In Tokyo's downtown district of Ikebukuro, amidst many strange rumors and warnings of anonymous gangs and dangerous occupants, one urban legend stands out above the rest—the existence of a headless "Black Rider" who is said to be seen driving a jet-black motorcycle through the city streets.
Mikado Ryuugamine has always longed for the excitement of the city life, and an invitation from a childhood friend convinces him to move to Tokyo. Witnessing the Black Rider on his first day in the city, his wishes already seem to have been granted. But as supernatural events begin to occur, ordinary citizens like himself, along with Ikebukuro's most colorful inhabitants, are mixed up in the commotion breaking out in their city.
Johnny Yong Bosch and Kari Wahlgren were nominated for the "Best Male Lead Vocal Performance" and the "Best Female Lead Vocal Performance" awards at the BTVA Anime Voice Acting Awards in 2012 for their performances in Durarara!!.
I finally finished "Durarara!!" and while there were characters that I liked and moments that were entertaining, I don't think it's a series I would willingly put myself through again. I'm not even sure I liked it as a whole.
Putting aside the immediately obvious fact that the animation for this series is superb and all opening and ending songs are awesome, what's left for me to complain about is the pacing, the plot, and the nearly nonexistent character development. Oh, and the mind-numbingly boring way in which the dialogue is remarkably unsubtle, anvilicious, and pretentious.
I know this is based on a series of light novels
and that there's also a manga version. But while I know a bit about both, I haven't read enough of either, and this is an anime review anyway, so I'm glad I haven't yet so I can focus on the anime. I actually wonder if I may be too old for this anime, because it left me completely unimpressed, didn't change my point of view in anyway, and I learned nothing and felt nothing while I watched it. It felt like the entire thing was made by a bunch of disaffected college students that have nothing better to do with their spare time than angst about how the world is so sad and boring. And while this seems perhaps an unfair attack on the team that made the anime and for all I know they're completely the opposite, it's how the series came off as.
For all the darkness or apparent maturity of the themes, the show comes off as incredibly naive. The characters spend way too long and talk too much in an effort to explain themselves and their actions. There's too much talking! Even when what they're saying is plainly obvious or when they could have stopped after one sentence and it's especially annoying when you realize that their justifications are pretty much senseless or stupid after the nth time they've explained it. I honestly blocked out whole chunks of dialogue from boredom. Then I went back to see if I missed anything by doing so. I didn't.
I don't think the series is as meaningful as it thinks it is, and I wasn't moved by most of the characters. The only ones I really cared about by the end of it all was Kida Masaomi and Celty, the headless biker. (And Heiwajima Shizuo who is crazy awesome. I like Orihara Izaya and he's one of my favorite characters, but I don't really care or am concerned about the guy because he should honestly die in a fire.) Speaking of which, what really bothered me was how so many of the characters escaped karma -- except Kida Masaomi, who the show seemed determined to break because that's his designated role. The show also tries to present Mikado Ryuugamine as somewhat of a hero, which I refuse to accept. And to bring up the manga and novels, I think the anime tries much harder than those two make him likeable or acceptable (and overall NICER) to count as one and it's obvious. I'm sorry, but no. Better to have left him a bit of a magnificent bastard than to do so. By extension, the Dollars are supposed to be the good gang, which is laughable, since while they do some good in the anime, they're not much different from the bad gangs -- they're a bunch of easily manipulated cowardly sheep who can't even do good on their own (with the exception of a few, but they're in the extended hero's group so...).
What really bothers me about the Dollars is, had their leader been actually smarter and less interested in his own entertainment, they could have PUT AWAY SOMEONE THAT'S DONE SOMETHING CLEARLY WRONG. In the first half, the major conflict involved a shady pharmaceutical company responsible for a string of kidnappings and that was covering up an assault. Granted, the assaulted girl was cray cray and a stalker, and she didn't press charges because she's madly in love with the guy that nearly killed her and they wound up together thanks to the said pharmaceutical company, but really? REALLY? The guy that ALMOST CRACKED HER HEAD OPEN escaped punishment and is later on referred to as "he's weird, but kind of cool"? By the show's protagonist? WHAT?! And what did the leader of the Dollars choose to do about this? MESS WITH THE MIND OF THE PERSON BEHIND ALL OF IT. Yeah, that's all. And the result? Was not so awful that by the next episode she's seen working for the information broker that orchestrated it all while still full of haughty arrogance. And speaking of the information broker, I don't know if he really is just that awesome or the other characters are just so stupid or weak that he's pretty much untouchable despite being so plainly evil.
