Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Action’ Category

Here we are in February! Plenty more reviews on the way, though I’m going to start this month off with one series that isn’t exactly a blockbuster. Enjoyable, yes, but it’s not one of those anime in my classics list.

Soukou no Str.A.In. (short for Strategic Armored Infantry, hereafter referred to as Strain) was definitely one of those anime that I needed to re-watch. I first saw this series a few years ago, and haven’t touched it at all in the interim. I had pretty fond memories of it, though, so I knew it was going to need a second viewing to make sure I wasn’t suffering from Rose-Colored Glasses syndrome too much. Turns out it was partially true, but not entirely. The anime isn’t spectacular, but it’s still certainly better than abject garbage.

Synopsis

Strain: Sara Werec

Sara Werec, sister to the famous soldier Ralph Werec, enters military school in order to rejoin him. Just before her graduation, however, her school is hit by an attack – Sara’s life changes drastically in the aftermath of the sudden, devastating attack. Her journey continues to find her brother, knowing that only he can answer the questions she has.

Genre

A Science Fiction anime with some action and some drama, and lots of anthropomorphic robots.

Age Rating

This one’s probably R, too. There’s violence, which is occasionally graphic. There’s nudity and adult themes, too.

Review

Plot Quality: 4

The plot of Strain is pretty straight-forward, with 13 episodes in its one season. The story is surprisingly focused throughout the season, which in a sense is nice, but also makes the presentation feel somewhat flat. This will actually be a recurring theme for the show: its flatness.

What does that mean, exactly? In essence, the story of Strain is so linear and predictable that it feels as though the show never really tries to engage the audience with the story. It’s a very passive form of storytelling, and would have benefited greatly from some stronger, more motivated deviations from the main directive of the show. Unfortunately, the spacious time in between key action sequences or plot elements is squandered on ineffective character development.

There are a very few notable exceptions to this, and those moments in the plot are quite enjoyable. Lottie and Sara, in particular, develop a relationship over the course of the episode that sparks a few exceptional moments. Outside of these, though, there’s not a lot to look for on the plot front.

But then, if you’re watching an action, sci-fi anime to get an awesome plot out of it, I think you might be heading for a very rare crossroads. A proper audience is here to see aliens and explosions, after all, right? The action of Strain is generally quite engaging, and the battles don’t feel predictable. My one qualm with combat here is that the consequences feel lopsided: Sara’s comrades are all human, so any casualties to her side result in real losses, while her assailants operate with remote-controlled drones. I don’t understand why only one side has access to combat drones at this advanced date, but the end result is a lot of emotional stress for only one of the two armies.

All considered, the story is fun despite being flat. The action carries the show from moment to moment, and the story – however simple – serves the purpose of motivating the combat. It may not be a super-rich experience, but it is enjoyable.

Character Quality: 4

One of the tricks that Strain tries to invoke to solve the linear plot is to bind us emotionally to the characters. Time and again, we’re put alongside the soldiers of the front lines, watching the suffering of both those that are hurt or killed, and those that survive and must cope afterward. Strain’s success here is mixed. Sometimes, I felt sympathy for the characters; other times, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.

Sara is the character that the show follows best, and so it is in her that we see the most emotional distress. She loses her friends and acquaintances through the war she must fight, and thus a fair bit of her development revolves around her learning to cope with the pain and guilt. I didn’t find her behavior to be particularly believable, in all, because I figured that she would have gone through most of these emotional stages before signing up to be a soldier. Not all of your comrades will come home: it’s a fact of war. Either the military was woefully understated in communicating this truth to Sara, or she completely ignored their instructors. She subsequently doesn’t become a particularly compelling protagonist until the end of the series, when she’s finally come to terms with the truth of war.

Strain: Lottie Gelh

Lottie Gelh is perhaps my favorite character on the cast, and that’s not simply a product of her being cuter than Sara. Lottie is more emotionally developed than most everyone else on her team (Jessie being the one exception), and this allows her to shine from the beginning as a character worth following. She cares deeply about everyone on her team. Despite the fact that she may lose them in a battle, she still spends as much of her time with them as she can. She’s also decisive and determined, never wallowing in doubt or guilt as our protagonist so often does. Her ability to overcome stress and keep her composure in the most dire of situations sets her apart. She’s definitely a hot-head, but she always has control of herself: as her captain states, “She, of everyone, won’t make a mistake.”

