Suffering in Russia
A review copy was provided by FUNimation Entertainment
2007’s Darker than Black presented a gritty sci-fi hit with a satisfying open-ended ending, definitely earning a spot in FUNimation’s Anime Classics collection. Not long after, a second season was announced and released in 2009. With many burning questions hot off the heels of the first season, how did Darker than Black: Gemini of the Meteor hold up? The Inverseman investigates.
After the events of the first season, Hei and Yin are on the run from all the powers and factions, both human and Contractor, after Yin undergoes some startling changes. Eventually Yin is captured by the mysterious Section 3, guided by the cryptic Mitaka Documents. The key to getting back Yin and uncovering the truth lies within the young Russian girl Suou and her search for her twin brother and father. Hei knows that these twins will somehow lead him back to Yin.
If the above was a lot to keep track of, don’t feel alone. The plot for season two is unfortunately all over the place. There are several plots and subplots to keep track of from Suou’s story, to Hei’s story, to Misaki’s story in Section 3; the worst of it being that they don’t align very well as opposed to the cat and mouse dynamic between Hei and the police. It’s difficult to keep track of all the subplots or muster the care for them, and it only gets messier with the series. Gone are the two-episode stories that wove the world around you, but instead it’s a matter of drudge from point A to to point B where everything starts blending together with the sluggish pace. No doubt these issues are exacerbated by the very characters we love.
The changes to Hei feel like a slap in the face. All the development and wrestling with his identity he struggled with from season one seem to have been abandoned. What we have left is a bitter, perpetually drunk, and shockingly abusive variant of our protagonist. Much of the charm Hei had as Lee is replaced by his poor treatment of Suou. with moments of kindness appearing erratic and illogical. While it’s inevitable he comes to care for the child, he’s become completely unlikable. Part of that aforementioned charm from the first season came from Hei counterbalancing the sides to his life and even finding himself in situations where his all-business Contractor self isn’t the right tool for the job, but in the second season this half of Hei is replaced by angst and torment.
Suou is slightly less egregious, but her narrative is the girl-coming-of-age story tucked away in an infuriatingly plothole- filled plot. While I personally didn’t find her annoying, in the chorus of plot threads, Suou’s plight feels relatively unimportant, like a side errand to run, despite taking up most of the screentime. I will say I enjoyed seeing her grapple with some of the painful truths she uncovers while searching for her brother and father, but all of this is nearly thrown out the window as the plot reached its climax. The ending will leave you angry and even more confused at the outset, establishing new ideas out of nowhere and giving no explanation for any of them. As for the rest of the cast, they are pushed to the wayside for Suou, even Misaki, whose relation to the different sides of Hei was an exciting Batman-esque rush.
After the twelve episode anime, there was a four part OVA which actually explains most of the confusion with the main series, namely what happened to Yin, who during the series was barely present at all. The OVA fleshes out Yin’s character greatly and puts Hei in a powerful state of vulnerability desperately trying to bridge human and Contractor while saving Yin from her awakening. The tone of the original series slips away, but it does provide a critical bridge and is more thematically in-line with season one. However, while it provides some relief, the OVA won’t explain the other new end of plotholes generated by the series. The OVA sets up most of what we see, but coming after-the-fact doesn’t help renew the viewers’ confidence, but I suppose you could watch it out of order and gloss over the new characters that appear.
Given the dreary depressing tone, at the very least the animation is pleasant in that it achieves it. Re-using Suou’s stock footage for her ability though comes off as cheap, even in the last episode. The OST has left its more jazz-inspired tones for more electronic pieces, it’s not bad, but one of the riffs from a suspense piece sounds like it came from a bad action movie. The voice actors reprise their roles and the dub is solid as well. Part of what kept Suou engaging were the performances of Kana Hanazawa (original) and Alison Viktroin (dubbed), sounding convincingly like a teenage girl.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to recommend Darker than Black: Gemini of the Meteor; it departs so greatly from the first season and seems to undo much of what was already established, leaving its own conundrums and questions in its wake, including a cliffhanger for a third season. Some of the great characterization and themes from the first season shine through, but the lion’s share of this quality being in newcomer Suou’s story makes this season feel more like a spin-off than a true sequel. If you enjoyed the first season, you don’t really have an obligation to this season, but if you can take it for what it is, perhaps you can eke out just a bit more entertainment. I give this season a mediocre 2.5 out of 5, with fond memories of the first season and the OVA just barely qualifying it over a 2.0. Join me next time when I make Russian themed gyoza.
– The OVA serves as a critical link and greatly develops the characters
– Suou and her twin Shion are relatively decent additions to the cast
– Drastically took away from Hei’s character
– Introduced many plotholes while failing to resolve much from season 1
– General lack of focus and meandering pace
– Incredibly messy ending
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