Synopsis (both seasons, taken from MAL):
Season 1: It has been 10 years since Heaven's Gate appeared in South America and Hell's Gate appeared in Japan, veiling the once familiar night sky with an oppressive skyscape. Their purposes unknown, these Gates are spaces in which the very laws of physics are ignored. With the appearance of the Gates emerged Contractors, who, in exchange for their humanity, are granted supernatural abilities.
In the Japanese city surrounding Hell’s Gate, Section 4 Chief Misaki Kirihara finds herself at odds with an infamous Contractor codenamed Hei. Called "Black Reaper" in the underground world, Hei, like his associates, undertakes missions for the mysterious and ruthless Syndicate while slowly peeling back the dark layers covering a nefarious plot that threatens the very existence of Contractors.
From the mind of Tensai Okamura comes a sci-fi thriller taking the form of a subtle exposé on a war in which political positions and justice have no sway—a war waged exclusively in the shadows.
Season 2: One night, as meteors streak across the star-studded sky, Shion Pavlichenko becomes a Contractor. Despite her brother's transformation, Shion's twin sister Suou continues to live a fairly ordinary life, attending middle school with her friends and getting caught up in the awkwardness of growing up. However, everything changes when her home is invaded by a masked man cloaked in black, destroying any sense of normality she once had. Revealed to possess latent Contractor abilities of her own, Suou is caught between family, friends, and her own sense of purpose as she ventures into the ruthless world of cutthroats and espionage that Contractors call home.
Meanwhile in Tokyo, investigation surrounding Hell's Gate's sudden collapse is underway, and prophetic signs of doom point in the direction of a silver-haired doll.
Premise (1 out of 2): DTB's premise revolves around a myriad of narratives that generally fell flat after a few episodes. The scientific atmosphere the show established with the GATE backstory was pretty interesting for a while, but I felt like it never really got emphasized enough until the end of season 1. The "normal" narratives found through the police's persecuting the contractors (the name given to the people with unique powers in the show) as well as the contemporary aspects seen during season 2 (e.g. Hei acting as a sort of mentor and father figure to Suou while engaging in ordinary tasks), while relatable, became quite mundane due to how unoriginal and irrelevant it felt. The supernatural premise surrounding the syndicate members was probably the most interesting because of how unique each respective power was; however, I feel like its presence was diminished after season 1 due to the focus on Suou's emotional narrative with both her brother and Hei. Additionally, a heightened focus on Rin's disappearance really jumbled up the second season's focus; I wasn't really able to identify a main premise since it seemed to focus on too many things at once.
Pace (1.25 out of 2): The pace of DTB's story considerably shifted after the end of season 1. Season 1 was relatively lethargic, which matched the sort of dark, brooding aesthetic that the season established. I was really able to absorb the somewhat confusing elements of the story due to a slower plot progression, and that really made season 1 better as a result. The second season, due to its shorter length, was slightly faster compared to season one. Therefore, the plot elements, character development, etc. was less detailed and really made the second season more confusing that it should have been.
Complexity (1.25 out of 2): Supernaturally, DTB was a very unique and complex show. The development regarding the powers of each contractor was adequate and the story had some depth to it overall. Once again, season 2 brings the quality down a tad due to its lack of comprehensive storytelling and length. In addition, some aspects, like Amber's involvement in the story, aren't really hashed out compared to something like Hei's backstory/aspirations. Thematically, the show explores themes of the past, future (mainly through the emphasis on stars as a symbol), and other deep metaphors (memory fails me here, so I can't think of anything).
Plausibility (1.5 out of 2): Once again, a supernatural show does not advocate a plausible story as one of its primary components but instead integrates "smaller" instances of realism in order to retain some plausibility. DTB does this well overall through the segments that feature characters in an ordinary, contemporary setting since most of the show's story highlights some unnatural phenomena. With these events, we get a better idea of how down to earth the show actually is, and how a supernatural show can still be realistic to some degree. I think DTB succeeds because the interactions are so genuine and don't integrate any sort of unnatural element that lurks behind the scenes. These interactions are simply human.
Ending (1 out of 2): Generally speaking, I thought that each ending was pretty lackluster. My memory really fails me here, so I can't remember every particular aspect of the ending, but I felt pretty disappointed with each one. Season 2's ending was good in wrapping up the story that it established, and season 1 did offer up something that could be built upon (seen in the mini-series), but I didn't really feel satisfied after each one.