Both Lottie and Sara suffer from a tragically strong form of “brother complex.” Their brothers both joined the army, and their lives were driven entirely by the desire to join them again. I understand this to be a more common theme in Japanese culture, but it still feels awkward that their brothers wield such absolute command over their siblings when they aren’t even around. I felt this cheapened both of them a bit, especially Sara (who can hardly stop herself from talking about her brother for quite a while).

As for the rest of the cast, they are as flat as the plot. Each of Lottie’s team has a single trait associated with them (One’s a womanizer, one’s a tomboy that loves meat, one’s a diet-fashionista, and so on). The other members of the show are likewise plain characters with only a single real characteristic to define them. Given how much time these characters spend on camera, it’s a shame they are less like people and more like cardboard cut-outs for those people. Jessie warrants a mention here, as she does occasionally show just what potential she (and probably a lot of the rest of the cast) has as real, compelling characters: her ability to step up to command in Lottie’s absence is admirable. But, once Lottie returns, Jessie dutifully puts her submissive mask back on, and the audience is left wondering just how much grit the characters have.

Visual Quality: 5.5

The art for the show is broken up between hand-drawn art (or, at least, a computer approximation of such), and computer-generated graphics for the aerial robot combat. The two art styles feel different, and the bouncing back and forth between them can feel a little silly. However, there’s not a real lack of visual vibrancy on either side, so it’s never too jarring.

The CG in Strain is generally great. The motions of the robots are very fluid, from the generic Strains that Lottie and her company pilot to the elaborate beast of a Strain that Ralph Werec pilots. The colors are strong and persistent, bringing a profound sense of life to the otherwise bleak space settings. I don’t know that anything here is particularly realistic, as it’s all science fiction, but they definitely look cool. It’s just a shame that there are so few scenes that really showcase the robots well – most action is very quick, not leaving a lot of time for the pilots to really show off their skill.

When we revert from CG-style to the more common, hand-drawn style there isn’t a lot to say. The work is still pretty and bright wherever possible, keeping the engulfing darkness of space at bay, but it still feels a little flat and uninspired. The animation is smooth enough, but it’s not very detailed. THat is, most joints are not articulated, hair looks too inflexible, and blood spattered on combat victims looks like stripes of uniform-colored paint. There’s a lot of potential for detail here, but it’s left by the wayside.

Audio Quality: 5

If there is one saving grace of the audio in Strain, it is the opening song. I may just be a sucker for non-traditional drums, but I always looked forward to hearing that piece – somewhere between a lullaby, a folk song, and an action song – with every episode. It doesn’t necessarily fit the science fiction genre, but that doesn’t stop it from being awesome.

The ending track, as well as the insert tracks, are lame by comparison. I skipped the ending track after listening to it once through – it didn’t do anything for me (the monotonous background certainly didn’t help). The insert music is also average, repeated from episode to episode as the mood dictates, and forgotten as soon as the show ends. It isn’t a problem, but not an asset either.

The voice acting here isn’t worthy of many notes, either. Sara’s emotionally scarred a few times over the course of the show, but the pain and suffering seems to fade away soon enough. I would have appreciated more evolution of personality in her voice, as those kinds of losses should be affecting her for far longer than they do; one way to really bring Sara out of the flatness of the show would have been with a dynamic voice. This doesn’t happen, and I find it a shame. The other voice actors likewise don’t show much growth, staying as flat as the characters they are asked to depict.

Overall, the opening song gives the audio a lot of potential; it’s a shame that Strain doesn’t clinch the deal on the other fronts.

Bottom Line: 4.5

Strain is, as advertised, a science-fiction action series with lots of robots. There’s not a lot of depth here, and the characters don’t do much to break out of the rather planar environments in which they’re cast, but these are secondary elements. Even without amazing characters or superb audio, the story is fun and exciting. The action is great from the start: survival of the characters really rides on their performance in these battles, and we learn very early on that Strain isn’t pulling any punches with the consequences of poor performance in battle.

