(First of all, I'd like to apologize for not making a post in several months. You'll be seeing more posts from me in addition to this one very soon, so I hope that will make up for lost time)
At this point, I am convinced that Funimation is incapable of dubbing a show poorly. They get mediocre or even bad shows sometimes, sure, but they've come so far since those early days of Dragonball Z where, as Chris Sabat will tell you, no one knew what they were doing. This is especially evident in the dub under discussion today, Darker than BLACK, a supernatural action show from director Tensai Okamura (Wolf's Rain) and Studio BONES. Like Wolf's Rain, DtB (abbreviated for convenience) is a series that plays events very close to the chest; emotional outbursts are powerful but rare, and one has to pay very close attention in order to catch the significance of many events and symbols within the series. Such a show needs to be carefully dubbed, and Funimation once again triumphs with this difficult show.
This will be divided into "Main Characters" and "Recurring/Two-Shot Characters" due to DtB's unusual series structure of two-episode mini-arcs until the last few episodes. I won't be analyzing EVERY minor or recurring role, just the ones I think are the most important and/or interesting. There's nary a poorly cast or poorly acted role in the dub, though, so anyone I don't mention is still great. Also, here be spoilers. You have been warned.
HEI/LEE SHENSHUN (Jason Liebrecht)-I'll be honest right now: until this role and Luck Gandor in Baccano! (I've also heard good things about his performance as the male lead in Eden of the East), I wasn't much of a fan of Jason. His early roles in shows like Black Cat or Tsubasa were basic male leads, and his voice didn't seem inherently interesting enough to justify his casting. Now he seems to be getting cast in more suitable roles, and his Hei is definitely excellent. Hei is hard to figure out: is his real self his on-the-job persona as "the Black Reaper", or is he really more like his agreeably dorky civilian identity Lee Shenshun? Liebrecht captures all the facets of Hei wonderfully, whether he's being a badass and fighting other Contractors (the superpowered beings of the story), his facade as Lee, or his own self-reflective moments where he ponders the past or his own feelings. It's a terrific performance all around.
MAO (Kent Williams)-Kent is one of my favorite Funi talents. Not only does he have a great, memorable voice, but he's an excellent, professional actor who almost never hits a wrong note. Mao, a Contractor who can "jump" into animals' bodies that is currently stuck in a cat form, is undoubtedly one of his largest roles and certainly one of his best. Sarcastic talking cats in a supernatural setting are nothing new (remember Jiji from Kiki's Delivery Service or Salem from Sabrina the Teenage Witch?), but Kent manages to put his own spin on the trope, his older voice sounding more legitimate and biting in its sarcasm. Mao is quite possibly one of my favorite characters in the whole show, and Kent's wonderful performance is a large part of why. He certainly gets the best line in the whole show: "By the way, Hei doesn't just wear that coat as a fashion statement... it's bulletproof." And then Hei kicks the ass of everyone in the vicinity. Awesomesauce.
YIN (Brina Palencia)-Brina admittedly doesn't get as much to do as some of the others, but she manages to portray Yin's gradual emotional awakening quite effectively, especially in the episodes where we learn about her past. No complaints.
HUANG (John Swasey)-Swasey can do this type of role (gruff jerk with a heart of gold) in his sleep, but Huang is definitely one of his best. He's not a very likable guy at first, but Swasey subtly gets the idea across that Huang's jerk attitude is largely a front for his real feelings, and he certainly excels in the arc where we learn just why he thinks he hates Contractors so much. By the end of the series, Swasey has portrayed Huang's subtle transformation into a man who is willing to die to help people he previously said he hated so well that one nearly weeps at his demise, and cheer when he pops up again in a very unexpected form.
