Darker Than Black caught my attention from the beginning,held it through each successive installment, and continues to keep meguessing and absorbed. Volume five, the next to last disc in the wholeseries, does what most penultimate volumes of any series do: it setsthings up in preparation for what we anticipate will be their finalresolutions. Some of this is by filling in backstory, and some of thisis via breaking equilibriums that have held the story together untilnow.
The first half of the disc revolves around Huang—Li /Hei’s “controller”, a regular human who makes up in nerve and bluntnesswhat he lacks in super-powers. He was once a cop, we learn, who lost apartner of his to a Contractor. That alone would be enough to instillthe distrust of (and disgust with) Contractors that we see him evincethroughout the series, but there’s more to it than that. It’s alsoprecisely the sort of “more” not served by talking about her in detail,since the details go a long way towards providing the kind of characterdepth that has made this show a winner.xfuni=19
Huang’s backstory is interleaved with a present-day plot about areligious cult that has sprung up around the Gate, the source of allthat is strange and new in the Darker Than Black world. Cultsat least this weird exist in real-life Japan right now, and in Japanesefiction they’re often a) fodder for lampooning or b) a common plotdevice (many a Japanese mystery or thriller story revolves around sucha cult). Here, the cult seems to be the base of operations for at leastone Contractor—in fact, from the intel Hei and Huang come across, thecult’s own leader may be one herself. Hei’s job is to infiltrate thecult and put a stop to any plans germinating there, but the last thingHuang expects is to find an old flame of his there, too. There isn’t ahappy ending here, as you can guess.
Thesecond half pulls several disparate plot threads together into one neatpackage. The most crucial is a piece of Hei’s own past—something we’veseen him chasing and closing in on before, only to have his hands wraparound thin air. Here, Hei comes perilously close to learning crucialdetails about the Heaven’s Gate incident, and in the process learns ofa plot to close the Gates and destroy all the Contractors in one fellswoop. That’s probably not the solution to his problems that he had inmind, but if he doesn’t act, it’s going to be the solution that’s imposedon him. We also see the fate of at least one of the major Contractors,and it is rich with both irony and sympathy: even a Contractor has toadmit that he can’t cheat death forever, but if you go out in styleit’s at least partial compensation. And in “November 11”’s case—hebeing the MI6 Contractor with his fingers in a few too many pies forhis own good—it comes in the form of a bottle of liquor, a roomful ofmen with guns, and a final cigarette extinguished with his own blood.
Right after watching Darker Than Black I sat down with a completely different sort of production from Japan—a live-action movie named Face. Thatfilm featured a pudgy seamstress who strangled her bar-hostess sister,stole her mother’s funeral money, went on the lam, and reinventedherself in her sister’s image, much to her own horror. Because themovie was always about a specific person and not a plot, it remainedfascinating all the way through. Darker Than Black’s cast ofcharacters is broad and its plotting thick, but it’s the first part ofthat equation which has consistently won me over and brought me backin. We are interested in these people, genuinely curious about theirsituation, and that they surprise us so thoroughly with what they donext is how we are compelled to know about them to the bitter end.
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