My brain took some strain to devise what two anime would remain in this bout of worst and best anime - one clearly in the fast lane to classics and the other, the bane of my existence - to entertain again and again in these troubling times.
On this campaign, my first anime I chose, in order to narrow down the genres, are Darker Than Black, by the renowned studio BONES, versus the utterly mediocre A Certain Magical Index (Index), both sharing quite an amount in common. Magical powers, single protagonist, modern day setting, twenty-four episodes for Index and twenty-five for the competitor.
On paper, Index sounds like it has the upper hand. It features a lighter setting with more characters in the roster purely because it’s linked to the world it builds which is vivid; where science has gone so far as to give us powers based in our understanding of the universe, meaning that certain fundamentals can’t be overstepped. Each person excels in a science field, and based on their skill, they are assigned a rank within this special city for flourishing young scientists. For example, one character delves into electricity so much that she is called the ‘Railgun’ due to how explosive her powers. However, one thing nags as you watch this; you never see how these powers are developed. They are just pasted onto characters to make them relative and we are to assume that through hard work, they achieved this higher understanding.
This is especially frustrating when our main character Touma is introduced with the classic tale of the trashy underdog who is level zero with no powers or fields of expertise, yet no one can fight him because he can cancel out all powers with his right hand. It’s a faux interaction of the powers within the universe which is upsetting.
Character development is literally nonexistent and is teased within an episode before being swiftly reset. The first season concludes absolutely nothing and goes as far as to introduce magic, so it becomes magic versus science. One thinks that surely must add a level of excitement to make up for the lack of extensive world and character building, but I’m afraid not. Overall, Index was a poor show of J.C. Staff’s efforts and the only redeeming factor is that it spawned a spin-off called Railgun which was a thousand times better.
Darker Than Black, on the other hand, is simply beautiful. It presents a world that is relatively simple, but within this regular city are individuals possessing supernatural powers that are used but with bizarre costs linked to them; from flipping shoes to eating cigarettes, it’s quite the interesting little quirk. The protagonist, Hei, is the silent strong type which is quite scarce in anime, resembling the Major from Ghost in the Shell with the ‘talk less, do more’ attitude.
The anime develops a strong plot with a clear direction. It spoon feeds no information and concludes solidly with no need for spin-off seasons to redeem it. Every episode felt like it contributed something interesting as opposed to Index which had a net total of one good episode in the whole series. Powers are explained a bit more but shrouded in mystery yet not neglected. It’s very much the focus and the mystery is constantly addressed.
Index felt as if when the idea of the sciences developing into powers needed explaining, it would be too laborious, thus it was ignored and that is an important distinction I think people need to see. Mystery keeps invested interest in something and neglect just makes for frustrating plot points that serve no purpose and can be highly agitating to the viewer. If you aren’t going to build a plot point, don’t pseudo-expand it and bloat it. Darker Than Black is more focused too, featuring only two very mild supporting characters to help Hei but he very much remains the focus, taking roughly 95% of the story due to it being his story, but they still feel important, versus the Index supports that could literally be changed out with talking ice-cream for all the importance they offer.
Needless to say, Darker Than Black absolutely wrecks Index in the modern-set power focused anime genre. I chose Index due to how popular it is despite how shockingly rubbish it was. Very few anime rival Dark Than Black and I would recommend it to nearly anyone.
It's only later that I realised why I love anime and games. It's just how many ways one can express an idea.
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