There is still that element of drama, too, that follows nearly all war stories. This isn’t played out as well as the action, but it’s hard to be completely unphased by the death of characters. The survivors suffer, and the audience feels a lot of that pain right alongside them. This helps to bring Strain to a level above generic action, with the repercussions of war leaving a real, lasting effect on the cast.

Overall, Strain can be a lot of fun. It’s also very genre-heavy, and therefore doesn’t generalize well. If you want some war-styled action, strife, and drama, check it out – otherwise, you may want to look elsewhere.

Coming Soon

I’m looking to tackle Kanon (2006) next. It will probably be kind of long, but fair. Full Metal Panic, Allison and Lillia, and Toradora! are all in the wings.

Strain 

Str.A.In. (short for Strategic Armored Infantry, hereafter referred to as Strain) was definitely one of those anime that I needed to re-watch. I first saw this series a few years ago, and haven’t touched it at all in the interim. I had pretty fond memories of it, though, so I knew it was going to need a second viewing to make sure I wasn’t suffering from Rose-Colored Glasses syndrome too much. Turns out it was partially true, but not entirely. The anime isn’t spectacular, but its still certainly better than abject garbage.

Synopsis

Sara Werec, sister to the famous soldier Ralph Werec, enters military school in order to rejoin him. Just before her graduation, however, her school is hit by an attack – Sara’s life changs drastically in the aftermath of the sudden, devastating attack.

Genre

A Science Fiction anime with some action and some drama, and lots of anthropomorphic robots.

Age Rating

This one’s probably R, too. There’s violence, which is occasionally graphic. There’s nudity and adult themes, too.

Review

Plot Quality:

The plot of Strain is pretty straight-forward, with 13 episodes in its one season. The story is surprisingly focused throughout the season, which in a sense is nice, but also makes the presentation feel somewhat flat. This will actually be a recurring theme for the show: its flatness.

What does that mean, exactly? In essence, the story of Strain is so linear and predictable that it feels as though the show never really tries to engage the audience with the story. It’s a very passive form of storytelling, and would have benefitted greatly from some stronger, more motivated deviations from the main directive of the show. Unfortunately, the spacious time in between key action sequences or plot elements is squandered on ineffective character development.

There are a very few notable exceptions to this, and those moments in the plot are quite enjoyable. Lottie and Sara, in particular, develop a relationship over the course of the episode that sparks a few exceptional moments. Outside of these, though, there’s not a lot to look for on the plot front.

But then, if you’re watching an action, sci-fi anime to get an awesome plot out of it, I think you might be heading for a very rare crossroads. A proper audience is here to see aliens and explosions, after all, right? The action of Strain is generally quite engaging, and the battles don’t feel predictable. My one qualm with combat here is that the consequences feel lopsided: Sara’s comrades are all human, so any casualties to her side result in real losses, while her assailants operate with remote-controlled drones. I don’t understand why only one side has access to combat drones at this advanced date, but the end result is a lot of emotional stress for only one of the two armies.

All considered, the story is fun despite being flat. The action carries the show from moment to moment, and the story – however simple – serves the purpose of motivating the combat. It may not be a super-rich experience, but it is enjoyable.

Character Quality:

One of the tricks that Strain tries to invoke to solve the linear plot is to bind us emotionally to the characters. Time and again, we’re put alongside the soldiers of the front lines, watching the suffering of both those that are hurt or killed, and those that survive and must cope afterwards. Strain’s success here is mixed. Sometimes, I felt sympathy for the characters; other times, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.

Sara is the character that the show follows best, and so it is in her that we see the most emotional distress. She loses her friends and acquaintances through the war she must fight, and thus a fair bit of her development revolves around her learning to cope with the pain and guilt. I didn’t find her behavior to be particularly believable, in all, because I figured that she would have gone through most of these emotional stages before signing up to be a soldier. Not all of your comrades will come home: it’s a fact of war. Either the military was woefully understated in communicating this truth to Sara, or she completely ignored their instructions. She subsequently doesn’t become a particularly compelling protagonist until the end of the series, when she’s finally come to terms with the truth of war.

