Durarara; a review.
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.