Zeroe4 is taking the week off for Throwback Thursdays, but arranged for a fellow YWAM Tokyo missionary, Sheridan Reid, to be a guest writer. Sheridan is an avid reader and writer of fantasy and sci-fi books and lover of action/adventure anime. If she’s not working or immersed in a good story, she is probably at a coffee shop or exploring the crazy city of Tokyo with friends.
I often find myself drawn to dystopian stories and super hero tales. Both genres hold special places in my heart. It’s not often that they’re combined well outside of DC or Marvel, so when I heard about Darker than Black, my interest was piqued to say the least. Dystopian, near-future Tokyo, super powers, totally shrouded in mystery sounded like my cup of tea, and until very recently, it was one of my favorite anime. However, as I was rewatching it last month, I began to notice the amount of darkness and hopelessness in the show.
Let’s start out with the reasons I really like the show. First, I love the characters. We start out meeting policewoman Kirihara Misaki who is thrown into this crazy world and chooses to protect people the best way she can. Though she’s halfway between a side character and a main one, her kick-butt, unstoppable attitude and unfailing desire to save her people makes her easily one of my favorite characters. If the show focused on her, I think the darkness would be much more bearable, but alas, it doesn’t. Shortly after meeting her, we are introduced to our main characters: two of the super-powered people: Hei (an assassin) and Mao (a talking cat), Yin (a young blind girl), and Huang (their handler). These four work as a team and take on various assignments from the ever-sketch ‘Syndicate’. The show focuses on them, especially Hei who is known to most as the ‘Black Reaper’ and feared for his deadly ability as an assassin. This guy’s reactions to his world, though very broken, are very human and down-to-earth which I appreciate in a character from such a far-from-reality world. This relatability helps me understand and connect with him on a personal level. This is a very common trait among the characters of this universe. We get to see their choices, and often, I understand where each one is coming from and why they choose what they do. I love well-written characters, and these don’t let me down.
Second, it’s rare for me in a world so filled with super heroes and super villains to find a show about super powers that really leaves me really thinking. Hei’s ability is electricity manipulation. I’ve always had an interest in electricity manipulation abilities, and the way he uses his, though really dark, is very intelligent and well-thought out. It’s the same with all the powers demonstrated though the show. Every one is used in a way I wouldn’t see coming, and I like not being able to predict how someone will react to a situation, or how they would work together with other people with varying abilities. The characters who possess these powers are known as ‘Contractors’ because when they receive their various abilities, they are forced to accept a ‘Contract’. Thus, every time they use their power, they have to perform some task. These tasks range from falling asleep to arranging rocks in a row to smoking a cigarette. Use of these powers has a personal cost that isn’t just energy. I like that they’re forced to take into consideration the cost of using their powers and whether or not they’ll be able to pay their ‘Price’ in the time they have. It’s a really interesting concept.
But now to talk about the reasons I find Darker than Black really hard to watch. First off, there’s a lot of killing. Hei is an assassin. He kills people for a living. This is why being able to relate well to the main character is a double-edged sword. I find myself getting really invested in this character but then realize that he casually kills people on a regular basis, so maybe I don’t actually want to relate to him. The show treats this huge amount of killing as a normality, so when I pull back slightly to actually look at what I’m watching, it disturbs me. Watching a show that treats something so absolutely wrong as so normal tells you that these kind of things don’t affect you. That’s totally wrong. And this is why the show’s overall feel isn’t that dark when so many of the things that happen really are darker than black.
Next are the ‘Contractors’ themselves. I talked about the ‘Price’ they have to pay to use their powers, but receiving their power is actually a trade. They get these insane abilities at the loss of their emotions and conscience, which explains why Hei is as assassin. These people, who make up a lot of the characters you meet throughout the show, are missing any feeling of guilt. They can kill with impunity, and most of them do, gruesomely and without any second thought. This is where I feel so much hopelessness throughout the show. These people have accepted their fates as killers. Normal people expect it from them, and they just meet those expectations. There’s no hope in them. It’s hard to watch. However, in these particular characters, this attitude often makes it feel like they are simply meeting their reality head-on, and that feels like it should and kind of does seem admirable in a way, but there’s this deep hopelessness that creeps in with that mindset which always leaves me feeling like doing nothing whatsoever after I finish watching an episode.
I can totally see why this anime got popular. I mean, I loved it for quite a while. And while this series is chalk full of intriguing characters who live in an alluring and mysterious world, I can’t recommend this anime. It’s really dark in subtle ways that, at least for me, allow that darkness and hopelessness to creep over me and leave me feeling sluggish and unhappy after watching.