Overall rating: 6/10
Presence (1.5 out of 2): From watching both seasons, it seems as if most of the cast is pretty omnipresent throughout. They all seem to develop each episodic plot well (at least in season 1) and impact the show from beginning to end. The minor characters, who usually appear for 1 to 2 episodes, are effective in their delivery of themes and development of more major characters. For example, the scientist with the neat telescope gives us further insight into Hei's interest regarding the starts since his appreciation for Even characters who appear for one scene do contribute to their respective plot; however, some of these contributions were pretty insignificant in retrospect.
Personality (1.5 out of 2): Since the show exudes a pretty serious atmosphere throughout, the viewer can assume that each character matches this demeanor. However, this does not limit each character's personality to just serious. In fact, most of the main and side cast have memorable, three-dimensional personalities. For example, Kirihara is a character who is known for her strong work ethic and inhuman determination. While these two particular quirks are present throughout the show, she occasionally flaunts her more feminine, friendly side. Hei's aloof and introverted personality dominates in a casual context, yet his more mysterious and merciless side comes out through the Black Reaper. Overall, we see that most of the main cast can be classified through some dominant personality trait (relating to this serious or enigmatic demeanor most of the time) alongside some other traits that might not show up as often, whereas the side cast is relatively one dimensional, which makes sense for an episodic show. Of course, the plot is more linear in the second season, which makes for a more dynamic side cast, but leaves room for flat characters/plot devices (e.g. Suou's blond friend).
Backdrop (2 out of 2): The setting is a relatively dark, depressing, and mysterious city that fits the overall atmosphere of the show. This setting interacts with its characters quite well as it elevates the level of drama and overall darkness that the show already contains. In addition, the darkness flows to each character's personality and therefore adds some sort of mysterious or serious aspect, as previously mentioned. The setting is also important in allowing for the show to establish its themes, as the perpetual darkness might symbolize an underlying evil/bleak future (this, among other themes, are present often, but again I can't remember much since its been 2 months).
Development (1.75 out of 2): The episodic format of season 1 alongside a more linear, cohesive format of season 2 allow for a near-maximum amount of character development to occur. Season 1 allows more characters to develop since each arc is 2 episodes, while season 2 has a smaller cast with characters who can develop over a longer period of time. In both cases, most of the cast develops into a dynamic character as the end of the arc/season approaches. For example, we learn more about Yin, Huang, and Mao as season one comes to a close. I especially appreciated how Huang overcame his ignorance regarding contractors as just tools and sacrificed his life to help them in the final arc of season 1. His story as a whole was very tragic, and I sympathized with him as a result. Yin is a stranger case; you DO learn more about her in both seasons, but her "development" is very confusing, for lack of a better term, in season 2. Overall, season 2's character development is pretty mixed, as some characters develop well, while others remain pretty flat and one-dimensional. Suou develops somewhat over the course of season 2, but her development doesn't really become relevant after her defining moment (the fight with the trench coat contractor). I believe the ending just brings her back to whoever she was at the start of the show (I might be mis-remembering here, so forgive me).
Catharsis (.75 out of 2): Because of the numerous amount of contractors, DBT is a show that is pretty much devoid of any catharsis. As a whole, the show does not prominently feature any sentimental expression and instead places more emphasis on the mystery and drama surrounding the story and its characters. Of course, using devoid would be hyperbole especially considering how the immense amount of character development in characters like Huang led to some catharsis; however, I really sensed little emotion throughout season 1. Season 2 was definitely more emotional, especially with the inclusion of a younger character in Suou as well as an older Hei in a sort of father role; the conflict they went through during her training was incredibly realistic. In addition, the punk and the obviously traumatized dad's relationship was filled with incredible amounts of sadness that you would definitely see in a relationship without a mother present. In short, it makes up for what season 1 did not deliver on, but it wasn't enough to balance it out.
Overall rating: 7.5/10
General (1 out of 2): The art style in DTB pretty lackluster. It is an older show, so I cannot discredit it that much. The action scenes are very fluid and very nice to look out. The overall atmosphere/tone of the show (dark, brooding) was established to perfection with the dark color palette and harsh, jagged imagery, which allows for the show's mysterious narrative to establish itself immediately. It has that Cowboy Bebop feel, but it doesn't have the extravagance that Bebop brings with the constantly changing environment.
