Anime-Breakdown: Darker Than Black: Ryuusei no Gemini (2009) Series Review

If “Darker Than Black” was a band than their follow up album would be considered selling out. “Ryuusei no Gemini” is nothing like the first season coming across as an entirely different anime. It panders to the audience, the action is over the top, the soundtrack is less memorable, and the direction of the entire anime is different. Not all the pieces connect properly, but it is a decent follow up to the first season of “Darker Than Black”. It never reaches the same heights of season one, but it does have its own strength that makes it worth watching including an ending that is best described as unsatisfactory.

Oh, there will be minor spoilers. While not intentional and kept vague as possible, it takes place a whole year after the first season of Darker Than Black and Darker Than Black: Gaiden four part OVA. It’s recommended you avoid this review for that purpose alone. I suggest seeing the previous season and OVA’s before reading or entirely ignoring this review.

Good: Different direction and different strengths

“Ryuusei no Gemini” from the first episode tells an overarching story. Focusing on two leading characters, Hei and Suou Pavlichenko, each with their own unique storylines. Hei story arc deals with finding Yin while Suou storyline deals more with finding answers about her family and her past. These two characters have different goals allowing the core of the main story to progress smoothly. Providing a different viewpoint from their adventure. How Hei goes about achieving his goal is vastly different to how Suou goes about reaching her goals. Suou goal is more personal vocalizing her thoughts in any situation without hesitation. Understanding how she feels throughout the entire season is plain as day. Hei is more tormented and defeated with his storyline in vein of a redemption story. Attempting to finish what he originally couldn’t because of his emotions.

The first season of “Darker Than Black” went for capturing noir and “Ryuusei no Gemini” goes for capturing the action genre. Accomplishing this by having a major revelation or action scene occur in every episode attempting to imitate the effect of a cliffhanger to encourage the viewer to see the next episode immediately. There is rarely ever a moment of safety for the heroes wherever they go. Someone is always behind them chasing them down. Another added inclusion from the change in direction is the material is allowed to show more emotion. Characters in general across more lively in the series without the usual restrictions emotionless contractors are written in.

One noticeable difference from “Ryuusei no Gemini” from the rest of the series is the comedy plays a bigger role. Jokes are thrown into every episodes instead of spread out through out the series on special occasions. Its favorite kind of jokes involves everyone confusing Suou for her twin brother. There’s a recurring gag involving Genma Shizume making flirtatious remark at Suou unknowing to him she’s actually a girl. It’s a funny recurring joke since it doesn’t reuse it frequently and offers other forms of humor to keep it varied. Mostly from Mao who despite a change of appearance hasn’t lost his ability for spouting sarcastic remarks.

The supporting cast is larger in “Ryuusei no Gemini” getting the short end in characterization. This is very noticeable from the first episode when it decides to bring in characters from the first season only sideline them. Within the first episode, a specific character that had a big role in season one gets killed off quickly. The supporting characters that do influence the story generally don’t have much of a screen presence. Little characterization is mostly to blame resulting in a support cast to be only known for a single a trait. Mina Hazuki is a badass when she’s in combat, but the most memorable aspect about her personality is she’s a lesbian. Genma Shizume is a comedic pervert whose terrible at his job. There is not a single scene when he’s shown doing his competently on the field. Another character is Norio who first appears in episode four with a storyline hinting he would play some important role in the story. Norio is forgotten about past episode six and his time in the series is superfluous in the main story. Some other characters fade into the background because they operate behind the scenes, but never is their influence felt.

The ending is a major drawback this season because Suou whole motivation is to find answers. Her arc takes as much time to tell as Hei’s does. This gives “Ryuusei no Gemini” a whole different direction of solving mysteries so leaving unanswered questions is a negative. By the time episode twelve finishes despite every bit of information being told to the viewer what happened it won’t turn out satisfactory. Hei is the only character who could serve as the backbone for the entire anime series from beginning to end. Details of what occurred to Hei is left in the open interpretation department which is more than a disappointment given at this point Hei is a strong three dimensional character. Leaving an open ending for Hei journey unlike the rest of the cast members makes it that much more unsatisfying.

Mixed: Good Leads, Unwhelming Supporting Cast

Hei in “Ryuusei no Gemini” is at his lowest point in the franchise. Gone is the carefree side of his personality coping with his inner depression with alcohol. He’s frequently serious in nearly every scene which is a change of character for Hei. In general though, Hei doesn’t get much added to him in terms of characterization. However, he does face new conflicts to overcome this season. Hei might not be the same person he was at the start of the franchise, but is still a well written character. He’s smart in situations that require him to think on the spot to survive. Despite how he turned out he does is sympathetic towards other characters, but expresses it differently from before.

