Darker than Black is an anime series that portrays a world where some people have been given supernatural powers – people known in this universe as Contractors. These powers come with a cost – Contractors lose all their human emotion, and become purely rational beings who weigh the odds before any action.

Darker than Black has always been one of my favourite anime series because of how realistic it is when showing the consequences of a world where people have supernatural abilities. Contractors are treated as disposable weapons, tools to be used and thrown away, and are regarded by many as less than human. This is frightfully close to how the real-world scenario of a bunch of people showing up with superpowers would look like – most likely they would be exterminated quickly to prevent any threat, or they would be kept on a leash by someone somewhere to prevent any threat they might pose.

Contractors in Darker than Black are introduced through a strange phenomena known as the Gates, which are zones that mysteriously appeared without any warning. These zones warp the very fabric of reality, with impossible things to those who tread within them and mysterious, never-before-seen organisms being discovered. These Gates play a large role in the story, with all nations eager to gain a lead in Gate-related research, and as a consequence Contractor-related research. As such, relations between nations cool quickly, with espionage being a very real possibility for all nations.

You should probably stop reading here if you haven’t watched, since I’ll be revealing alot of plot details.

Hei is a very interesting character – we’re introduced to him as a Contractor, and yet he appears to have human emotions, feeling hurt when someone calls him a glutton and most of all feeling the need for vengeance against Amber. This is interesting, because although we find out that he isn’t a Contractor at the end of the series, he still acts as though he were one for the first half, repressing all of his emotions because it’s what’s expected of him. He doesn’t intentionally reveal to anyone that he has emotions, and it’s only through observing his actions that we find out he’s different from other Contractors, until it’s revealed that he isn’t even one.

This can lead us to an interesting conclusion – what if not all Contractors lack emotion? After all, Dolls in this series are portrayed as emotionless mediums, but throughout the series we’ve seen three dolls gain emotion and become more human, even though we’re told that it’s impossible. Perhaps all Contractors have emotions, but they choose to repress it due to the atrocities they commit time and time again, with all good Contractors eventually completely repressing their emotions. Perhaps upon becoming Contractors they choose to fit into the stereotype they’ve been fed, having no emotion because they think they should have no emotion.

An example of this is the Contractor November 11 – at the start of the series he appears to have a very rational viewpoint, with all of his actions clearly calculated to be the most beneficial to himself. However, we see that he doesn’t lack emotions, especially when April taunts him about his Remuneration. It appears to be the case that Contractors are simply picking and choosing which emotions to feel, in which case we can conclude that they’re not emotionless, but rather they have to appear to be emotionless to deal with the things they do.

Perhaps the best piece of evidence would be Amber, who is very obviously a Contractor, and yet appears to have fallen in love. If all Contractors lack emotion, it would be impossible for Amber to feel anything close to love, and so we can definitively say that not all Contractors lack emotion.

Yin is the next character we’ll be talking about, and it’s a very interesting one.

Yin is the only Doll in the series that we learn the history of. She was previously known as Kirsi, and lived in Eastern Europe for some period of time before she became a Doll. We have no idea why she became a Doll – that is never explained, just as how it’s never really explained how a person can become a Contractor. This lends Dolls an aura of mystery in this series. They’re used extremely often by all factions, but no one really seems to know where they come from, or what they really are.

Throughout the series, we’re constantly told that they’re just “Dolls” with no emotion, and that they should be used and thrown away. However, Yin becomes more and more human over time, eventually becoming something more once the series ends. Other dolls like July don’t approach this level of development – the closest he gets to becoming human is appearing to recognize November 11 as one of his comrades.

The last Doll that appears to gain emotion is the nameless Doll that was introduced to us in Episodes 17-18, where a man named Kenji rescues a Doll and starts taking care of it. Throughout the arc, he’s told time and time again that he’s doing something stupid, that Dolls can’t feel emotion, and even he himself acknowledges this. This doesn’t discourage him, however, and he persists in treating the Doll as a human, even talking to its blank affect. During the last moments of the arc, we see the Doll acknowledge Kenji’s emotions at least, and it seems to react to him, despite that supposedly being an impossibility.

From all of this we can tell that Dolls are not emotionless – they simply are treated as such to make it easier for people to use them. Yet they are clearly capable of emotion and development if they are given enough attention, and we can see that they are only emotionless when people treat them as objects.

However, this leads us to a strange inconsistency. The Dolls we’re shown from the Department of Astrology and the Dolls that Evening Primrose used are incapable of walking at all, and can only use their Observer Apparitions through the power grid, whereas Yin and July can project their apparitions through any body of Water or Glass respectively, and are fully capable of independent movement. Why is it that these two are capable of what the others aren’t? Even the Doll that Kenji rescued was initially unable to walk at all, but it appears she learned to very quickly, with the reasoning unexplained to us.

An explanation that would make sense in-universe is that the Dolls have been “programmed” with a “personality”, which would include basic functions like walking, talking and eating. This makes sense, were it not for the Doll that Kenji rescued, which clearly hasn’t been programmed at all, and appears to have picked up those skills spontaneously. This is either a glaring plot-hole or an insight into the universe of Darker than Black.

If we assume that it’s not a plot hole, we can conclude that Dolls retain some of their basic memories and instincts, and as such can remember how to walk and how to run without the need to teach them again, since it would take far too long for Kenji to teach the Doll how to walk. From this, we can extrapolate that Dolls might retain some of their old memories, such as Yin appearing to remember the piano from her past, and that their past personalities might still be there underneath everything.

Of course, it’s a bit weak when the only example of a Doll remembering its past is the “special” doll.

The only reasonable conclusion we can draw from these findings is that there is a conspiracy to keep Contractors and Dolls treated as objects, as disposable weapons. This allows for the Syndicate to deploy these unbelievably powerful weapons without fear of them rebelling, since they’re supposed to be “emotionless” and “rational”. By forcing them to be rational, they deny their contractors the option of defection, since they believe that if they defect to another faction they will be hunted down ruthlessly by the Syndicate. As such, with their completely rational judgement they would never do such a thing, since they don’t have anything to gain from it.

As for why Dolls are treated as weapons, it’s probably the result of not many people wanting to talk to blank affects for any extended period of time, thus giving them the appearance that they really are just objects. No one was going to become emotionally invested in a “person” that can’t talk to you, or even do anything on its own.

However, it’s less of an issue if they appear to have been given some form of personality, such as in Yin and July, which allowed people to talk to them with some form of response. It might not be comparable to the response you would get from a regular person, but it would be a response nonetheless. With this basic personality in place, the Doll can receive emotion and attention from other people, and with this they can develop into a more regular human, and become less and less of an object.

Without an understanding of how it is that the dolls have gained that personality though, we cannot understand the universe any more than this. The Darker than Black universe clearly has the capability to fiddle with a person’s mind, with technology such as the Memory Extractor which can apparently transfer memories into a doll. However, this process is never explained in detail, and it is only in the second season that we see a definitive use of it, and that’s probably best left for a separate article.

This has been a rather interesting article to write, and I hope it has been equally interesting to read, and I would welcome any thoughts in the comments down below.