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My God! It’s Full of Falling Stars

October 15, 2009

That’s what you get when you wish upon a star in the Darker Than Black universe, apparently. You get hit by said star.

The first episode begins with a cookie-cutter scene. A family is gathered around a fire, having a good time together. One of the kids sees a meteorite falling through the sky. This cues a “is it true that if you wish upon a star, you’ll get your wish” scene, which is apparently supposed to be heart-warming to people who aren’t cynical bastards like me. This goes on for a couple of minutes, accompanied by the sort of music you’d expect to hear when a young girl opens her jewelery music box, and the kids make their wishes as to be expected. Standard grade “slice of life stuff.” Yawn.

Then more stars start to fall. And more. It’s like the sky is falling. There’s obviously something going on here. Weird, cool, creepy stuff. Then BAM! One of said falling stars falls smack dab in the middle of the above family. Cue massive explosion. Cue people being hurt. Cue dramatic music?… wait, no, that tiny, music-box like tune is still playing in the background. Gotta admit, it was a nice touch that they kept with that tune throughout the entire scene. Good juxtaposition there.

Before watching this episode, I had seen maybe half of the first episode of the first season of Darker than Black. That means that I have no real idea who these people are that are introduced in the post-meteor scene. I have no idea if I’m supposed to know who they are either. All I know is that, at one point in the past, someone likened the first season to a combination of X-Men and Mage the Ascension. That sounded like an appealing combination, but I never got around to seeing it. So, when I saw that the new season was being released and fansubbed, I figured I’d jump right in and figure shit out as I went along.

Gotta say that I dig this scene in the bar. There’s some good banter going on here between oh-my-god-an-anime-character-that-doesn’t-look-asian-or-american-lady and the barkeeper. She gives him a long spiel about the ills of smoking, and he counters with “Trying to talk a Russian out of smoking is pointless.” It ends with the Russian going for an extra puff on his cigarette, only to find it blotted out by what looks like condensation.

I found the scene charming, but apparently this has a double meaning in the grand scheme of things. Seems that the peeps that get powers in the Darker than Black world suddenly become shockingly logical and calculating. Something in their minds change, and they become all Vulcaned-out, like a bunch of Spocks running around shooting lasers out of their eyes and stuff. Seeing how said woman turns out to be one of these “Contractors,” her telling this guy, in a very practical and sensible way, that he should stop smoking is a good way of cuing people in to her nature. That’s assuming they already know about the whole “powers make you logical” shtick.

Unfortunately, once that mood-setting scene is over, we revert back to slice-of-life mode. In fact, we get a scene with a young boy literally confessing to the proverbial sad-girl-in-snow. At this point I was assuming, desperately so, that all of this everyday life stuff was simply build-up for when everything goes to hell. We get these scenes of normalcy and contentment, and by doing so it makes the fall all the more painful for the characters and for the viewers who care about said characters. I can dig that, but I wish we could see some stuff that was a bit more interesting and a bit less dependent on canned, seen-it-before scenes.

It’s during this stretch that we find out that the meteor strike from the beginning of the episode screwed up the main girl’s brother bigtime. Turns out that it caused him to become one of these “Contractors,” and he’s gone through the expected changes. He’s developed powers (we aren’ told, exactly, what their nature is, but we get hints) and he’s become cold and distant. That doesn’t keep Suou, said main girl, from trying to be close to her brother. But their dad,who is apparently doing experiments into this whole Contractor mess, doesn’t want Suou getting too close to her brother. The dad’s afraid that the brother will “do something” to her, since Contractors don’t have any emotional bonds, even to people they once care about. Naturally, Suou won’t have any of that shit and she does her best to hang out with her brother as much as possible.

Cute stuff, and it works in context, but if this is an anime about people with supernatural powers, I want to see that stuff in action. Thankfully we jump into that after all of this set-up is complete.

Rocks start to fall once the sad-girl-in-snow suddenly becomes a Contractor. Seems like becoming a Contractor is a bit like catching a cold. It can come at you out of nowhere, and there isn’t much you can do to prevent it. The main difference seems to be that a cold leaves you bedridden for a few days, while becoming a Contractor give you super powers, like controlling biblical swarms of insects, and gets you abducted by the government to be experimented upon. Makes the pig flu seem pretty silly in comparison.

Within moments of this revelation, Suou’s house is raided by the military. Seems her dad’s operation is under investigation, and the-powers-that-be want to be in the know, so to speak. Stuff blows up, people get killed, and everything culminates with a Contractor-on-Contractor fight.

In one corner we have someone who can run at super speed, but apparently is lacking a bit in coordination, seeing how he runs smack dab into a tree as he’s slowing down. He apparently has to eat a lot due to his super speed, and he calls this hs “remuneration.” I’m assuming this means that contractors have to have some sort of focus, fetish or effigy to activate or maintain their powers, and this dude needs to chow down like crazy to maintain the energy needed to play Flash. The imagery of a dude blitzing about while holding a Mickey D’s sack is great.

In the other corner is the dark-skinned woman from the bar scene. We don’t get to see what her “remuneration” is, but we see that her powers are water-based. It makes the wet cigarette from the opening scene make perfect sense.

The dude’s powers require the scene to go into slo-mo mode so that we can actually see his powers are work, rather than resorting to standard screen flashes and the like you expect in series with cheaper budgets. I’m not much of a fan of slo-mo most of the time, but it’s used to great effect in this scene. When the dude dodges the first shot fired at him, you can see him track the bullet as it comes to him, and you can see his eyes follow the bullet as it flies past him and into the tree behind him as he speeds out of the way. It’s these little touches that make scenes like this work.

The fight concludes with the woman activating her Storm-like powers, causing it to rain. Doesn’t sound like much, until you consider that A) it’s raining pretty hard and B) you have a guy running at super-fast speeds. Rain may be water, but water isn’t gaseous. It isn’t going to get out of your way the way the air will. If you hit water hard enough, it’s going to hurt you. If you hit dozens of water droplet, all of which are falling from the sky at high speeds on their own, while moving at ridiculous speeds, you’re gonna have this reaction on your face:

And soon after, you’ll look like this:

You’ll look dead.

More stuff happens after that, but it might venture into spoiler territory. Hell, as far as I know I just spoiled the death of someone who was a major player from the previous season. So we’ll leave things at that.

All in all, I’m digging the vibe of this series. There’s a sense that things are never safe. Someone you know could become a Contractor at any moment, not unlike a pod-person movie. definitely some paranoia stuff going on there. Also, character death seems to be the norm, if this first episode is any indication. That’s always a plus in my book. I like it when people are willing to have interesting characters die, all for the sake of a good story. Darker than Black seems to fall into that category. I’m hoping the kiddie side of things is kept to a minimum. I don’t want to see Suou going on and on about how things should be and how she wants to be with her family or anything like that. Maybe she’s like that initially, but if it’s a continuing theme to the series it’ll only bog things down. Have her overcome her tribulations and do it quick, because if her storyline goes where I think it’s going, it won’t be interesting in the least.

I’ll be keeping up with this one. Looks like fun. And I’ll try to track down the first season. I’m definitely interested in seeing how it played out.

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