Mao goes from a wise cat to a flying squirrel who asides from giving some sarcastic remarks and comedic relief has his importance to the story minimize. No longer does Mao gather intel for Hei or his group and instead helps out the heroes directly in small ways. He’s more active on screen sometime blocking people views or being some sort of distraction. Such moments don’t appear often enough to change the fact his importance to the story is not what it use to be. In return, Mao does receive characterization when fans finally get to see how he looked in his human form. It might only last a single episode seeing his past human self for the first time is a treat for fans.

Suou Pavlichenko is a red hair, 13 year old Russian girl photographer who becomes a sniper. She plays a major role in the story seeing everything in the world of contractors for the first time, but for any viewer following this anime series in order will already know everything Suou does not. Her character will be more relatable for anyone who has not seen the world of “Darker Than Black” at this point, but adds to seeing first hand the evolution of a human turning into a contractor. She’s a decent character…Studio Bones thought otherwise in how she’s used. In 11 out 12 episodes Suou appears naked at some point or appear in some scene that provides fanservice. Yeah, one entire episode out of twelve doesn’t use Suou in some way to pander to its audience. To name a few instances in the first episode there is a (are they ever not) pointless shower scene, episode three she’s in a cabin drying wet clothes only being cover by a blanket follow by interpreted bad position, in episode four there is Suou dancing which would be fine if it weren’t how that moment was framed, in episode eight swimsuits, and can’t forget the anti-tank rifle summoning sequence (in which Suou appears naked) is always shown in its entirety every time it gets summoned. These are a couple of examples of how the anime treats her which is honestly far worse than anything Hei ever does to Suou in the anime.

Like mentioned earlier the supporting cast is larger and some get sidelined. Misaki Kirihara from season gets sideline whose involvement in the story is unneeded. Her role in this season is minimize uncovering a conspiracy behind the scene that doesn’t do add much for the story. What ultimately ends up happening to her in the aftermath of the finale is far more relevant than anything she does before it ends. Due to the length of the anime the characters don’t receive the needed attention to have their own arcs or be fleshed out beyond introduction. Which why the likes of Yoko Sawasaki, Genma Shizume, Mina Hazuki, and Michiru are kept very simplistic from start to finish. The only exceptions to this are Dr. Mikhail Pavlichenko and Shion Pavlichenko because they are connected to Suou storyline. Throughout the series, there are flashbacks that reveal important pieces of information fleshing them out from when the season begins. Once it’s over, Dr. Mikhail and Shion have more to define them unlike the rest of the cast that remains the same.

Good: Bones Studio Aces Their Animation

The animation is done by Bones Studio like the rest of the anime series. Animation in “Ryuusei no Gemini” allows Studio Bones to show off what they can do. Having a more diverse cast in age range compare to the rest of the series. There’s a fair mix of children and adults where previous entries mostly had adult characters. As usual, all characters have unique designs that can be told apart easily even if all the characters hair color were the same. In movement it moves smoothly with no hiccups regardless what’s on screen. Backgrounds once again are detailed, though this time mostly contained in industrialized cities. There’s no environment that is unique to “Ryuusei no Gemini” specifically. However, it does claim the honor of having the best action sequences in the entire series.

The action scenes have flashy effect with over the top powers use in battles. There’s no usage of 3D in these action scenes as Studio Bones spares no expense for them. Battles are flashy sporting particle effects of all kind from sparks when two melee weapons hitting each other, to an explosion with intense flames, to anti-tank rifle that pierces through concrete or metal, and whatever effects to its disposal. Episode three has a sequence where a stationed train is hit by another train causing train carts to start flying through the air. It does not use 3D in any frame of that sequence which looks great when seen. Unfortunately there isn’t another sequence in the rest of the series that tops that spectacle, but the other action scenes aren’t any less impressive because of it. Every action scene has a flashy effect unique to that specific action sequence. In one episode it has a character merging with a vehicle manipulating it for combat. Goofy sounding as that description is in execution it’s actually creative while not being a one sided battle.

Throughout my reviews for the “Darker Than Black” franchise I always suggested seeing the anime with English subtitles and this season is why. In the English dub, Suou dialogue receives the most alteration of any character changing the tone of several scenes becoming grating to listen too. Alison Viktorin who voices Suou delivers a solid performance, but some of her dialogue does her a disservice making her come across as a little brat. Another factor that prevents her performance from being decent is she doesn’t sound like a thirteen year old. That would be easy to overlook, but she has a few scenes where she has to loudly vocalize her complaints. Due to the English script changes it varies from Suou coming across sympathetic or just wanting to see Hei hit her. As much Alison Viktorin is capable in the role playing off her cast member just fine, the English script gets across something else than originally intended.

In the Japanese cast Kana Hanazawa voices Suou who sounds more like a thirteen year old. Her performance is more subtle in vocalizing Suou’s emotion. Unlike Alison Viktorin who voices the same character, Hanazawa comes across as sympathetic with her delivery of the dialogue. She makes Suou sympathetic and likable. The closer the anime gets to the ending the more range Kanazawa is allowed. Her chemistry with her co-stars is spot on especially when together Sawaki Ikuya and Hidenobu Kiuchi coming together naturally.

