatural action/mystery show where people lose a part of their humanity to gain special powers. Season one mostly dealt with introducing the viewers to the world through the eyes of one of the changed people (called “contractors”) named Hei, and the implications of what is happening and whatnot. Overall, it’s one of my favorites in the genre.
Season two starts off confusingly “two years ago”, when they really mean at the time of the final episode of Season 1. Following an admittedly fairly interesting pair of opening sequences, however, the entire tone changes to something close to a school drama briefly, as we’re introduced to the new season’s main character, Suou. She’s a young teenager, if I had to venture a guess, I’d place her around 12, particularly given a very random scene later (we’ll get to that). Suou lives in Russia, despite the very Japanese first name (her last name is Pavlichenko though). Drama happens, mostly to contrast how much change a contractor undergoes when they form their contract, as Suou’s best friends (Tanya and Nika) confess their love for each other and then Tanya ends up dumping him the very next day because she’s forgotten what emotions are, or at least has lost all ability to have them herself, or even remember having them. They also take this time to introduce that Suou is a shutterbug, taking pictures of freakin’ everything.
But then plot happens and Suou’s house gets attacked by the Russian secret police as well as Hei working for unknown forces. This results in the death of Suou’s father, and the disappearance of her twin brother, Shion. Hei, mistaking her for her twin (this happens a lot) basically kidnaps her as she going on and on about how people shouldn’t die. A noble purpose, but those of us who have seen season 1 already know that Hei actually isn’t remarkably find of unnecessary death anyway, and is REALLY good at killing. Up to about this point, I was highly into the show, looking forward to seeing what comes next. But then comes the scene that just killed the entire season for me (well, the first of many anyway), as Hei is tricked into a trap which the Japanese secret service use to destroy Hei’s power. And suddenly we went from a great sequel to The Wolverine.
Don’t get me wrong, this could have been a good spinoff anyway, something like A Certain Scientific Index to A Certain Scientific Railgun, crossover a few characters, change the name but keep it a reference point so people know they’re connected, get ready for the real season two of Darker than Black which intertwines, or at least draws from, what happens here. Instead, they decide that Hei is too much of a powerful loner with his powers, and so decide to remove the powers, forcing him into working with Suou, who has become a newly minted contractor herself.
Moving forward from here, the show actually becomes an odd combination of life-study and comedy, as we get a greater-than-normal detailed look at a contractor pre- and post-change. Or we would, except that Suou doesn’t lose her emotions like normal, instead she becomes this weird duality of occasionally losing her feelings, and occasionally acting more or less like a real girl. And to stress this point, there’s even a scene where she has “stomach distress” which turns out to be her first period, a subject that is broached by a transvestite, and the father of Random Russian twenty-something who immediately falls in love with her on first sight. I wish I was making this up.
We spend most of the season dealing with this sort of stuff, and exploring Suou trying to grapple with either losing her emotions entirely or being a normal human, albeit a normal human who can pull out a gun from her chest with graphics stolen almost directly from Sailor Moon. Seriously, this is Darker than Black, do we really need a purple/pink transformation sequence every time that she pulls that gun out? It was nifty the first time or two, but by the end, I’d have killed to have just seen it appear in the shower of rose petals without cutting to the 3D silhouette sequence.
Then, to shovel the crap even higher, just as the story gets to return to the dark and dramatic tone that is literally in the title, we cut to he comic relief from last season. Did the director from the previous season get fired? Was there an order that said EVERY character from season 1 (even some of the dead ones, I’ll point out) just HAD to show up, even if it made no sense or detracted from the current story? I don’t know, but I do know that Kiko and her friend spend the onset of their screen time literally lambasting the director for adding a comic moment “just as things were getting good”. Director, if your characters are even self aware enough to pick at the fourth wall over it, chances are REALLY good that it is a bad idea to put it in.
Now, to be somewhat fair, this comedic moment does lead directly to some pretty serious drek later, but at the same time, it’s like watching a wounded bird try and take flight. It keeps flapping, and maybe gets a little bit of air, but then it falls down all over again.
It isn’t until the final three or so episodes that the show finally picks up, and even then, it does so with such lackluster that at times it felt like they were just phoning it in to get their paycheck. “Just three more episodes…just two more episodes…just one more episode…payday!” The ending, in fact, makes less sense than it should, and the more I think about it, the worse it gets. All in all, this feels like a cheap imitation, and a quick cash in to try and ride out some of Darker than Black’s popularity. I would say that I should have known something was up the moment that the new theme song played, but oddly enough, there is no opening theme sequence in the first episode. Instead, there’s a very brief break about seven minutes in which has a brief, but hard hitting, techno track. It isn’t until episode TWO that the new opening song, something that sounds more at home at the ending of Bleach than the opening of Darker than Black, is played.
All in all, honestly, I’d say skip this one until the franchise makes it actually important for a future project, and even then, only if that project itself is worth watching. It’s such a divergence from Darker than Black season 1 that those folks whose taste runs more towards the new tone are likely to be put off from the sharp edge of season 1, and if not, likely to be put off from how bland season 2 became.