Durarara!! review

Honey, I’m home!

Durarara!! follows a collection of very different people and their interconnecting lives in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo. It’s a story of friendship, love, life in the big city and HOLY CRAP HEADLESS PEOPLE.

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Where do I begin with a series like this? Durarara!! adopts the unusual tactic of not focusing on one particular character or group of characters – instead opting to tell an interconnected story through seemingly isolated incidents and an ensemble cast, so I’ll try to give a very basic rundown.

The story begins with high-schooler Mikado Ryugamine arriving in Ikebukuro to begin his new school life. He meets up with his best friend Masaomi, who takes him on a tour of the city and introduces us to our main cast of characters.

Now, here we (very quickly) arrive at one of my gripes with the series. Let me run down the list of the ‘main’ characters:

Mikado Ryugamine

Masaomi Kida

Anri Sonohara

Celty Sturluson

Shizuo Hewajima

Izaya Orihara

Shinra Kishitani

Simon Brezhnev

Kyohei Kadota

Walker Yumasaki

Erika Karisawa

Saburo Togusa

Seiji Yagiri

Namie Yagiri

Mika Harima

Saki Mikajima

And that’s just the reoccurring parts. Got all that? Good, because now you need to know that around 70% of the characters on that list get their ‘own’ episode.

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“Keeping up?”

So, to summarize, you have to remember ALL the characters, along with ALL their motivations and ALL their voices, then remember where they ALL fit in the grand tapestry of the plot. Add to that the fact the characters have secrets and double-cross and triple-cross and…

Well, in the end let’s say Izaya’s ongoing board game sums it up pretty well:

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“Knight to black 7. Yahtzee!”

Anyway, in Ikebukuro there’s the ongoing story of the headless rider trying to get her head back, the mystery of the anonymous Dollars gang, the rivalry between Izaya and Shizuo, the gang war between the Dollars and Yellow Scarves, the friendship between Mikado, Masaomi and their classmate Anri, and the mysterious slasher attacks going on around the city. Often, most of this is happening all at the same time!

So really, I can’t tell you what the overall plot is, because there’s about 5 million plots happening at once. Now, surprisingly, the series keep these all in check for the most part, but at times it’s very difficult to keep track of all the moving parts. The first few episodes of the series take place on the same day, but are told from different perspectives, which can be a little hard to wrap your head around at first.

That said, when the plot is engaging, it’s riveting. Without a clearly defined approach to the series and its genre, the tone shifts wildly from episode to episode, but in a way that doesn’t feel out of place. Otherwise humorous episodes can be punctuated by brief scenes of shocking violence, a reminder of the underlying danger of the city and its denizens.

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But there’s love too!

The characters, thankfully, are able to support this approach. Irish dullahan Celty, the headless rider, is the closest thing there is to a framing narrative in the series, and the hunt for her missing head is used as a driving force for many of the characters. She’s well fleshed out, with a lot of thought put into her character. I particularly like how because she has no head she has to communicate by tapping out messages on her phone, which is holstered in her sleeve (why hasn’t anyone made that into an actual thing?).

Oh, that’s why.

My personal favourite characters are Shizuo and the crazy duo of Walker and Erika. Shizuo is the bodyguard of Tom Tanaka, a debt collector. However, he just so happens to be basically indestructible and possesses superhuman strength whenever he gets mad… which is all the time. His origin story is one of the best episodes of the series, in my opinion.

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He’s basically the Incredible Hulk in cool sunglasses and a waistcoat.

Walker and Erika are members of a small gang who drive around in a van all day and help out some of the more major characters. They’re also hardcore lovers of anime and manga and seem to live a carefree, almost childish existence while still being giving off hints of darkness at times, which was really interesting to see.

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“Wanna go torture someone after this dance?” “I thought you’d never ask.”

On the other hand, some characters fall a little short of the mark. Seiji Yagiri is essentially a one-note weirdo of a character, and his sister Namie is no more inspiring. She starts off as an antagonist… kind of, but once her arc is dealt with (in an inconclusive way), she just hangs around at Izaya’s house and looks at books. She’s in almost every episode, but rarely actually does anything.

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“Yeah, well blame the writers for that.”

The English dub, in much the same way as the characters, is mostly strong, with a couple of weak links. In particular Mikado’s voice actor, Darrel Guilbeau, has a number of lines that feel over-pronounced and stilted, as if the editor used his first practice take in the final product. You know the type of reading: “I can-not be-lieve this is hap-pen-ing. What could it pos-sib-ly mean?”

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“I can-not be-lieve you would say some-thing like that. That is the ru-dest thing I have e-ver heard!”

But aside from that, there’s some big names in the VA world doing their bit in the series. Bryce Papenbrook and Michelle Ruff round out Mikado’s friends, but there are also appearances by Kari Wahlgren as Celty, Crispin Freeman as Shizuo, and the always fun Johnny Yong Bosch as the slimy but charming information broker Izaya.

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Perhaps what surprised me most was that the AAA members of the cast (such as Yuri Lowenthal, Liam O’Brien, and Steve Blum) were mostly relegated to minor roles, meaning that no matter which character you are hearing, there’s quality at all times.

From an artistic standpoint, Ikebukuro is well realised, though there are a lot of environments you end up seeing over and over again. Then again, it is a big city, so maybe they just look the same. Either way, I feel a little more variety would have been nice. It’s still pretty, though!

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I also really enjoyed the series’ soundtrack – a strange mix of jazzy incidental music, Celtic-esque folk, and a rocking opening. I can’t think of any times it was really out of place or obnoxiously repetitive. Personal highlights include “Ikebukuro West Exit Five-way Intersection”, “The Sought-after Extraordinary” and “Green Memories” if you want to check out some of the arrangements. Tracks like these and “Bottled Angel” add a really mysterious aura to Ikebukuro – and with all these supernatural and outlandish elements converging on the city, it fits really well.

I finished watching Durarara!! somewhat conflicted. In much the same way as Jormungand, I was left feeling a little numb. While there was plenty I enjoyed, there was a lot about Durarara!! that felt problematic – some of which I can’t even articulate into something that makes sense. In the end, upon realising that I would like very much to see the currently airing second season, I figure that’s as positive an opinion as it gets.

TRY IT.

An interesting, if a little disjointed and convoluted, experiment in anime storytelling, Durarara!! combines likeable characters and a stellar soundtrack with surprising plot twists to create a riveting series, though some viewers may be put off by the complexity of the ever expanding web of plot threads.

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