Okay, so there's this guy, right? And he's all dark and mysterious and moody, but overall he's a decent chap... And he's got some wicked-awesome ESPer-like powers. And he works for this mysterious organization that sends him out on secret missions to retrieve shit, kill other ESPers, and just be an all-around badass, but he's really in this for his own agenda... And there's this spunky police officer chick who's after the truth, but in way over her head... Oh, and Mr. Mysterious has an albino, emotionless girl on his side, and a gruff and grumpy old guy who's like the team leader... And a talking, sarcastic black cat. And there's like tons of mysteries for Mr. Mysterious to solve involving his past and his missing sister. And like this green-haired chick he used to boink (at least I think he did) is like doing even MORE mysterious shit behind the scenes... And there's this mysterious "zone" in Tokyo that nobody's allowed to enter and is all, well, mysterious!
Yeah, that quick description of Darker Than Black (or, Darker Than BLACK as they write it in the opening credits) is accurate, and it makes it sound like you've seen and heard this exact same thing 498 times before (this year alone), but it doesn't come close to explaining the feel of the show... And it's this "feel" that I really love about it. It was kind of like a bizarre — but awesome — mix of Blade Runner, Giant Robo, the last half of RahXephon, Cowboy Bebop, and the original Matrix, with a whole lot of melancholy thrown in for the sake of brilliant storytelling.
What's Darker Than Black about? Well, if you really want to know, it's all about contractors and dolls. No, not "someone (a person or firm) who contracts to build things" and "small figures representing a baby or other human being, esp. for use as a child's toy," but contractors (beings with supernatural powers — like control over electricity, body switching, exploding blood, freezing shit, and teleportation of organic elements) and dolls (emotionless shells of humans who help certain contractors with their mad abilities to see things that others can't, and spy from great distances) who fell into their abilities after two physics-bending "zones" (called "Hell Gates" here) appeared 10 years previous, one in the heart of Tokyo, and one in Brazil (on the flipside of the globe). Nobody knows why the Gates appeared, what they really are (according to urban legends, the Gates are supposed to be passageways to places/times where one can retrieve what one once lost), or why these contractors and dolls suddenly started gaining their powers; but that didn't stop the governments of the world and sketchy organizations of the underworld from gathering them up for espionage, assassinations, and their abilities to get into kick-ass and fun-to-watch situations all the time. Each contractor's life force also seems to be tied to a star in the new night sky (the real sky has been hidden since the Gates appeared, but the new night sky is now littered with contractors' stars that glow brighter each time they use their powers, and fall when their human counterpart takes their final bow), and teams of experts from around the world have already tagged each contractor's presence to each newly named star and its position in the heavens. For example, our protagonist, Hei (contractor of electricity), is known as BK-201 by the intelligence agencies tracking his kind in the world. Because he is the Burger KING, baby!
Anyway, the story of Darker Than Black is deep and confusing; there are about 6 or so sides to the conflict within too: The Syndicate that Hei's group works for, British MI6, the CIA, the Japanese Intelligence, the Tokyo PD, and that awesome P.I. who first showed up in episode 7 who gets tangled up in events by several mysterious cases dropped into his lap by mysterious clients trying to get to the bottom of all the mysteries surrounding everybody. Honestly, up through episode 18 we really only have very small bits of information as to just what the hell is really going on, but it works out beautifully seeing as each story arc (up to the last 5 eps this show is made up of 2-episode arcs that allow us to get to know the huge cast intimately) gives us baby spoonfuls of the strange and dangerous as fuck world in which the characters live every step of the way — keeping us interested, but not overfed. They didn't even have to use the "airplane noises" to get me to eat with more anticipation.
Each of the main and sub characters is interesting and integral to the plot. This is the main reason why this show is best marathoned and not taken in one episode per week doses: There are an ass-ton of main and sub characters, and trying to keep them all straight and their histories and missions all in order takes a lot of brain power when you cram this 25-episode series into 3 days... I can't imagine how lost you'd be if you only watched one episode a week for 25 weeks.
And I simply love the writers for their ability to breathe life into old character cliches. Hei is the dark and brooding lead, but really only when he's on the job. In real life he's just normal. He acts slightly goofy to those who only know him when he's not wearing his "drama-mask," but not even close to the extent that Vash the Stampede acts goofy to cover his hyper-abilities.... I fucking hate Trigun.
Then there's the female police inspector who actually makes up a good part of the whole of the show. Usually this type of character is unneeded and annoying, and just following two steps behind the true lead character in order to keep things clear for the dumb as fuck audience (look at Coyote Ragtime, IF YOU DARE!). Here, this character sometimes gets ahead of Hei's missions, and sometimes she simply investigates things so far off to the left of our main group that she's out of their picture entirely for quite a few story arcs. But there's also the MI6 agents, who I thought were the typical douchebag gaijins of the story, meant only to act as dicky distractions to Hei and company... But the MI6 folk actually turned out to be very well developed personas all in themselves, and by the end I was rooting for them as well as Hei. And Hei's old girlfriend (acquaintance?) — the green-haired girl who looks like Code Geass' C.C. — plays the "person in the background with her own objectives who's competing with the lead in his self-imposed mission," but she turns out to be..... Goddammit! Just watch it. Seriously! I could go on and on and on about each little bit of greatness in this puppy — and that could make up a decent-sized novel — but I'd start repeating myself after a while.
I will talk about why the contractors are called contractors though. This is one quirky part of the plot that took me a little while to understand (seeing as another great part of Darker Than Black is that nothing is ever spelled out for you like the creators thought you were a first grader... And if you are a first grader then I hope you have nightmares from some of the frightfully disturbing images that pepper this show throughout its run). I wondered for a while why after every mission Hei would be seen eating a couple dozen bowls of noodles... At first I thought this was a "goofy comedy quirk that the writers added in just to make us chuckle ("Oh that silly Hei! Eating sooooooo much food!"), but as it turns out each contractor has OCD baaaaaaaaaaaad. It's hinted at that in order to use their super mutant powers, each contractor had to "sign a contract" of sorts, wherein if they use their powers they have to compensate for the usage by doing something in return. Some have to eat specific things (the more things the more they used their powers), some have to dogear all the pages in a book, some take off their victims' shoes and place them upside down, some have to chew tobacco and spit it out, some have to kiss people, and some have to grow older... Very strange, but very weirdly cool. Each contractor can put off doing their compensation for a while, but they have to do them. Obsessively.
So to recap: There is so much beautiful backstory to this thing — it's quite impressive and nothing is really spelled out for you until the end, and even that leaves some [small] unanswered questions... But you don't really mind them (as they leave you with a whole lot to think about), and it keeps you intrigued the whole way through without losing you.
Once again, I've never felt an all-encompassing mood like this show exuded before. I can't even describe it in a way that does it justice. If I tried it would just sound canned and full of bullshit. The best way to feel it is to marathon this sucker so that the feel of one episode blends in with the rest. If you space them out too much you'll never get the full effect.
Darker than WHAT!? Goddamn mothafuckas!... Betta hope yo candy ass, slant-eyed bitches don't ever walk down my wrong alley at night... You'd see me even in the shadows, bitch! NOTHIN'S darker than THIS black!
Meh... Yeah, it had lots of violence, some cool animation, and some hot chicks in it, but really, what the goddamn fuck was that all about? Never got to its point until the last few episodes, and by then I just didn't care anymore. Actually, I wanted that badass detective with the weird secretary to turn into the main characters. I would have watched 100 episodes of THAT show.