Reviewby Theron Martin, Dec 14th 2011
Darker Than Black: Season 2 + OVAs (Limited Edition)
Blu-Ray + DVD
In the four-episode OVA series, 18 months have passed since events in the first series. Hei and Yin are on the run from the remnants of the mysterious Syndicate, who seem to want Yin either dead or under their control because, in their belief, she is evolving in a dangerous direction in line with an old prophecy. While contending with various contractors, dolls, and other nefarious parties on their tail, the pair runs across a helpful cook in Hong Kong and the remnants of Evening Primrose, who are working to establish a sort of commune for retired Contractors. Meanwhile, Section 3 gets organized.
In the main series, Russo-Japanese girl Suou enjoys photography and watching her friends' developing romances as she lives in Russia with her research scientist father and crippled twin brother Shion, who looks nearly identical to her save for the gender difference. Her brother must be kept secret because he became a contractor when they were in the proximity of a meteor strike two years earlier (i.e. when the events at Heaven's Gate in the first series went down), but a friend turning into a contractor literally overnight sets off a chain reaction which results in her father seemingly dead, brother Shion missing, and her on the run from both the military and other forces at her brother's telepathic insistence. During her flight Suou encounters and unwillingly falls in with the Dark Reaper, who was sent to kill her father and initially thinks she's her brother. The use of a new anti-Contractor weapon deprives Hei of his powers while also simultaneously turning Suou into one, complicating their situation. With Mao (now a flying squirrel) and the doll July along for the ride, Hei and Suou begin their journey towards Tokyo together, with Hei training Suou to be a proper contractor while continuing to search for clues to Yin's whereabouts. Suou, meanwhile, reluctantly goes along with him while trying to find her brother, avoiding the multiple forces intent on capturing her (because they think she's her brother), and learning to deal both with growing up and with her new contractor reality.
The second Darker Than Black TV series aired on Japanese TV in the Fall 2009 season, with the OVA prequel following over the first half of 2010. Funimation's release of the title puts the OVA episodes at the end of both the Blu-Ray and DVD formats because, in terms of release dates, they did come last. Viewers familiar with the first series may make more sense of the second series if they watch the OVAs first, however, because doing so offsets the unexplained drastic plot leap that the second TV series takes compared to where the first ended – i.e. how Hei came to become a scruffy drunkard and why Yin isn't in the picture or even mentioned until a few episodes in. The disadvantages to watching the OVAs first are that a couple of characters who are new in the second series also pop up, with little explanation, in the OVAs and that the OVAs provide a couple of mild spoilers for plot points in the second series. Taken either way, the OVAs fill in a critical gap between the two series, expand much more on the relationship between Hei and Yin, and throw in heaping big doses of both physical and super-powered action.
The second series also delivers big doses of super-powered action, with a host of new contractors in play, but otherwise it is a decidedly different animal. Whereas the 26-episode first series played out mostly in two-episode arcs, the 12-episode second series is a single, tightly-plotted ongoing story where almost nothing occurs that isn't connected - often in multiple ways - to the overall plot, and the few scenes that aren't are either comic relief or else focus on peripheral matters, like how a person becoming a contractor can drastically affect family and friends. The even bigger change is who the series focuses on.
Hei still gets the bulk of the action scenes and should probably technically be considered a co-star, and Misaki is back to once again get her share of scenes on the other side of the law enforcement fence, but this series actually centers much more on newcomer Suou and this is ultimately much more her story than Hei or Misaki's. Such a dramatic change actually proves to be for the better, too, as Suou is a far more interesting character than Hei ever was. Her struggle to deal with the way her life gets turns upside down, both by what she loses in contractor-related matters and by becoming a contractor herself, is much more compelling than Hei's violent, boozing behavior as he searches for Yin. The uncomfortable relationship she forms with Hei, and the more companionable connection she makes with July, easily replace the Hei/Amber and Misaki/February byplay seen in the first series (albeit in entirely different ways). That she has a certain indelicate cuteness about her certainly does not hurt, nor does her rather flashy contractor ability to manifest and use a Russian PTRD-41 antitank rifle, but her most important appeal is as a sympathetic character, something that both the original series and the OVA lack. The tragic elements to her story - the ultimate truth about Suou and her brother, while not entirely an original twist, is nonetheless a doozy - help keep viewers invested in what would otherwise be a fairly thin storyline about Hei, Yin, and all of the plotting and prophecy concerning Yin.
