Posted on 20 November 2009 with categories: Darker than Black - Ryuusei no Gemini

An interesting choice for an episode this time. In a lot of other series, this episode was surprisingly formulaic, and yet I only noticed this when the end-credits rolled. There are only two real plot twists in this episode. The rest can all be reduced back to character-building. But I have to say that this episode was very sneaky in trying to hide this.

This again shows that the contractors with the biggest powers are often the easiest ones to die: they get cocky, and think that their powers will protect them, even when they’re not paying attention. I really was fooled in this episode: I thought that that extremely powerful contractor would pose a serious threat for Hei and Suou, the way he just walked in and pwned everyone easily. But yeah: he forgot to prevent July calling Hei, and in the end simply got strangled. Hei on the other hand may also have powers of instant death, but that whip looks very hard to control: he must have practiced a lot to perfect this technique. Suou’s powers too have a major disadvantage: as soon as enemies get close to her, she’s screwed. And that’s another reason why I like Darker than Black: the lead characters kick ass, not because they have unlimited godmode powers, but rather because they spent a lot of time to fill in for their weaknesses.

Now that we’re seven episodes in, it’s about time that the climax of this show is getting in sight. At this point I have no clue at how the creators are planning to end this. All we got from this episode is that Suou’s father is still alive. It makes sense in a way: if he spent so much effort into hiding Shion, it’s not surprising that he also prepared some sort of fake body to throw the enemy off. The question also remains where Yin fits into all of this: she feels like a bit of a random element in the whole story at this point.
Rating: ** (Excellent)

Posted on 14 November 2009 with categories: Darker than Black - Ryuusei no Gemini

It’s episodes like this that really show how good this series’ soundtrack is. The soundtrack of the first season was of course great, but this one is completely original and doesn’t try to rip it off in the slightest. This time we also have insert songs. Nice touch.

Anyway, this episode is probably going to be hard to buy for the people who were turned off by the new direction that the second season went in: a lot of emphasis is yet again put on whether or not it’s right to kill others. Don’t worry though: Suou doesn’t revert back to her old whiny self. Instead, the goofball’s mother gets killed in front of his eyes, and Suou nearly kills Yin (yeah).

Still, let’s take a look at the concept of death in this series in terms of storytelling. The problem with a lot of series that jump the shark is not the fact that they’re jumping the shark, but instead that they’re just jumping the shark for the sake of jumping the shark: they don’t put enough thought in how to make it work well and it’s indeed just seen as a cheap rip-off.

I believe however that Darker than Black avoided this. The pacing has been quick and varied: no episode looks like the other, and the action-scenes are imaginative, detailed and have a great sense of location, and the story has really been well-crafted so far. The themes of life and death are very new indeed. However, as long as they’re well explored, I’m not going to complain. At first they indeed seemed half-assed, but they’re getting quite a bit of depth at this point, and this episode really shows different sides and views.

Goofball isn’t a contractor, and therefore the loss of his mother forms a sharp contrast with this series habit of “one-hit kill”-attacks. Call this a series that kills off characters too fast, but I actually applaud this series for it: in so many fantasy-series, I keep wondering how the heck characters can stay alive and even survive without any sort of serious scratch after they’re hit by a wave of fire, struck by a very sharp sword, fall in the middle of an explosion, plummet hundreds of meters off a cliff, get hit by lightning, et cetera. I’ve gotten tired from those bad guys with their “well, I could kill you but I don’t feel like it today”-speeches.

In fact, while the themes of life and death are one point, I think that that’s just a part of one of the main themes of this series: contractors versus humans. In this episode, the only ones who acted with morals are the ones who aren’t contractors: goofball (yeah, I forgot his name) and Hei. Suou meanwhile remains a contractor, but you can see that she’s still very young. Contractors can make decisions regardless of their emotions, but Suou remains a typical teenager beyond that: still struggling with her identity.

And yeah, the fanservice returns again. It’s annoying, but in a way I can understand why it’s used. The first season aired in a time of economic prosperity. The second season was produced in the middle of a recession. Sex sells, and I guess that even Bones would run out of money, trying to keep up with these amazingly looking series they’ve been producing.