Hearing Kent Williams deep voice coming out of a small Momonga (fancy name for a Japanese dwarf flying squirrel) is quite odd. Like in season one, Kent Williams is spot on with his sarcastic remarks being the most hilarious in the English dub cast. Hearing such a small animal talk in such a deep sounding voice sticks out. In the Japanese cast, Sawaki Ikuya voice never becomes noticeable when playing the same character. While I prefer Kent Williams playing Mao in the series, Sawaki Ikuya has a voice that better blends into the character. Never does Ikuya voice become a distraction making it easier to become immerse with the character.

As usual (no surprise) regardless of who is heard both Hidenobu Kiuchi and Jason Liebrecht shine in their portrayal of Hei. The direction of the anime is different, but the changes does not affect how they portray their characters. Both of voice actors retain Hei characteristics managing to make the transition between seasons seem seamless. Creating a performance that works with the changes of the series. There’re no hiccups in how they portray Hei. The supporting cast in both the Japanese and English dub cast play their characters in a straightforward manner. With more comedy, it’s more difficult to distinguish any standout in the supporting cast. Doesn’t really offer much range when half the cast has to deliver comedy.

If you had to choose between sub or dub I would recommend English sub for the entire franchise and English subtitles for this season. The Japanese cast performance are consistent throughout the entire anime franchise where the English dub stumbles in important areas as it goes on. There’re also some script changes in the English dub that goes against what was originally intended to get across. The English dub isn’t bad with Kent Williams and Jason Liebrecht reprising their roles they excel in portraying. Making the English worth alone for their performances, but they are the only aspects of the English dub that remain strong in every iteration.

The soundtrack done compose by Yasushi Ishii this season which forgettable. Like in the four-part Gaiden OVA, the soundtrack is a mixture of rock tracks, techno, and lighter sounding tracks for the more personal moments in the series. None of the tracks stand out on their own without the accompany of visuals. Within the series, it works while simultaneously being forgettable. Instead of strengthening a scene, it just fades into the background. The opening theme “Tsukiakari no Michishirube” by Stereopony is a pop/rock track. Optimistic lyrics with Aimi Haraguni lack of conviction don’t go hand in hand, but is a decent opening song that works fine for the intro. In spite how the series actually is, it’s a great fit for the intro. Same goes with the ending track “From Dusk Til Dawn” by Abingdon Boys School. “From Dusk Til Dawn” is pop sounding using acoustic guitars and synthesized strings. It starts off soft going to the sounding more melodramatic when it ends.

Personal Enjoyment: More entertaining, but not as good

I was more entertained seeing “Ryuusei no Gemini” over the original season since it started with an overarching story and maintained it till completion. It also delivered on the action scenes all which never failed to be a feast for the eyes. However, it was entirely different in tone, pacing, and direction from what season one provided. Everything that made season one great was lost or downgraded in “Ryuusei no Gemini”. Season one characters get sideline, there was allot more pandering, contractors powers got over the top, and the ending wasn’t entirely satisfactory. I wasn’t expecting “Ryuusei no Gemini” to be the way it was, but at the same time I am not upset it did something different (ironically playing it safe) than rehashing itself. Instead of delivering something out of my expectations it deliver it exactly what I expected from it in the first place. For better and worse, it was still an enjoyable ride.

Anime Series Overview:

In retrospect “Darker Than Black” is an anime series that has something different to offer in each iteration. Season one contains strong writing and great characters. Taking it sweet time before it develops it main cast, but a great first season all the way through. “Darker than Black: Gaiden” four-part OVA offers the best mixture of both season containing the strong writing of season one and the great action scenes of season two. It’s also the most rushed with only four episodes to its story. “Ryuusei no Gemini” is pure entertainment that noticeably panders in order to reach a greater audience. Losing traits that made season one great and in return going in another route succeeding for different reasons. It’s not the follow up one would expect the first season to receive, but has its own strength. I have to sound like a broken record at this point writing about this series multiple times in a single month. If you read all my reviews of this anime series or just this one thank you very much.

Story: 2/3

Characters: 2/3

Production Values: 2/3

Personal Enjoyment: 1/1

Final Thoughts:

Disappointment would be the defining word for this follow up season to “Darker Than Black”. It’s nothing like the first season and all the characters from season one get sideline for a new cast most of which aren’t developed the same degree of one-shot characters in the first season. It’s not quite the follow up some fans might have wanted, but it’s a decent anime through and through. All the characters story arcs get concluded, the action scenes are fast with great choreography, and ends the series on a positive note. Where Darker Than Black ended up with “Ryuusei no Gemini” will be varied when viewers reach the end, but the journey to get there was one thrilling adventure that’s worth taking.

7/10

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