Okay, before I even begin the review, I need to start by explaining what I mean by Compilation Syndrome. The term is one I have borrowed from another reviewer (in this case for video games). I had debated simply calling it “Bad Sequel Syndrome” but it doesn’t really hit at exactly what the problem is with DtB: Season 2 like Compilation Syndrome does.
Compilation Syndrome was originally coined to describe what the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII did for the franchise. As far as we are concerned though, Compilation Syndrome describes sequels that offer nothing satisfying to connect them to their predecessors. In this case we are talking about shows that advertise themselves as direct sequels to previous works but fail to leverage that position. For example, a show might retcon (retroactive continuity, that is rewrite the original story to fit the new story) the previous game. Or they might adopt the same cast of characters but completely change their personalities. It might even do away with important relationships from the previous one or create new ones out of nowhere. Oftentimes, the previous show’s backstory and world are mostly ignored beyond the superficial reference here or there. The show might go to great lengths to introduce a new cast of characters and ideas only to mostly ignore the original cast. My personal favorite is when characters from the previous entry suddenly have dark or legendary prophecies surrounding them that were never there the first time.
Confused? Let me put it this way. Compilation Syndrome refers to sequels that don’t feel like sequels. Imagine a small studio or group of writers going to a big animation studio like BONES to pitch their idea for a new show. BONES takes a look at it and says, “Sure! This looks great! But could you make it a sequel to this series?” And so the studio rewrites their story to make it a superficial sequel to the show. They’ll swap out character names for the previous ones, maybe throw in some cameos from older characters that serve no real purpose, and maybe toss in a couple of references to the culture and backstory from the previous entry. There’s nothing deep that ties the sequel in to its predecessor. It’d be like if Neo from The Matrix started fighting aliens in his sequels.
So, in case you couldn’t figure it out already, I feel strongly that Darker THAN Black: Twin Star of the Gemini (here on referred to as DtB2) is a major culprit of Compilation Syndrome. Before I go any further, ask yourself this: what do you think of when you think of Darker THAN Black: Season 1? For me, the first thing is the subtle dichotomy between humans and Contractors, hidden in a modern world of politics and espionage. It’s the rich backstory centering on a mysterious Syndicate that pulls the political strings behind the scenes yet to prominent and frightening effect. It’s about the characters such as Hei, Huang, Mao, and Kirihara and their relationships with each other. It’s the story that shows just how much they have changed from when we are first introduced to them.
Fast forward now to DtB2. The Syndicate seems to have disappeared into thin air with a few members scurrying about here and there and all we know is that apparently the Syndicate collapsed. You know, like how a dam will just suddenly break for no apparent reason and wash away the nearby town. There is no attempt to build on the backstory such as Heaven’s War in South America; in fact, I don’t recall it being referenced once. The significance of the battle at Hell’s Gate also seems completely lost as nothing has changed, not even for the characters it involved. I would have expected at least Kirihara to try harder to mend ties between humans and Contractors yet she goes about her life like the event never happened. Most frustrating of all, characters from Season 1 return but are either only brief cameos (such as April) or have been so majorly changed I don’t see how they’re the same character. Pardon the rather blunt analogy, but DtB2 is a lot like bad fanfiction. One of the hallmarks of bad fanfiction authors is their inability to keep characters in character and remain true to the source material yet that is exactly what happens here.
This is perhaps most prominent in the main characters of Hei and Suou. As any one who has talked to me knows, Hei is perhaps my favorite male protagonist of any anime series. When I heard about the sequel I was excited to get more of the enigmatic humanistic Contractor. I was curious to see where he would go now that he had chosen a different path entirely, all the while kicking some ass as Hei and stirring up laughs as Lee. All my excitement evaporated by the end of the second episode. Hei now kills people needlessly, is working for the CIA, and is just an angry drunk. In season 1 Hei is established to be a character who hates killing yet does it because he wants to find/save his sister. Not to mention, one of his major features was that he was compassionate. What has been done with Hei in DtB2 wreaks of slapping an old name on a brand new character. No effort is made to preserve the relationships he had with characters such as Kirihara and what relationship they do keep makes no sense. Hei and Yin were partners, teammates in the first season, yet somehow we have gone from that to full blown obsessive compulsive lovers (at least Hei is). There’s no explanation or attempt to preserve the original material.
Perhaps my biggest gripe with Hei in DtB2 is how they completely retconned his realization at the end of Season 1. Hei’s big reveal was that since he is both human and Contractor, he can choose the path that humans and Contractors can’t choose. This is huge and was what the entire season was leading up to. In season 2, this is just retconned and instead they make Suou into the “human Contractor” which we already established was Hei. The retconning in this case is just disgusting and lazy.
Suou is the other main character and she is just…boring. Much of plot focuses on her and trying to get you to like her and it falls flat on its face. She is superficial, whiny, and just uninteresting. I found myself cheering every time Hei hit her, just because I felt she deserved it. Imagine every bland female main character blended into one and you have Suou.
The thing that frustrates me most is how if this weren’t Darker THAN Black, this show might have been okay. Given Suou’s character, this could have been an interesting genre cross of magical girl and girls with guns kind of show. Given a cast that isn’t the forcibly contrived version they used here, it could have been something. But it wasn’t. Instead, we have a prophecy that apparently foretells the world’s destruction centering around Yin, something that wasn’t even mentioned or implied in the first season. Things jump around like a caffeine addict on meth and when the plot does take its time, it is always with the scenes that serve no purpose to the story. Even Gai and Kiko’s entry really serves no purpose other than a brief cameo. The soundtrack from Season 1 was this smooth and at times poignant blend of jazz and orchestra that did wonders for the atmosphere and even characterization. DtB2 just has bland, uninteresting and even nonsensical electronic-like music.
I could go on about bad writing, horrible music, and lackluster ideas for days but frankly it all pales in comparison to Compilation Syndrome. While the show could have been something at least average, Compilation Syndrome prevented this thing from ever even being decent in the first place. It’s a disappointment, plain and simple.