Of course, this also means that the conclusion is going to be very important for this series. I agree that when it’s simply going down to the message of “thou shalt not kill”, it will be really lame. But at this point, there’s no telling whether this is going to happen or not.
Rating: ** (Excellent)

Posted on 7 November 2009 with categories: Darker than Black - Ryuusei no Gemini

Ah, so after the initial blast and fast pace, these few episodes take a step back in order to build up for the second half of this series. It’s a tried and true formula, and these episodes despire their quiet nature are still well written and make use of their time to develop and flesh out the characters a bit more. All that’s left now is to see whether the second half can deliver on the promises that are currently made. But yeah, with this series something really weird has to happen for it not to turn into something special.

It’s interesting how the mother/caretaker/whatever of the goth loli contractor twins paid a small visit to Misaki, of all people. She must expect a great deal from her to do such a thing, considering how she seems to be after Hei or Shion. This episode also showed the nature of the device that was used on Hei, two episodes ago: it’s a device to kill contractors. So yeah, I think we can pretty much call Hei’s sister dead now. Because Hei wasn’t a contractor, he was able to survive, but the star of BK-201 (a.k.a, his sister) is gone now. A very daring move; you don’t see much superpowered series in which the lead character loses his special powers seemingly forever.

I’m also glad to see that Suou’s Gun needs to be maintained, and her ammo isn’t limitless either. Very nice, because you really see too many anime which take their weapons for granted. In series in which characters fight once in a while this is excusable, but in action series where people fight in nearly every episode, it’s sometimes a miracle that their weapons don’t break, jam, shut down, et cetera. While this obviously doesn’t destroy a series’ credibility, it nevertheless is a very valuable addition if some attention is put on it.

The next episode is probably going to make an end to the quiet times in this series. We’re not still sure of the exact details, but something tells me that Misaki saw Hei’s plan coming, and prepared a dummy of some sort, which caused him to get locked up. The submarine shown at the end of the episode was probably meant to carry the real goods, and it’s indeed a good test for Suou whether she can carry this series as its co-main character.
Rating: ** (Excellent)

Posted on 30 October 2009 with categories: Darker than Black - Ryuusei no Gemini

This wasn’t exactly the type of episode I’d expect from this series, On one hand, it’s still got the serious air, creative action-scenes and the dark nature of Hei. Suou has also gotten a lot better now that she’s a contractor, and Kirihara also is back and seems like she’s going to be a major player in the story. And at the same time this episode introduces a bunch of goofballs, including a bunch of punks, the father of one of these punks, who works as a cross dresser, and Suou gets sick fro having eaten very old noodles.

So yeah, overall I do regard the first season as superior to the second, mostly because of its very short length and I’m fully aware that this second season isn’t going to be able to top the Yin-arc. However, the execution has gotten much tighter at least (from what I remember of it, anyway). Especially the humour is better balanced here: the comedy episodes of the first season were amongst its worst episodes, especially that silly OVA was just pointless, but here it actually fits and contributes to the overall story, rather than being annoying.

In any case, I’m glad to see that Suou has indeed stopped being an annoying teenager now that she’s turned into a contractor. I like this set-up a lot and it works really well with Hei’s development from the first series. Or at least, I think he has developed. It’s hard to tell whether he did or not considering how he’s been acting most of the time, and we’ve never really seen him in a situation like this, in which he had to train and take care of an annoying teenager.

I also wonder: what’s Suou’s penalty? Hei said that he noticed that she used her powers when he was away, so it’s got to be something that alters her looks, but I didn’t quite pick up yet what it was.
Rating: * (Good)

Posted on 23 October 2009 with categories: Darker than Black - Ryuusei no Gemini

Holy crap, this episode was better than I could have expected. Bones really is on fire in 2009. Seriously, this was probably one of the best orchestrated action-scenes of the entire series so far. While that might just be my memory playing tricks on me, but I really like how the new series has gone into a completely new direction when compared to the first season: it really shows that this is more than just an attempt to milk out the franchise,

Darker than Black has always been known for its absolutely brutal fight scenes that spared nobody. That’s one thing so unlike 90% of all other anime, and it returns so well during the slaughter in this episode. There seem to be three parties after Shion: the organization that employed Hei, those old guys who turned Tanya into a contractor, and that other group of contractors. Because of that, there were so many things that happened at the same time : from Suou getting chased by a group of armed men to Nika getting killed off by Tanya, to that golem-guy suddenly launching a train at Hei.

This episode was also full of new plot twists. I’m not exactly what’s up with Suou going Utena, but her alternative personality really fits this series. It was also a big surprise to see July suddenly appear again, and basically provide the right coordinates for her to fire at. Mao indeed turns out to be the flying squirrel, like some people suspected already.