Characters (1.25 out of 2): The characters, for the most part, have pretty unique designs. Hei and Kirihara are pretty generic, and some of the side characters in season 2 were relatively boring in terms of design (e.g. blond chick again). Hei's design does get better after season 1, as his scruffy, older, and fatigued appearance signifies his transition from young, hardworking contractor to apathetic alcoholic. Aside from that, nothing really changes into something significant; it all remains relatively consistent and generic.
Backgrounds (2 out of 2): The backgrounds of each scene really contribute to the overall atmosphere of the show. Most of the scenes occur with no glaring distractions as to emphasize the seriousness of each scene; they want you to focus on what's going on. These screens are particularly dark in order to emphasize the mystery surrounding the plot. While some viewers might find it boring to look at, it was much easier to focus on what was really going on during each particular scene.
Animation (.5 out of 2): While the backgrounds bring out the best things of the show, the animation comes off as really calm and uninteresting. The action scenes are fluid and engaging, but the rest of the action doesn't really grab your attention. Some other scenes do look beautiful, but it seems as if the show is definitely focused more on its still images.
Visual effects (1 out of 2): Much like the animation, the visual effects don't really stand out. There are some pretty spectacular moments which look absolutely magnificent, but its not consistent enough to be considered good (instead of below average).
Overall score: 5.75/10
Voice acting (3 out of 3): I really loved the voice acting in this show. Once again, I think the subtle tones for characters like Yin and Hei really matched up with the overall tone of the show. With the action, the voices became incredibly dramatic and fit the tense tone that accompanied the scene. Other tones, like Suou's, were fitting for her immaturity regarding her newer role as a contractor and an adolescent girl. Hei's exhausted delivery, among other things that were previously mentioned, really indicated how he has transformed as an individual. Overall, the voices were fitting and really enunciated the seriousness of the show.
Music (3.5 out of 4) Most of the music was incredibly fitting for a show this bleak and mysterious. The opening for season 1 was nice, a nice mix of harsh and calm tones to suggest mystery with a side of action and drama. While it was fitting, I wouldn't say it was great. The music found in the anime pretty much follows the same formula. The second season's opening was more lighthearted compared to the first, which makes sense considering how emotional the sequel season was compared to the first. Once again, the same can be said for the music in the anime. The endings are good as well.
Sound effects (2 out of 3): Sound effects were great. Nothing too jarring. Sounded great overall and really gave an extra "umph" to the action scenes. My memory (not to mention I didn't pay much attention to the sound effects) really inflates this rating, but I can't really recall something that was really bad.
Overall rating: 8.5/10
Art (.5 out of 1): Pretty much what I said in the aesthetic section. I enjoyed some of it, while other aspects weren't particularly interesting or enjoyable.
Sound (1.5 out of 2 points): I enjoyed listening to the music and sound effects. Complaints stem from issues listed in the aesthetics sound section.
Overall (4 out of 7): When it comes down to it, season 1 was absolutely fantastic, whereas season 2 was a complete flop. The plot and its respective elements were somewhat interesting and engaging, and I was genuinely interested in the backstories for most characters. I enjoyed keeping up with each character and stayed attentive to how they developed over time. The aesthetics really established a mysterious narrative that kept me engaged; the smaller details (e.g. no distractions in background to make focal point the discussion/event) really show how complex the season was. In contrast, the second season's plot was absolutely mundane and mildly uninteresting. While I did enjoy watching how the relationship between Hei and Suou developed, most of the other characters were either bland or didn't show up as much as I had wanted them to (i.e. other contractors). The mysterious tone that was established by the first season was replaced with a more emotional one, which, in my opinion, was somewhat drastic considering how good the tone of the first season was. On a more positive note, the music, animation, and sound got a decent upgrade from season 1 to 2, so I particularly enjoyed the aesthetics all the way through.
Overall, I thought it was nice. I'd say I moderately enjoyed it. The flaws were sort of significant in lowering the show's quality, so I didn't enjoy it as much as I wanted to. On a enjoyment scale, I'd rate it adequate.
Overall rating: 6/10
While the show does so many great things in terms of tone and engagement, the flaws that are found throughout (mostly in season 2) really prevented me from enjoying the show wholeheartedly. Casually, I would definitely recommend it. However, a more critical watcher would probably stop watching after the end of the 1st season. I'll probably watch the OVA mini-series, but that'll probably be in the distant future.
Weeb note: I love Yin; she's cute. No Misaka though. Suou is nice too. Very cute. Would headpat and protecc.
Total rating: 6.75/10
Would I recommend?: Only casually. More critical watchers should only watch the first season and the OVA mini-series.