Strictly speaking, this isn’t the end of Darker Than Black. It’s just the end of the beginning, with another season of the show gearing up in Japan and perhaps headed our way sometime next year. But it brings some degree of closure to another of important things within the story — the tension between the Organization and the world powers, Li/Hei’s ongoing quest to find his lost sister, the quest to control the Gates, and the ultimate fate of every Contractor across the face of the earth.
I’m against spoilers as a rule, so I’ll be forced to tread lightly while talking about all this. The short version is simple enough: the scientists studying the Gate are determined to destroy it, which may well liberate mankind from its planetary prison — but will also kill every Contractor in a millisecond. The Contractors, as you can imagine, do not plan to take this lying down, and will instead trigger off a plan that may cause even greater devastation — by turning Hell’s Gate into the same sort of dead zone that enveloped the first Gate and several thousand miles around it.
The Contractors’ plan involves Hei, of course, even though he has always felt himself to be divided between the human and Contractor worlds. This last disc reveals the source of that divide: he is of both worlds, neither human nor Contractor alone but a hybrid of the two. How he came to be that way, I would not dare reveal here. I will say that it is clever without being a complete cheat, and that while there are times when the show comes perilously close to cheating it never falls over into that territory. The most important things that happen, do so out of everyone’s needs. Hei’s search for his sister, Kirihara’s determination to learn Contractor BK-201’s true identity; the depth of the Syndicate’s reach — which, as we find out, includes the inner echelons of PANDORA; and PANDORA’s understanding of how to control (or destroy) the gates. In the end, though, it’s Hei who makes the most crucial decisions, and allows his mixed heritage to do justice to both of the worlds he comes from.
It’s compelling stuff, made most compelling by a moment where Hei faces his inner demons — which take the form of all the people he’s betrayed or killed, at once — and gives a voice to the things he’s been keeping silent all along. The whole reason he embarked on this journey was to find his sister, but he realizes this struggle’s made him into the antithesis of the person she was defending in the first place. The Contractors are said to be emotionless, but Hei’s human heritage has changed all that. And from what he learns, the Contractors themselves, children of a new world, may be moving past it as a whole, too. Why give up on the child just when it’s taking its first steps?
Everything I have described is contained in the first three episodes on the disc. The last, episode 26, is not part of the story itself — and thank god for that. It’s a bonus episode that was not aired with the rest of the show but included with the DVD editions in Japan, and it is painful to watch. All the worst tendencies of Darker Than Black are concentrated here like some kind of Kamehameha of Suck: lowbrow humor (Look! Mao’s getting molested by an amorous female cat!), improbable plotting (Look! A member of Division 4 writes boy’s love fanfic that has crucial state secrets encoded in it!), and a great deal more that adds up to a great deal less. The one intriguing idea in the whole thing — a meta-treatment of the ambivalent relationship fans have with anime in general — is buried. It’s a little like ending a serious war movie with a slapstick pie fight. Instead of laughing, you stare and wonder: whose brilliant idea was this?
This may be the end of the season, and a satisfying ending at that, but it’s only provisionally over. Many things have been left open, by design. Where do the Dolls come from? Are their origins related to the Contractors? How do the Gates get formed, exactly? But the show has not been any the weaker for leaving these things up in the air for now. They’re points of ingress for future installments of the series — doors I plan to walk through myself when and if season two comes Stateside.xfuni=19