The only thing that could have possibly redeemed this whole show was the friendship between the three main characters (Anri, Mikado, and Kida). But as a friendship, it just fails. There are countless other anime and manga that have portrayed friendship in an amazingly poignant way. This anime had that chance but it just fell so miserably short.
The light novels and the manga version of this show goes farther from what I've seen and heard about. If there's a second season, my point of view might change. Who knows? As it stands, it's pointless, other than being pretty to look at. Much of the show seems focused on being cool for the sake of being cool and that's it.
I would like to note the massive popularity this show commands, and the rabid nature of its fanbase. Normally, this would be a good enough reason for one to abstain from critically reviewing this show, but oh, the thrill of jabbing at the hornets' nest...
Let us commence.
Round One: The Stage.
Alright, this one is going to be a mess, and I should get this over with in the first bit of the review. Durarara does not have a plot. It has barely any backstory, and relies more on the established 'Rule of Cool' rather than an interesting story or an intricate plot, or even
just the premise of complete pandemonium that made its predecessor 'Baccano!' such a phenomenal success. However, that is not to say that Durarara has nothing to offer in this field.
Just like its predecessor 'Baccano!', Durarara does not rely on a dominant and omnipresent central plot, but rather on the characters, although it does try to give a certain amount of depth to the stage, and this is where it fails.
You see, you can put up a decent enough play without equipping your stage with crimson curtains and whatnot, and instead focusing on your cast. Should you succeed in the latter, it might still be an extremely enjoyable presentation. If you to divert your attention to the stage itself for a slight, change your mind, and leave it there will certainly result in a spectacular failure on both sides.
'Durarara!' is set in Ikebukuro, one of the more dangerous urban neighborhoods in Japan. The neighbourhood plays host to all of Durarara's resident checkpoints on the unwritten list of anime stereotypes. The story takes place in the aftermath of a gang war that is only known as 'The color gang war', something we find out close to nothing (interesting) about. This was a miserable failure at adding depth to a stage, and is where it falls short.
For a rating, I'm going to have to give this section a 4 out of 10.
Round Two: The Cast.
The collection of Ikebukuro's occupants who partake in the story of Durarara! isn't exceptional in any sense.
You have Mikado Ryugamine; a country bumpkin who's moved into this wild urban district to-
Yes, go to high school…
Cross out 'Well-endowed class representative' (with a deep, dark secret that you will not give two Kusos for) and 'Pervert best friend' on the aforementioned list of anime stereoty- Oh, I know! Let's do something that has NOT been done to death in the world of Anime; put 'em in a love triangle!
Then, you have your filler material. Enter;
- The Otakus.
- The walking sack of anger issues that tosses weighty objects at anybody who looks sideways at him (CRISPIN FREEMAN!)
- His sworn foe, the 'Smart guy' with an affinity for slick combat (knives and evasion)
- The immigrant (they emphasize upon that to a degree that borders on racism) African-Russian sushi-bar worker.
All of the characters above get absolutely no development. Their introductions are rather bland, and their hastily added origin stories are almost cringeworthy. The most they receive are shallow labels which do little more than make sure you don't mix them up.
But enter a pleasant surprise; there is an ace in this chaotic mess of a deck, and that would be Celty Sturlurson.
Celty is a Dulahan, the celtic equivalent of the grim reaper, a being with a dismembered head that guides souls into the afterlife. However, Celty differs from other Dulahan as she is missing her head, and is in the process of searching for it. She is the only standout character amongst this ocean of cardboard cutouts, alongside Shinra, whom she shares an… Unusual relationship with. Watching this is, quite frankly, is thrice as interesting as the rest of the show.