Lottie is perhaps my favorite character on the cast, and that’s not simply a product of her being cuter than Sara. Lottie is more emotionally developed than most everyone else on her team (Jessie being the one exception), and this allows her to shine from the beginning as a character worth following. She cares deeply about everyone on her team. Despite the fact that she may lose them in a battle, she still spends as much of her time with them as she can. She’s also decisive and determined, never wallowing in doubt or guilt as our protagonist so often does. Her ability to overcome stress and keep her composure in the most dire of situations sets her apart. She’s definitely a hot-head, but she always has control of herself: as her captain states, “She, of everyone, won’t make a mistake.”

Both Lottie and Sara suffer from a tragically strong form of “brother complex.” Their brothers both joined the army, and their lives were driven entirely by the desire to join them again. I understand this to be a more common theme in Japanese culture, but it still feels awkward that their brothers wield such absolute command over their siblings when they aren’t even around. I felt this cheapened both of them a bit, especially Sara (who can hardly stop herself from talking about her brother for quite a while).

As for the rest of the cast, they are as flat as the plot. Each of Lottie’s team has a single trait associated with them (One’s a womanizer, one’s a tomboy that loves meat, one’s a diet-fashionista, and so on). The other members of the show are likewise plain characters with only a single real characteristic to define them. Given how much time these characters spend on camera, it’s a shame they are less like people and more like cardboard cut-outs for those people. Jessie warrants a mention here, as she does occasionally show just what potential she (and probably a lot of the rest of the cast) has as real, compelling characters: her ability to step up to command in Lottie’s absence is admirable. But, once Lottie returns, Jessie dutifully puts her submissive mask back on, and the audience is left wondering just how much grit the characters have.

Visual Quality:

The art for the show is broken up between hand-drawn art (or, at least, a computer approximation of such), and computer-generated graphics for the aerial robot combat. The two art styles feel different, and the bouncing back and forth between them can feel a little silly. However, there’s not a real lack of visual vibrancy on either side, so it’s never too jarring.

The CG in Strain is generally great. The motions of the robots are very fluid, from the generic Strains that Lottie and her company pilot to the elaborate beast of a Strain that Ralph Werec pilots. The colors are strong and persistent, bringing a profound sense of life to the otherwise bleak space settings. I don’t know that anything here is particularly realistic, as it’s all science fiction, but they definitely look cool. It’s just a shame that there are so few scenes that really showcase the robots well – most action is very quick, not leaving a lot of time for the pilots to really show off their skill.

When we revert from CG-style to the more common, hand-drawn style there isn’t a lot to say. The work is still pretty and bright wherever possible, keeping the engulfing darkness of space at bay, but it still feels a little flat and uninspired. The animation is smooth enough, but it’s not very detailed. THat is, most joints are left unarticulated, hair looks too inflexible, and blood spattered on combat victims looks like stripes of uniform-colored paint. There’s a lot of potential for detail here, but it’s left by the wayside.

Audio Quality:

If there is one saving grace of the audio in Strain, it is the opening song. I may just be a sucker for non-traditional drums, but I always looked forward to hearing that piece – somewhere between a lullaby, a folk song, and an action song – with every episode. It doesn’t necessarily fit the science fiction genre, but that doesn’t stop it from being awesome.

The ending track, as well as the insert tracks, are lame by comparison. I skipped the ending track after listening to it once through – it didn’t do anything for me (the monotonous background certainly didn’t help). The insert music is also average, repeated from episode to episode as the mood dictates, and forgotten as soon as the show ends. It isn’t a problem, but not an asset either.

The voice acting here isn’t worthy of many notes, either. Sara’s emotionally scarred a few times over the course of the show, but the pain and suffering seems to fade away soon enough. I would have appreciated more evolution of personality in her voice, as those kinds of losses should be affecting her for far longer than they do; one way to really bring Sara out of the flatness of the show would have been with a dynamic voice. This doesn’t happen, and I find it a shame. The other voice actors likewise don’t show much growth, staying as flat as the characters they are asked to depict.

