The brilliance of the work of the people at Bones studio shows up most clearly in their distinctive overall design of each new series.
They work within the system of age targeting without trading in familiar clichés. They deconstruct and re-invent genre. They individualise even minor characters.
It is visual design in particular that marks out Darker than Black, which has already had generous praise heaped on it in Japan.
Black in the English title suggests film noir and Dark the genre of dystopian dark futures. The central thrust of the genre of film noir has always been distrust. Betrayal is its central theme. The settings are dark and threatening, empty streets, railway bridges overlooking desolate urban landscapes.
Darker than Black employs serene and welcoming settings as well, places where flower petals are reflected in water, places that seem safe from violence.
A child plays innocently on a swing in a city park.
But then the detectives keeping watch on her are one by one, to her horror, literally sliced in half by her murderous gaze.
A man on the run finds refuge by a door on the roof of a city building. He seems to have escaped from his pursuers. But a flash of light a few feet away shows that a pursuer has tracked him down.
An ordinary black cat prowls along a suburban fence in the early evening. How totally ordinary! But the black cat could be a central character in the series, adding unpredictable elements of wit and vulnerability.
The fantasy gaming crowd will recognise that the dystopian world of the series and the use by the characters of bizarre specific abilities comes directly from the dark future and cyberpunk gaming genres of the last 25 years.
The popular Japanese rock band Abingdon Boys School performs the opening song with an attack as fierce as the Alabama 3 number that was used for The Sopranos.
In Darker than Black the plotline is as much a source of confusion as the ambiguities of the action. The viewer's understanding of what is actually going on is continually challenged by contradictions. No clear goal exists at first for any character and there is no indication of a consistently sympathetic hero to identify with. Instead the camera gradually explores a world of threats and counter-threats, plots and counterplots.
The world of Darker than Black is one of moral perplexities, anomalies and paradoxes.
It was Rah Xephon and Wolf's Rain, a chance sample from a considerable number of successful titles, that first attracted me to this studio's work, but Darker than Black is more satisfying in the way it creates a gritty, almost credible setting for a future where beings who are not quite human pass unnoticed through cities where people are not permitted to know too much.