If I could change this show (and good lord, do I wish it to be so), I would focus on what the show is really about; Celty. The other characters only serve to detract from her story, and the focus is on the worst possible group.
This aspect of the show, in my opinion, gets a rating of 6 out of 10.
Round Three: The Sound.
The soundtrack is where this show really picks itself up, with some funk and jazz, and a very Baccano-esque initial opening theme (both in terms of animation and sound) that I thoroughly enjoyed. There's even a couple of unconventional but compelling tracks with solo upright bass that I particularly appreciated. In this respect, the show follows in the footsteps of Baccano, and the results are remarkable.
With two solid dubs and a great score, I see no reason why it doesn't merit a 9 out of 10.
Round Four: The Animation.
I'll have to concede that the animation for the show isn't all that bad, and it even has an appreciable organic vibe to it. However, at times this doesn't shine where it needs to, and I can even recall scenes where the average animation quality detracted from the show itself. As is evident, there is no worse sin that the art of a show can possibly commit. For shows that follow the previously mentioned 'Rule of Cool', the animation requires a certain emphasis which this show doesn't seem to have.
The animation scores a 7 out of 10.
Round Five: Entertainment Value.
I might appear to be dissatisfied during the course of my this review, but when I watched the series, I found that I was rather enjoying it, and would watched a slew of episodes in a single setting. It would be abject dishonesty to say that it wasn't enjoyable initially, but following the first few episodes, I found it was becoming boring rather quickly, and all of the aforementioned flaws became painfully apparent. Some were prominent enough to serve as immediate deterrents, but its merits were just enough to counteract them when they received attention.
The score for entertainment value is a 6 out of 10.
The overall score for this series will be determined by the average of the above scores, which is a 6.4 out of 10, rounded off to 6 out of 10.
As for an alternative, I would recommend Baccano, which is the spiritual predecessor to this series, and does everything a whole lot better, and I can say this despite not having completed the series yet (which is a very good sign). Also, most of Baccano is set about a century before Durarara, with certain parts in the 18th and early 21st centuries, so if that strikes your fancy, it's definitely a show you will like.
The world of anime never ceases to come up with new and fascinating series, original and interesting storylines, or iconic and highly memorable characters. There’s a reason why this form of entertainment (and art) has attained such widespread reach over the years, and I truly believe that its decisive power lies in the near unrestrained creativity present in each and every anime series, original video animation, and whatnot. This freedom of expression and imagination has become somewhat of a signature for the Japanese animation industry, acting as sort of an assurance that anime features plenty of exclusive elements and things you won’t get to see
anywhere else. Sometimes that can be a bad thing (if you know what I’m saying), but let’s face it, most of the time that’s undeniably beneficial to both the creators and the viewers.
A recent anime series, entitled Durarara!!, is a perfect demonstration of what the Japanese animation industry is capable of and the benefits of its broader range of creativity. Stretching over twenty-four episodes (not taking into account any possible OVAs or specials), Durarara!! tells a wonderfully unique story set in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo, Japan. Dealing with themes such as friendship, betrayal, gang wars, the urban lifestyle, identity and the lack thereof, consumerism, and even the supernatural, its storyline is beautifully complex, surprisingly comprehensive as a whole, and features several intertwining story arcs that blend together in an impressive manner.
Durarara!! starts off with the teenager Mikado Ryugamine and his arrival in Tokyo, where he is greeted by his childhood friend Masaomi Kida, who has lived in the city for several years now. Mikado has longed for a big city life ever since he was young, and was newly convinced by Masaomi to transfer to his current high school in Japan’s capital, Tokyo. During their childhood, the two have been best friends up until Masaomi moved away, and have kept in touch through the internet ever since then. As they finally meet again in one of the biggest cities in the world, Masaomi wastes little time with catching up and immediately proceeds to show the timid Mikado around Ikebukuro. However, Mikado, still overwhelmed by the intimidating urban lifestyle prevailing throughout Tokyo, is even more stunned after realizing just how many secrets and mysteries this city actually holds.