Overall, the opening song gives the audio a lot of potential; it’s a shame that Strain doesn’t clinch the deal on the other fronts.

Bottom Line:

Strain is, as advertised, a science-fiction action series with lots of robots. There’s not a lot of depth here, and the characters don’t do much to break out of the rather planar environments in which they’re cast, but these are secondary elements. Even without amazing characters or superb audio, the story is fun and exciting. The action is great from the start: survival of the characters really rides on their performance in these battles, and we learn very early on that Strain isn’t pulling any punches with the consequences of poor performance in battle.

There is still that element of drama, too, that follows nearly all war stories. This isn’t played out as well as the action, but it’s hard to be completely unphased by the death of characters. The survivors suffer, and the audience feels a lot of that pain right alongside them. This helps to bring Strain to a level above generic action, with the reprecussions of war leaving a real, lasting effect on the cast.

Overall, Strain can be a lot of fun. It’s also very genre-heavy, and therefore doesn’t generalize well. If you want some war-styled action, strife, and drama, check it out – otherwise, you may want to look elsewhere.

Coming Soon

I’m looking to tackle Kanon (2006) next. It will probably be kind of long, but fair. Full Metal Panic, Allison and Lillia, and Toradora! are all in the wings.

Read Full Post »

Darker Than Black

Darker Than Black came across my plate quite early in my anime experience. I had a hard time finishing it at first because, while each arc I watched felt awesome, I didn’t really grasp what connected one arc to the next. This was fine, though, because it left me the luxury of watching it alongside other anime. I could watch a pair of Darker Than Black episodes and be satisfied, move on to another anime, and know that Darker Than Black would still be there with another one-hour adventure when I was ready.

In retrospect, this probably isn’t a great thing in an anime. Shows really want to grab the audience and not release them until the very last scene, otherwise they can’t guarantee viewers throughout the season. But, at the same time, I found Darker Than Black to be more accessible because of its episodic nature. When a show grabs me, I have a very hard time compartmentalizing the experience until it’s done, which can lead to long, unproductive anime binges. These binges definitely have their place, and I doubt I’ll ever stop enjoying those longer, engrossing anime. But during the work week, when I really can’t afford to burn my few free hours on a single activity (anime or otherwise), shows like Darker Than Black really shine.

Synopsis

In an alternate universe, present-day society was torn asunder by a calamity ten years ago. At that time, two vast chasms consumed parts of the earth: Heaven’s Gate and Hell’s Gate. Many civilians found themselves suddenly transformed: some became powerful contractors, possessing a single super-power and an associated “obsience,” or repentance activity. Others became dolls, passive mediums with seemingly no will or personality.

In this corrupted world, every country is vying for more information about the powers within the Gates. The Syndicate, one powerful organization fighting for an unknown benefactor, has assembled a new team to gather information and resources from Hell’s Gate. The interactions, successes, and failures of this “Black Reaper” team are the crux of Darker Than Black.

Genre

A dark, noir-styled action anime with mystery and intrigue aplenty.

Age Rating

This one’s definitely in the R category. There’s plenty of violence and murder, and while generally not horror-style grotesque, it can be fairly graphic.

Review

Plot Quality: 6

The plot of Darker Than Black is more than likely the most important element in its overall presentation. This is the reason to watch this show, or to pass it up: the story. Or, more accurately, the stories.

Darker Than Black: Hei

The show is primarily broken up into a series of two-episode arcs. Each arc focuses on a different job that Hei and his associates need to take on. The assignments vary widely, from protection to theft, from investigation to assassination. The back-story that connects each arc is very minimal at first, but unlike a series like Ghost Hunt, there is a definite momentum that builds by the second half of the show.

The arcs, on their own, range from good to superb. The pacing of the arcs is good, but quickly becomes predictable – the arc lengths are all uniform, after all, so the stories have to open and wrap up in a similar style every time. That said, there is such variation in the subject matter that the audience is always seeing something new. While not every story is spectacular, this only helps to elevate those arcs that really capture the ambiance of the world, the struggles of the characters, and the energetic, desperate combat best.

