Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Anime review: Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor

Within the first episode, the increased production values for season two are made quite obvious. The animation - which was certainly impressive in season one - is now near the caliber of a stand-alone film. The style of the soundtrack is retained through all-new pieces, while some heavier rock and electronic sounds match up perfectly with the eastern European setting. Where the two differentiate is through their approach to the story.

Season one concluded with Hei stopping the Syndicate's plans and then disappearing in the ensuing confusion. Two years later, the story picks up with Suou Pavlichenko, her brother Shion, and their father in Russia. Though the house seems relatively normal, it is made clear early on that things will not remain calm for long, as multiple organizations move in on the residence, Shion their main target. Not understanding what is going on with her brother suddenly leaving for Japan and her father's death, Suou finds herself caught up in the affairs of Contractors.

Season one presented the main story via Hei, while Misaki Kirihara was the narrator for the normal human side of affairs. Kirihara still plays an important role in Gemini of the Meteor, though she does not receive quite as much screen time. Instead, the main story is balanced between Suou and Hei. The former illustrates the difficulties of becoming a contractor and hitting the teenage years at the same time. The latter has become a shadow of his former self, and struggles to help Suou while subsequently trying to rediscover what his own aims are.

There's a much more human narrative presented at times. The question of what it means to be human is carried over from season one, taking on two new angles. On the one hand, there is the main character of Suou, who gains Contractor abilities but still retains her human emotions. The other (and at times, more interesting) perspective is that of the doll July, who is shown to grow attached to certain characters over time. July is also the source of some of the best bits of comedy throughout.

Subsequently, this second season is more focused and streamlined. It knows exactly where it is going from start to finish, even with the side stories of the Russian military and Section Three being woven into the grand scheme of things. Though there may not be as many Contractors appearing in Gemini of the Meteor, those that do have an important role in the events that unfold. There are hardly any nameless faces to add to the body count.

The end of the series attempts to layer complexities that end up coming across as forcibly convoluted. For some reason, the creators of many contemporary science fiction anime seem to feel the need to push things to the level of a series like Neon Genesis Evangelion. Certainly Evangelion was a game-changer for its day, but trying to up the ante for the sake of having some grandiose conclusion doesn't mean the series will wrap up in the most logical or satisfying manner. The final episodes of Gemini of the Meteor aren't as predictable as in some other series, but they present some of the second season's weakest points, and fail to wrap up a couple of major plot points.

Gemini of the Meteor trims much of the fat from the first season. That's not to say there was much in the way of unnecessary material the first time around, but everything feels very streamlined because of it. Thankfully, the series doesn't sacrifice some of its lighter moments because of it. There's still some humor to be found in this generally darker story. The fact that Studio Bones recognized what made the first season so compelling and chose to expand upon it says a lot about their approach to Gemini of the Meteor - it might not be as strong as the original, but it's certainly not a cheap cash-in.

My rating: 9 (out of 10)

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