While Masaomi shows Mikado around the city, he also introduces him to a bunch of people, some friends of his, others not so much, something which can be seen as an act of setting up the exposition upon which the rest of the series will depend. Durarara!! features a lot of characters and every episode follows more than a single plotline, so it may take a while to become comfortable with the occasionally frantic pace and often perplexing storyline prevailing throughout the series, though once the first impressions settle in, it all becomes a very exciting and interesting ride, thanks to the various fascinating elements making up the story as the anime progresses.
As mentioned earlier on, Durarara!! is a series that is very rich in characters and story arcs. As far as the protagonist goes, Mikado Ryugamine would be the obvious pick, though under the surface, things are a little more complicated than that. The first few episodes definitely focus on Mikado for the most part, developing him as a lead character and also using him as a means of constructing the exposition of the series. Once things are in place, a great deal of characters that were previously introduced come into play and several story arcs begin to take shape. On one side, there’s the group of high school friends consisting of the above mentioned Mikado Ryugamine, his longtime buddy Masaomi Kida, and the voluptuous, introverted and often shy Anri Sonohara. There’s an interesting, though perhaps somewhat clichéd dynamic going on between the three of them, and the full extent of their common bond only emerges towards the finale.
Another set of characters come into focus a little further down the line, some of the more noteworthy consisting of Shizuo Heiwajima, a bodyguard wearing a bartender’s uniform and sunglasses who is widely known around Ikebukuro as the strongest man in the world, Izaya Orihara, a young and enigmatic information dealer who seems to manipulate other people for his own enjoyment—he’s also Shizuo’s sworn enemy, and last but definitely not least, a mysterious motorcyclist known as the black rider who is often seen driving around Ikebukuro for unknown reasons—rumours have it that the rider is actually headless, an allusion to the legend of the headless horseman. These are only but a few of all the characters appearing in the series, giving you sort of an idea of how expansive the world of Durarara!! is, even though the entire anime takes place in one common location: the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo.
As impressive as Durarara!! is on a narrative level, it also excels in the visual and sound departments. The art and animation of the series is thoroughly impressive, giving each particular character a unique appearance that contributes to making an impression on the viewer. The city of Tokyo is beautifully portrayed, and Ikebukuro is drawn in a way that gives it a special urban atmosphere, with particular attention given to the nightlife, which truly vibrates amidst the glow of streetlights and hidden secrets. Durarara!! features an art style that is a little different from the usual anime series, meaning that characters are a little more rich in detail, have a slightly different build and their specific facial traits are more accentuated. What that means is that it may take a while for some viewers to get used to this particular style, though ultimately, it fits the overall feeling of the series well.
The series is also complemented by solid voice acting and a very impressive and memorable soundtrack, constituting a vigorous and upbeat opening track during the first half of the show and a very evocative and somewhat melancholic one during the other half. Both songs work well and are especially catchy, never seeming to get old, even after twelve episodes have passed. Unfortunately, the two songs played during the ending sequence of the episodes are a little underwhelming and definitely do not measure up to the standards set by the ones playing during the introductory section, but that’s just a small complaint, because the music tracks are still quite fitting, meaning that the mood prevailing throughout the show is never ruined.
As good of an anime series as Durarara!! is, it still exhibits a fair amount of flaws and imperfections along the way. The narrative power and expansiveness of the show has proved to be its strongest suit, but it has also made way to a few inconsistencies in the flow of the story, as well as a couple of unresolved plot points that have garnered over the course of the series’ running time. The ending of Durarara!! feels pretty rushed, a common shortcoming among many other anime series, which will surely anger some viewers, especially considering the time the show spent on developing certain characters and plot elements. It definitely could have used one or two more episodes to properly conclude things, if you ask me. Here’s to hoping that a second season will be made in the future—however unlikely—that will sort out some of these unresolved issues.
