Darker Than Black V1 (2007)
By: Paul Ryan on August 27, 2009  | 
Madman (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, Japanese DD 2.0. English subtitles. 120 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Tensai Okamura
Starring: Jason Liebrecht, Kent Williams, Kate Oxley, Colleen Clinkenbeard
Screenplay: BONES, Tensai Okamura, Shotaro Suga
Country: Japan
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
For ten years, a section of Tokyo has been sealed off with a giant wall. Known as "Hell's Gate", this area sprang up suddenly, and appeared in tandem with a number of people developing unique powers throughout the world. Known as "Contractors", these people possess singular powers that can be used only at a personal cost. Employed by various governments as assassins, these Contractors are often pitted against each other in affairs of international espionage, but one, Hei - also known as The Black Reaper - has his own agenda. Aided by Mao – a Contractor who has become trapped in the body of a cat – Hei battles enemies from all over the world, whilst the Japanese Government struggles to keep track of all of the Contractors…

If that synopsis sounded a little vague, that's because this first volume of anime series Darker Than Black is very convoluted and mysterious. Well-produced and designed, this is a series that reveals its world in small nuggets, making viewer concentration very important if you're to have a clue what the heck is going on. That isn't to say that it's not enjoyable, but this isn't the kind of show that you can just do one episode at a time. This disc contains the first five episodes of the series:

1) The Fallen Star of a Contract… (Part 1)

2) The Fallen Star of a Contract… (Part 2)

3) A New Star Shines in the Dawn Sky (Part 1)

4) A New Star Shines in the Dawn Sky (Part 2)

5) Red Giant Over Eastern Europe (Part 1)

With each story split into two-part episodes, ending this disc with the first half of a story (which has a nifty cliffhanger) is a clever way to ensure that the viewer will come back for future volumes. As the episodes progress and the show's mythology becomes clearer, this becomes compelling viewing. So I for one will be checking out the next volume, if only to work out what's going on!
No complaints to be had here about the video transfer. This anamorphic PAL transfer faithfully renders the show's rich colour palette and is free of any visual problems.
You get English in 5.1 and Japanese in 2.0, which is a tad sucky for those of us who like their anime in the original language and with kick-arse audio. Still, the 2.0 track is very lively, and manages some nice directional effects. Not as nice though, as the 5.1, which despite the dub - though admittedly well voiced and mixed - features great use of the surrounds and creates a strong atmosphere.
Extra Features
Cast Commentary (Episode 2) with Jason Liebrecht (Hei) and Colleen Clinkenbeard (Chiaki): Two of the cast from the English dub provide commentary on "The Fallen Star of a Contract… (Part 2)". Maybe it's because I'm not hugely familiar with anime fandom, but I'm a bit perplexed as to why anyone would give two actors from a dub track their own commentary over the original voice actors. This aside, Liebrecht and the delightfully-named Clinkenbeard do provide some lively, enthusiastic banter, though anyone expecting insight into the show itself will be left unsatisfied. The talk from both actors on the work routine of a voice actor is fairly interesting however.

Cast Audition Tapes: For some reason (as with the commentary) I expected this to feature the Japanese voice cast. Instead, this audio-only section features the vocal auditions for the English dub cast. Given that there's a character in the show called November 11, it's fitting that the auditions of eleven cast members are featured here. Each running around a minute or so, they make an interesting comparison with the final dub, but this really isn't likely to be something you'll listen to more than once.

Character Bios: Eleven (again) screens of text explaining who and what each character is. Quite helpful if you've had a gap between episodes, or are just trying to get a handle on the show. The bios are riddled with spoilers for the episodes in this volume however, so proceed with caution.

Settings Gallery: Another eleven (hah!) screens of info, these ones detail the locations, creatures and weapons featured in the show, and again, give a bit more context to the series.

Textless Opening and Closing Credits: Exactly what it says it is. Yay for truth in advertising! You get your choice of the emo-tastic opening theme "Howling", by Abingdon Boys School, or the very Japanese end title girly-ballad "Tsukiari" by Rie Fu, sans the text.

Madman Trailers: Bonus trailers for Cowboy Bebop Remix Complete Sessions, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Gilgamesh Complete Collection, and Fullmetal Alchemist: The Movie. With all those wordy titles, it would figure that the trailers themselves are actually quite brief…
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
A promising opening volume, though it's often hard to work out what's going on in this first installment of Darker Than Black. Still, there are enough intriguing story elements to keep you coming back for future episodes, and the visual design is very stylish. Madman's DVD is very nicely put together, though a bit of emphasis on the Japanese side of the production would have been nice.

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