Monday, November 14, 2011

Late to the Party--Darker than Black: Ryuusei no Gemini

Late to the Party Darker than Black S2 Review Screenshot 1

It's been a while since I watched the original Darker Than Black, but it left quite an impression on me. While the ending didn't answer all of the questions that I had about the characters and their world, it was still a great ride with equal parts action, mystery and sci-fi. I was excited when I heard that there was a second season but then disappointed when general consensus around the internet seemed to be that it didn't live up to expectations. But once the Funimation stream went up, I decided to take a chance and see if my fuzzy memory of the first season might make me more amiable to this sequel.

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The general rule of thumb with Hollywood movies is that the original is better than the sequel, and unfortunately that applies here as well. I say "unfortunately" because this twelve-episode sequel is quite entertaining, but it has a lot of flaws, especially when compared to the first season. The majority of the problems come from the plot, which makes itself out to be building up to something big but then gets distracted by various sub-threads along the way which don't really lead to anything. The result is an extremely confusing ending that makes basically no sense since this season leaves even more open questions hanging than the original season. For the majority of the season, the plot centers around newcomer Suou, a half-Japanese Russian girl whose twin brother is a contractor and whose dad is researching... something for the Syndicate (I think? It was never really clarified, or else I missed it. This happens a lot in the show, where they either gloss over or just don't explain major plot points). Anyway, Suou has a pretty happy life until the government and Hei show up, looking for her brother and the "meteor core" respectively. And just like that, Suou's life is shattered. Her father is killed, one of her best friends turns into a contractor, and her brother is missing. Any normal person would probably freak out in this situation, right?

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Except that the plot decides that it would rather do without all of that annoying whining and crying and makes Suou a contractor as well, therefore taking her emotions out of play. Sort of. While Suou's transformation into a contractor is a really well done scene, subsequent episodes show that her emotions are not completely gone, which ruins the impact that it had. For most of the first half, Suou being a contractor feels like a badly handled plot device to just "turn off" Suou's emotions when a normal reaction would hamper the plot. In the show's defense, it does offer a somewhat convincing reason for why Suou is like this towards the end, and it does bring up some interesting questions about how contractor's emotions work and how much of the logical side is just suppressing them, but since none of this is examined further it feels like a moot point. Speaking of things that are badly handled, lets talk about the characters who came from the first season. There's Hei, of course, who has been turned into a hobo and acts like an abusive parent with a drinking problem for half the show. Then there's Mao, who's demoted from awesome black cat to a ridiculously cartoony flying squirrel. Yin makes an appearance at the end as a deus ex machina villain wrapped up in a barely explained prophecy. As you can see, I could go on and on about the problems that I have with this sequel.

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So what makes it good? For starters, the animation is great; despite spending most of its time in desolate areas, the backgrounds are never boring and the fight sequences are just as good as they were in the original and quickly became a highlight of the show. The first few episodes have contractors falling left and right. One is even introduced and then killed off within the same episode. This show clearly didn't want to waste its time on random extra enemies. On the character front, despite Suou's emotions being treated like a light switch by the plot, her character is really well developed throughout the course of the show and I was pretty attached to her by the end. The same goes for July, who I had no attachment to in the first season but seeing how he changes through his interactions with Suou made me like him a lot more. Badass Hei eventually makes a return, and I was amused to see that he still gets all the ladies (even the lesbian side-character). It's always fun when you can see one of your favorite characters acting awesome. Also, the OST for this show is fantastic, more than it probably deserved. A lot of the soundtrack has a techno emphasis to it, and just as stand-alone pieces they're great to listen to. Excluding the ending for a minute, just watching the character's journey across Russia to Japan and their discoveries and how they change make for a great piece of entertainment. However, if you're a fan of the first season, you may be better off staying away from this sequel, since even the smallest expectations from watching the original can get in the way of enjoying what this season does do right.

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