Its rushed finale and partially unfinished storyline aside, Durarara!! is an excellent anime series that is unique enough and boasts plenty of originality so as to make it one of the best show of the year. It’s definitely the most well-written series in a significant amount of time, featuring thoroughly intriguing characters and engaging story arcs. The way everything intertwines and relates to each other during the course of the story is quite fascinating and it’s definitely interesting to see how things unfold in the end. Personally, seeing Durarara!! nail the look and feel of an urban lifestyle and depict the city of Tokyo in such a gorgeous way has sealed the deal for me, though I’m sure others will find plenty of diverse things to hold on to while on a ride through the mysterious Ikebukuro.
From the very get-go, even from the opening title sequence, you can easily notice one thing about Durarara, and that is that it was made by Ryohgo Narita, creator of Baccano. Everything about this show besides the setting is very reminiscent of Baccano, so inevitably, it will be compared to it. So, how does DRRR hold up compared to Narita's previous work?
Well, let's just get this out of the way now: No, it isn't as good as Baccano - but then, few anime are. If you're a Baccano fan, Durarara is definitely worth watching, and even if you aren't a Baccano fan, Durarara is still
worth watching, although some of the references may be lost on you, seeing as how Baccano and Durarara take place in the same fictional universe. The main difference between the two is, perhaps bizarrely given their setting, Durarara is clearly the more mature of the two series. It opts for a darker, big city underworld chic as opposed to the vibrant 30's style of Baccano. A lot of it revolves around mystery, an element not present in its predecessor.
While the plot of Durarara is hard to sum up briefly, the premise revolves largely around Celty Sturluson, a Dullahan (read: Headless Horseman) who has lost her head, and come to Japan in search, posing as a biker. At the same time, highschool student Mikado Ryugamine is moving to Ikebokuro, after growing tired of his life in the countryside, and meets up with his internet buddy Masaomi Kida. Kida is quick to warn Mikado of the colour gangs that roam Ikebokuro, such as the Yellow Scarves and Blue Square, as well as the mysterious "DOLLARS", a gang claiming to be colourless. The two of them soon befriend a shy, withdrawn girl named Anri Sonohara. But as the plor develops, it becomes clear that none of these people are as simple as they seem.
One of the strengths of this show is the characters. Near enough every major character, and even some of the minor ones, are fascinating and distinctive characters. Celty is considered fearsome by many, though is immediately likeable and down to earth in person. Shizuo Heiwajima is an inhumanly strong man who hates violence, but is filled to the brim with unstoppable rage. Izaya Orihara is a crafty information broker who has a fondness for deranged chess motifs and knives. Shinra Kishitani is a quirky underground surgeon who has a loveably flirtatious fascination with Celty, and even minor characters like a gang of otaku who practise torture based on anime and manga add a comedic referential streak to the series, so if you're a fan of Spice and Wolf, Railgun, Dokuro-chan or Kino's Journey, expect a few giggles.
Whilst the show is initially good, it doesn't really pick up until around a third of the way in, when it begins to move into the fast-paced action that Baccano performed to wonderfully. For most of the middle third of the series, the show is absolutely on its peak, keeping you absolutely glued to your seat wondering what will happen next. It skillfully runs through plots of Celty's missing head, a mysterious slasher attacking people, the background of the wars between the colour gangs, a medical organisation performing human experimentation, and people controlling everything from behind the scenes...
But as great as all of this sounds, in the third act, everything begins to fall apart. Once the slasher arc is over, most of the other plot threads are abandoned, and everything winds up revolving around the a gang war, which is a considerably weaker plot thread than the others, and at it's worst devolves into soap opera drama caused entirely by foolish decisions that could easily have been avoided. This would've at least stood up strongly if it had kept skillfully using the other storylines, but the plot of Celty's head is completely and utterly ignored as a result of this massive plot tumour. All of this builds up to an anticlimactic and lacklustre ending that gives very little closure whatsoever. The upcoming specials are set to wrap this up, but I really don't consider that a valid excuse. The only way this would be forgiveable is if there was a second season, and by the way that the specials were announced, this seems unlikely.
(EDIT: Future seasons have rectified this dangling plot thread, but considering how much worse the later seasons were I still can't forgive it for this.)
Final Words: At it's best, absolutely fantastic. Shame it went to waste.