One of the story’s greatest strengths, and also one of its greatest weaknesses, is its complexity. Understanding just what contractors are, what dolls are, and why they are the way they are takes a lot of work. The power struggles that are driving Hei’s superiors to give him his missions, and why other countries fight against them are rarely spelled out explicitly – the audience is left to fill in the gaps. The mysteries surrounding Hei, Yin, and Mao are also stuck in the audience’s mind at the opening of the show, while their answers come much later (if they come at all). Indeed, the audience has to do a lot of work to really grasp what is going on behind the scenes to drive the characters if they want to fully enjoy the experience.

The asset here is that, once understood, the story is that much richer. This is particularly evident on a second viewing: knowing why characters behave the way they do is satisfying. Actions that might be taken for granted on a first pass inherit new meaning when, later on, the audience realizes just what sacrifices were made for those actions. I’m sure this sounds vague and, for someone watching the show for the first time, not exactly compelling. Nevertheless, I always like a good puzzle – I like having to think some when I’m watching a show. The puzzle is most definitely there in Darker Than Black, and – contrary to most anime – knowing the puzzles actually doesn’t diminish another viewing.

Character Quality: 5

The primary characters, being contractors and dolls, don’t actually present as very appealing characters at first. They’re emotionless, calculating, logical beings that almost seem robotic. Their smiles and frowns are all feigned, acted veneers to get them to their goals. And, of course, no one is a better actor than our protagonist.

Hei is more or less the Japanese equivalent of Batman. Hei leads a double life: beyond being a syndicate contractor, he keeps up the appearances of Li Sheng Shun: college transfer student from China, now studying in Tokyo. Hei fights skillfully, employing a few tools to amplify his contractor power, but never gives the impression of being an invincible Superman. Hei tries to do what he thinks is best, though he’s constrained by higher powers to act in a certain way. Hei’s human persona can laugh and cry with the very best of the real human population, masking his real emotions from his adversaries and even his friends when necessary. All of these elements build up into a protagonist that really fits the imperfect superhero role, with all the darkness and emotional trauma present in Batman. As a bonus, Hei is able to actually able to change over the course of the show as events change him, rather than remaining impervious as traditional superheroes must.

Hei’s associates are fun, and occasionally get some real camera time to impress, but are generally relegated to the background. Mao acquires the comic relief job more often than not, which is a bit of a shame – his power could have really amplified a lot of the stories, if only he had been allowed to help. Yin always elicits a warm, fuzzy feeling, but objectively she really doesn’t bring that much to the show: she can find people, but otherwise is quite like a real doll. Much as I adored them, these characters have a fair deal more potential than they ever get to present in the story; it’s a shame they aren’t given more opportunities to shine (while they do great with the arcs dedicated to them).

On the other side of the fence, Misaki Kirihara is the police investigator assigned to bring down Hei’s team. She, too, could use more development – she is largely one-dimensional in her drive to bring evil-doers to justice. She never has the power to be a threat to a contractor, either, so she feels more like an unfortunate audience member stumbling into the show than a powerful obstacle to Hei’s objectives. This in and of itself isn’t a problem, per se, but it really leaves the audience wondering where her determination and confidence come from – she can’t go toe-to-toe with these guys, so why is she so fearless? Her underlings are as fun as Hei’s, but they are developed even less – they’re just like the oh-so-easily duped police in most modern superhero tales.

Darker Than Black: Mai Tahara

Last on our character list: the extras. For each arc, there’s a few new characters that are introduced: targets for assassination, or protection, or simply opposition in a recovery mission. So unlike most of the staples in the cast, these side characters actually get a surprising amount of development time. This shouldn’t be a big surprise, as the characters only have two episodes to convince us that they’re worth our attention. It’s in some of those top-tier arcs that the characters really succeed: the school girl whose abandonment by her father leaves her scarred and confused; the researcher whose ambitions lie in fulfilling the childhood dreams he shared with his sister; and the girl that Hei’s boss once knew, eliciting powerful emotions from the otherwise cold and caustic agent of the syndicate. The real shame here is that many of the side characters fade away at the end of every arc. Those that reappear are a treat, but many more never come back.