Also, the new soundtrack is very impressive, and it might even surpass the old one if this goes on!
Rating: *** (Awesome)

Posted on 16 October 2009 with categories: Darker than Black - Ryuusei no Gemini

As for the shows I’m not going to blog:
– Sasameki Koto has some interesting points, but after two episodes it looks too much like it’s going to turn into an endless “will they won’t they” storyline.

Anyway, the reason why I didn’t blog the first season was simply because it aired in what I consider the best season ever: Spring and Summer 2007; it was simply overshadowed. For some reason, I also didn’t like it when it first started out, but reading back some of my past comments, I have no idea what the heck I was thinking back then.

I watched this episode with AoShen’s subs, but I wouldn’t exactly recommend them. Their translations are way off at times and in one scene they make Hei look like a rapist. They’re really those obnoxious people who think they’re funny, but ultimately aren’t.

In any case, I really like the second season so far. Darker than Black’s premise is so rich that it can create a ton of different and interesting storylines, and that’s exactly what they did here: instead of continuing with the tried and true formula of the first season, you can see that the creators are currently exploring new territory, and yet they don’t forsake the things that made the first season so enjoyable.

The most controversial difference is of course that there are now teen-agers present, but Suou is pretty likable. She is impulsive, but this episode showed that she is in a good way: she’s willing to take action to get herself out of problems, instead of continuously getting saved like a damsel in distress. Especially in a setting in which she’s surrounded by contractors, she’s a very brave kid.

The fights in this episode were again well done, and I still love the concept in this series in which the smartest are the ones who usually win their fights, and the penalties are a very nice touch to balance these powers out, like in this episode, in which that woman needed to kiss men (yes, KISS, not “sexually interact”) in order to use her powers.

The whole mystery behind this series seems pretty interesting at this point. Shion should not have been able to walk if he indeed was a contractor, and yet he walked. My guess would be that his penalty as a contractor was just something else, and he pretended to have lost his legs in order to fool people, but the why and how is still a bit of a mystery.
Rating: ** (Excellent)

Posted on 10 October 2009 with categories: Darker than Black - Ryuusei no Gemini, Some Quick First Impressions

Cheburashka Arere

Short Synopsis: Our lead character is a monkey that starts living with a crocodile.
Hmm, the kiddie-shows this season are surprisingly good. I wouldn’t exactly recommend Chebrashka to any adult, but for once we have a series that tries to be different from all the other kiddie shows out there. It’s actually a bit nostalgic, as it seems similar to the kiddie shows that I watched when I was only five years old (most notably, Barbapapa). One thing that especially strikes me is how good the animation is. The character-designs are simple, but they move really fluidly with hardly any corners cut. Interesting.
OP: Just a title screen, but original music.
ED: Very obnixious to anyone older than five.
Potential: 20%

Darker than Black: Ryuusei no Gemini

Short Synopsis: Our lead character stopped getting haircuts.
It was quite a surprise to see that this first episode focused on mostly completely new characters, but yeah: this was the best first episode of the new season. It’s got the intriguing setting of the Book of Bantorra with a solid and intelligent execution that can’t be matched by any other series this season. The characters are well written, the attention to detail to the origami was a very nice touch, and the battles still rely much more on wits and intelligence than raw power. This episode really showed that Bones didn’t make a sequel just to milk out this franchise, but they’re really intending to give it some more depth. It’s a shame that there are only going to be 12 episode, but on the other hand that’s going to make this series short and sweet. 2009 really looks like it’s going to be Bones’ best year ever.
ED: Solid albeit uninteresting ballad with a slide-show of random landscapes.
Potential: 90%

Sasameki Koto

Short Synopsis: Our lead character is a lesbian.
Sasameki Koto: a tad shallow, but definitely charming. This episode was one of the most emotional first episodes of the new season for me, because it was the best at combining subtlety and straight to-the-point drama. The soundtrack fits this romance series very well, and the atmosphere was pretty nice for this story. But yeah, that shallowness is going to become a problem for this series in the future. The dialogue felt not really very inspired, and the characters were a little too quick to cry. Nevertheless, after Aoi Hana with its mountains of subtlety, it might be worth watching a more direct lesbian series.
OP: A nice and calm song, although definitely not the best of its kind.
ED: A bit too annoying and poppy song.
Potential: 50%

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