Not everything changes, though. Misaki, Mao, and July are not the only characters to return from the first series, as April appears again early on and Suou encounters Gai and Kiko in one feature episode later in the series. The occasional spot of humor, typically involving Mao's status as an animal, also pops up, as does, unfortunately, the biggest flaw in the original series: a weak and rushed final episode. This series flows along nicely until episode 12, where two episodes' worth of material seemed to be crammed into one, Suou gets a resolution which seems overly easy and distinctly reminiscent of a last-episode scene in a certain famous mecha series, and nothing is ultimately clear about Hei and Yin's status or even how they resolved things. The end of the OVA series also feels awkward, which suggests that director and creator Tensai Okamura (of Wolf's Rain fame) is far better at telling stories than actually finishing them.
Studio BONES animated both the TV series and the OVA using much the same staff which worked on the original series. The resulting production stays generally consistent with the style of the first, with only a small overall drop in quality. The sometimes-spectacular action sequences still look sharp and the animation does not take and excessive amount of shortcuts, though there are minor lapses. The best character design effort goes to Suou, who usually gets portrayed in purely conventional apparel rather than anything intended to be cutesy or sexy and gets a lot of mileage out of the way her eyes change when in contractor and non-contractor modes. The vaguely magical girl-like scene where her weapon springs forth from her chest, which gets used in almost every episode once it first appears in episode 3, is cool the first time but quickly becomes repetitive, though her uses of it rival Hei's most active scenes. Mao instead gets the “cute” treatment in his new form as a flying squirrel, though we do get to see him in human form in a couple of integral flashbacks. The series has several very graphic scenes and a little bit of (mostly incidental) loli fan service, thus earning its TV-MA rating. The OVA episodes generally conform to the same standards, although some of the character designs have a more cartoonish look.
The musical staff does change, with Yasushi Ishii (who also scored and created the opening them for the Hellsing TV series) taking over for Yoko Kanno in both the series and OVA, but the sound loses not a beat in the process. Ishii more than capably fills Kanno's shoes, delivering a similar mix of rock-infused themes, techno sounds, and lighter numbers which do an excellent job at being suitably ominous, thrilling, or light-hearted. Opener “Guidepost of the Moonlight” by Stereopony, which begins with episode 2, is a solid rock number, and Abingdon Boys School is back to perform closer “From Dusk 'Til Dawn,” another strong entry whose visuals update after the first episode.
Funimation's English dub retains all of the vocal cast whose characters continue from the first series, and they all turn in another fine effort here. The key performance is Alison Viktorin's rendition of Suou, which sounds so convincingly like a 13-year-old girl that listeners will likely be shocked to learn that she was actually 30 at the time of recording. (Astute viewers may recognize her as the voice of the twins in the Negima! content and, at a younger age, Viola in Kiddy Grade.) Other new casting choices have been made and performed equally well, with no attempt is made to fake a Russian accent for Russian characters; faint British accents do persist, however. The English script strays considerably more than the first series' script did, to the point of having characters saying entirely different things in English and Japanese at some points. The changes vary widely on whether or not they are improvements.
Funimation's release spreads the series episodes and OVAs over three DVDs and two Blu-Rays for its respective versions, which all come in the same case. A Limited Edition version also includes an art box with a space for the collected version of the first series that was rereleased earlier this year. Both versions include the same Extras: an episode 4 commentary featuring Zach Bolton, Alison Viktorin, and Kate “Misaki” Oxley, an OVA episode 1 commentary featuring Zach, Brinca “Yin” Palencia, and Jason “Hei” Liebrecht, and clean opener and closer. In this case the Blu-Ray version does not offer a substantial visual or sound upgrade and has one irksome problem that the DVDs do not: it is apparently hard-subbed, as it is impossible to turn on the subtitles with the English dub while watching the Blu-Rays.
Whether or not Gemini of the Meteor is an improvement or drop-off from the original series largely depends on how much and quickly one takes to Suou. She is a very likeable and sympathetic character without being blatantly moe, and her story is certainly good enough to carry the series even when Hei isn't around; in fact, the story tends to sag when not focused on her. The business with Yin and the prophecies, contrarily, is merely a weak attempt to give this series an apocalyptic feel. Whereas the first series had a tendency to overachieve on mediocre material, this one achieves about what it should.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : A-
+ Suou, tighter story, excellent musical score.
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