Visual Quality: 4

The art style of Darker Than Black is uniformly crisp – clean lines, strong definition of features, and strong expressions. However, this is probably the only major consistency amongst the animation department. Some sequences are as strongly drawn as they are fluid: every action the characters take is deliberate and visible. Other sequences seem to be using only every fourth or fifth frame. I thought that we had grown beyond using four frames to animate a character’s entire stride, yet it shows up – sometimes glaringly – time and again in this show, without real motivation. This also isn’t during action sequences (where, while the animation may also be choppy, the frenetic pace of the action demands the superhuman-appearing motion), but more mundane moments of running down the street, or eating food in a restaurant.

Then there are the slow scenes, focused on facial expressions and character interaction. These scenes highlight the other strength of the series: conveying emotions, however subtly, through the subdued characters. Frame rate isn’t relevant here, but rather accurately capturing just what a tortured expression should be for someone who doesn’t remember what torture is supposed to feel like. It’s definitely debatable, but I found the characters to be quite convincing throughout the show: what they felt, and how well they could show or mask that feeling, was always communicated well through the art.

And thus, I’m confused. The action scenes are usually excellent, showcasing chaotic and frantic combat that feels convincing every time. The character-focused scenes are likewise compelling. But then, everything in between seems to be left to the B team: if it’s not integral to the plot or needing to look awesome, the art team dramatically lowered the bar or acceptability. It’s frustrating to reconcile why these elements are left behind while other scenes get such attention – a mixed bag to be sure.

Audio Quality: 5

Darker Than Black: Mao and Yin

The music in this show is quite fun. The opener sequences are excellent, up-beat warm-ups to the action to come, while the ending sequences are beautiful send-off ballads. I remember a few of the insert songs quite well, but nothing here was really ground-breaking either. It was simply very fitting music, bringing the scenes to life in a way that the (sometimes less than stellar) art failed to do. Good stuff, all in all.

The voice acting here isn’t too impressive. Hei’s seiyuu is probably the only one really earning any points beyond the norm, as he transitions between the genial exchange student and the heartless contractor with a great, believable style. The rest of the primary cast rarely has much to say, though, and the secondary characters are in so few episodes that no one else really stands out. Of course, this doesn’t make any of it bad – it’s all consistent, and quite enjoyable – but rather hard to comment on in specific.

More good news, perhaps, is that the dubbed version feels very similar in all the right ways. Hei still has a good vocal range to capture the changes in personality, and the other cast members are mirrored quite well. If you really can’t stand (or have trouble following) subtitles, this is one anime where I can safely say you won’t lose out on the true experience by resorting to the dubbed version.

Bottom Line: 5.5

Darker than Black is definitely one of the darker anime on the market that I still feel has an appeal to everyone. It is in turns violent, intriguing, and surprising, but it is always entertaining. The characters aren’t the most memorable on the market, and the artwork could definitely use some consistency polish, but those are small potatoes as far as intrigue anime are concerned. Strong, engaging protagonists and gripping story arcs are what carry these shows; Darker Than Black delivers on both counts.

If darker superhero comics appeal to you, such as (the darker parts of) Batman or Spawn, you will definitely find a lot in common here. If you like puzzles alongside your action, and reasons for conflict rather than mindless power-up on top of power-up battle, you will find a lot to like here. And, if nothing else, the sheer variety of this show – from the arc styles to the contractors and their various repentances – will always elicit welcome surprises along the way. The growing rumbles beneath the surface are hard to understand or interpret at first, but that’s right at home with Hei: all that matters for him, after all, is the next mission. Repercussions are for someone else to handle.

Lastly, this is one anime where the Japanese voices do not significantly overpower the English voices. So, for those of you newer to anime or who hate having to read while trying to watch a show, this is one experience that will retain all of its power in English.

Coming Soon

Look for reviews of sola, Kanon (2006), and Str.A.In. coming to the site soon! I’m still contemplating movie ideas – I’m not certain the same rating metrics will do movies justice.

Read Full Post »