Anime-Breakdown: Darker than Black: Kuro no Keiyakusha Gaiden (2010) OVA Review

The first season of “Darker Than Black” left the exact fate of two of its central cast in an ambiguous state. This four part OVA continues the story past the first season finale while serving as the transition into the new direction second two would take in Ryuusei no Gemini. This OVA combines the strength of both season into a nice package telling a compelling story, interesting leading characters, and great action scenes.

Good: Fills the gap between seasons 1 & 2

This four part OVA can be summarized as a “couple on the run” sort of story. Hei and Yin are trying to survive daily lifewhile escaping from an organization called “The Syndicate” that is hunting them down. There is more to the story than that outline. Primarily showing the growth of Hei and Yin bond and learning why everyone wants Yin. Despite that description the tender moments Hei and Yin share together won’t come across as romantic. How it plays out is more tragic with events appearing to be much bigger than everyone within the series thinks. In just four episodes it takes a relatively small conflict progressively giving it a grander scale in every passing episode. Forcing Hei to challenge himself mentally if the greater good is more important than personal desire. The fact that this isn’t Hei first time making a decision around the same scale practically serves as an essential character moment for understanding his change in personality in season two Ryuusei no Gemini.

While short Gaiden does hint on some things to come in season two. For starter, there are brief instances of over the top powers being shown. One example being a contractor that can cause explosions by blowing bubbles. Such powers aren’t a highlighted issue because they don’t stay on screen for a long time. However, they provide the best moments of animation. In particular, the fourth episode, which is the climax of this whole story and allot things blow up literally and narratively.

Another reason to watch this OVA for fans is it will fill in the gap between season one and season two. If you go straight into Ryuusei no Gemini, there will be plot points that won’t be addressed. In particular, how Yin got in the positioned she did and why Hei personality changed drastically from the last time he was seen. Also it’s a transition from the old noir direction into the more action oriented direction in Ryuusei no Gemini in each episode. Its start like season one with a noir beginning and ending with Ryuusei no Gemini more action oriented direction.

A negative to the “Darker Than Black: Gaiden” OVA are the one-shot characters. A trait that didn’t carry over from the main series was characterization for supporting characters. So the supporting cast feel like tools to move the story forward. This can be forgiven because of the length of Gaiden. It is noticeably rushed in certain scenes. In the first episode, Hei is ambushed at a hotel he’s staying at by two contractors and it just cuts to another scene in the middle of that fight. While it’s not important in the story it is telling, a detail like that can’t be left to the viewer imagination to fill in especially considering what sort of ability that specific contractor has. In the final OVA things end with a hook leading into the second season instead of being self contained. The final scene in Gaiden can be summed up with the word destiny. It’s just a matter of time before it actually occurs because no matter how much the anime wants to stray off from that path it’s written in destiny.

Mixed: Only two characters get developed

The focus of this four part OVA is on Hei and Yin relationship growing more intimate with one another. Building on two already established becoming more individuals. Given their roles a greater sense of importance once episode 3 and 4 come around with a huge revelation. By the end of Gaiden Hei becomes a more dynamic character. Changing drastically by the end of Gaiden with it being shown with a simple visual that gets across how the following events impacted him. Yin might say little in four episodes, but it’s the simplicity of her words that has lots of meaning.

Aside from Hei and Yin the OVA doesn’t focus on any other character. Most of the supporting cast will leave something to be desired especially Mina Hazuki and Youko Sawasaki both of whom are in season two. Showing up with little explanation and no bearing on the story. If it’s not Hei or Yin, then there is nothing more to the character once they get shown.

Good: Receives the same treatment as the main series

Bones Studio is once again behind the anime series and the production values remain high. The backgrounds are diverse jumping from the industrialized cityscape, to a small tropical island, and a couple more location in its short run. Backgrounds are detailed like in the first season with distinguishable character designs for the entire cast. It does have a few notable design choices that are purely for fan service, though are not on screen for a very long time. Episode two contains the most fanservice out of all the episodes with the character Xiao Jie (whose is name not mentioned in the Gaiden’s OVA) stripping clothing as part of her payment for using her powers. Beyond that example, there’s no other fanservice moment in the same degree.

One area the four part OVA improve on from the first season are the action scenes. Like in the first season, the action scenes are restrained in how flashy they are portrayed for three episodes. In the fourth episodes it ditches the restraints it gives itself going for an explosive climax. The major upgrade in the OVA is the choreography for the action sequences are quicker. Utilizing all sorts of framing technique to capture the quick movement. They are animated smoothly displaying Bones Studio at the top of their game in these action sequences. Whenever Hei dodges any sort of projectile attacks his movement never takes any notable shortcut in the animation. The staging of them also improved thank to Hei having to think on the fly more quickly in his combat situations and no dialogue interruption during these action scenes to disrupt the flow.

Voice acting from both the Japanese and English cast remains good. Once again the English dub script remains as faithful as possible to the original Japanese script. The changes that are made are barely noticeable in the story it is telling regardless what version is seen. In both the Japanese cast and English dub voice actors reprise their previous role. Hidenobu Kiuchi and Jason Liebrecht provide the voice for Hei. Just like in season one, both actors deliver great performances of a seemingly emotionless character without coming across wooden. To both actors benefits the material allows them more range interacting with their co-stars in situations places Hei out of his element. Easily these two actors are the standout in this four OVA. Brina Palencia and Misato Fukuen both voice Yin. Both actresses do a fine job, but aren’t given much material to build on their performances that feel like a rehash portrayal.

As for choosing how to see Gaiden it’s a tie for voice work. Gaiden does not offer time to have a recurring character and allow them time to grow. Unless you’re a big fan of Tetsuya Iwanaga for the Japanese cast or Johnny Yong Bosch for the English dub playing Calude the only other character with a big enough role to take notice off. Simply go with personal preferences since nothing is lost in either version.

In the music department, it has a similar soundtrack to Ryuusei no Gemini going more for a thriller vibe. Offering a mixture of rock tracks, techno, and lighter sounding tracks for the more personal moments in the series. The melancholy ending theme “Can You Fly” by Yasushi Ishii is played in every episode. It’s the only noteworthy track in the music department. While in general the soundtrack works “Can You Fly” by Yasushi Ishii is the only memorable track that remains with you after you finish the series.

Personal Enjoyment:

After spending an entire twenty-four episode season with Hei and Yin I’ve very much appreciated how this four part OVA told an arching story and added upon two already developed characters. Unlike the first season, I immediately got hook into this four part OVA and all it took was one stellar opening action sequence. Thankfully it also had the same quality writing and storytelling that made the first season such a great anime.

Story: 2/3

Characters: 2/3

Production Values: 3/3

Personal: 1/1

Final Thoughts:

“Darker Than Black: Gaiden” combines the strong writing of season one with the upgraded action scenes of season two. It’s a must watch for any fan to make clearer sense of Ryuusei no Gemini ending and for anyone who wants to continue watching the rest the “Darker Than Black” series without getting lost in the story. Gaiden combines the best elements of both seasons even if it lasts under two hours.

8/10

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