Darker than Black begins with a placid and yet inauspicious scene. A girl stands before a majestic night sky, as stars fall down. The quiet piano notes that accompany it hint of the beauty, wonder, and terror to come. We are then thrown, as is so often the case, in media res. A man evades his pursuers. His desperation is evident in the speed with which he hurtles down narrow walkways and leaps across rooftop gaps.
Immediately something is amiss, even if we can’t put our finger on it. Why would a man hunted by the police run in the same direction that police cars were traveling? Even if he was confident in his ability to escape capture by drawing upon his contract, why would he reveal this power to them? He doesn’t seem to thrill in fights or thumbing his nose; his demeanor remains serious throughout. In this manner, Darker than Black builds up many puzzles over the course of its story, lending to the mystery of the series.
Hei’s introduction makes two things immediately obvious – first, he is an intelligent fighter, confident in his own ability to deal with a known enemy. Second, he is extremely brutal, abusing and even killing people who have submitted to him. The first quality is heroic; the second quality is at best antiheroic. It is the signature feature of a noir that even the ostensible heroes are to some degree corrupt, and Hei’s inability to subjugate his own murderous intent – even when someone yells at him to stop – is an excellent signifier of things to come.
Despite a primary focus on the scenery – the dark city, the ominous Hell’s Gate walled off from everyday view, the falling stars, and the ubiquitous industralization that marks modern life – the opening shows a lot about the main characters. The police come across as brave but foolish; the female comes across as conflicted, as exemplified by her watery eyes, and Hei himself comes across as stoic, pushing himself until he falls down in the water. This is a first-rate opening sequence.
Darker Than Black shows tremendous thematic unity. The motif of stars, introduced in the first scene, is present throughout: it is via Astronomy (or possibly Astrology – I would like to check that translation) that Agents and Contractors are identified. Supernatural elements permeate the work. Agents have Messier codes, an obvious reference to the work of Charles Messier, the most famous French astronomer of the 1700s. As astroleague.org notes, “Almost every amateur astronomer begins to be aware of the Messier Catalog as soon as he or she opens their first book.”
The use of magic in Darker than Black is fairly intuitive – no lengthy explanations are needed, though the author holds a bit back from making it too obvious. This is an excellent decision, as it leaves the viewer wondering which decisions are influenced by supernatural factors, and to what extent. Does the direction East, for example, hold any astrological significance?
All in all, this anime shows much promise for fans of mystery, noir, and action.