MISAKI KIRIHARA (Kate Oxley)-In addition to Kent Williams, this might be my favorite long-term performance in the whole dub. Kate is fairly fresh talent, but she establishes Misaki perfectly from the get go as a strong, capable woman who doesn't flinch even when she knows she's dealing with powers far beyond her own, normal capabilities. Kate also captures the other facets of Misaki's personality well, such as her embarrassment when she's squeezed into a sexy chinadress for a fancy party, or her hesitation in dealing with her boss since he's also her father. She also has a great interplay with Monica Rial's Kanami (who I'll get to later), and you really get the sense that these two women have been friends for a long time even before we learn they went to school together.
YUSUKE SAITO (Chris Sabat), YUTAKA KONO (Todd Haberkorn), KUNIO MATSUMOTO (Kenny Green), and MAYU OTSUKA (Leah Clark)-The other members of Misaki's team aren't too important in the long run, but they're all performed well. Sabat is rock-solid as usual, and he has some fun with Saito's unrequited crush on Misaki, Todd is youthful and sarcastic, Kenny is older and professional, and Leah doesn't have much to do in the series proper, but she gets to have a lot of fun in the extra OVA episode where Mayu's otaku tendencies are revealed.
YOSHIMITSU HORAI (R. Bruce Elliott)-Bruce has a great, authoritative voice, which suits this secretly sinister bureaucrat very well, and he does a wonderful job with Horai's subtle breakdown at the end of the series when his plans come crashing down around him.
KANAMI ISHIZAKI (Monica Rial)-The funny thing about Monica is that her higher-pitched characters are actually much closer to her real voice; go listen to an interview or con panel with her and you'll see what I mean. That makes her huskier roles more interesting, and while her Kanami isn't AS deep as she can go, it's more than we're used to, and it fits the sexy, friendly scientist quite well. She's great in moments where Kanami's doting over her experiments as well as teasing Misaki about her lack of a boyfriend.
NOVEMBER 11 (Troy Baker)-One of the interesting factors of DtB's story is that it's not restricted to Japan; a major incident in the backstory occurred in South America, and several intelligence agencies conflict with their own Contractors. One of the most memorable is November 11, an ice-powered British agent who steals nearly every scene he's in through pure suaveness. Baker puts on a pretty good British accent for the role (it sounds fine to MY Yankee ears at any rate), and he manages to get across November's buried camaraderie as well as his default "James Bond" mode.
AMBER (Laura Bailey)-Amber is an important figure in Hei's past and the series plot at large, and until the end we're never quite sure whether she's a hero or a villain. Laura's excellent performance helps with this delightful ambiguity; she always seems so concerned for Hei, yet has no hesitation about having her comrades fight (though not kill) him, and her love almost seems creepy at times. Laura expertly acts all of these feelings, and she meets another challenge that Amber presents: Amber's powers require her to "de-age", so Laura ends up playing her at several different ages. She nails it.
KIKO KAYUNAMA (Brittney Karbowski)-Gai's beleaguered teenage assistant is equally fun in a different way: she's a giant otaku, and the running gag of her abandoning her boss to go watch anime or to a convention never stops being funny. Brittney is a hoot in the role, especially when she points out Gai's awful smoking habit in her first line.
HAVOC (Luci Christian)-Havoc is one of the saddest characters in the series, a Contractor whose awful, destructive power came with a price that would drive anyone mad. When she's introduced, she's a broken shell seeking redemption for the horrible things she did, so terrified of her powers coming back that she begs her old comrade Hei to kill her if her powers start to come back. Luci is just GREAT, so anguished and pitiful that you want to hug her, and she also has a great monologue where she remembers a lone happy memory in a past soaked in blood.
ALICE WANG (Caitlin Glass)-At first glance, Alice seems like a typical cheerful, friendly Caitlin role, right? WRONG. Alice turns out to be deeply disturbed, and Caitlin effortlessly makes the transition from "bubbly childhood friend" to "major psycho", yet she manages to keep her sympathetic enough that her painful death is still sad.
WEI ZHIJUN (Robert McCollum)-Robert's not stretching his range much, but he brings a lot of menace and energy to Wei nonetheless. Though for me, it's hard not to be reminded of Shinobu Sensui from Yu Yu Hakusho, another superpowered nutjob he portrayed.