The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Durarara!

Title: Durarara! aka DRRR!
Genre: Drama/Action
Company: Brains Base
Format: 24 episodes
Dates: 7 Jan 2010 – 24 June 2010

Synopsis: Ryuugamine Mikado longs for an escape from his dull everyday life and seeks something to make his young, short life stand out from the rest. Mikado needs little more reason than the request of his childhood best friend, Kida Masaomi, to transfer to Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district. Attending a well-reputed school is only his excuse however; he hopes life in one of Japan’s most trendy commercial and entertainment cities can satiate his thirst for excitement and a little danger. But soon he discovers Ikebukuro is more than up to the task. An inhumanly powerful bartender, a mysterious motorcyclist dubbed the Black Rider, and an aggressively enterprising Russian sushi chef are the least threatening people when there are more sinister plots simmering just beneath the surface of this urban jungle…

The Highlights
Cast: Large, boisterous, nutty, and endearing; an all around entertaining ensemble.
Animation: Attractive designs and clean movement brings the bustling city of Ikebukuro to life.
Modernness: Tech savvy and in tune with the Internet generation.
Ending: Leaves much to be desired.

This is the story of Brains Base studio, fresh off of the breakout hit Baccano!, returning to author Narita Ryohgo, the goose that laid that golden egg, to adapt another creative work. Thus was born the anime Durarara!!, that like its predecessor, features a sprawling cast of eclectic personalities, supernatural intrigue, and cultural exploration of its chosen time period, wrapped up in a slick and stylish package. Fortunately, Durarara is able to hash out its own unique identity not just with its modern setting but also a more methodically assembled plot.

Durarara’s principle allure is appealingly presenting current day Ikebukuro and Japanese youth culture. As teenagers, Mikado, Masaomi, and their soft-spoken, bespectacled, and well-endowed friend Anri, enjoy a happening extracurricular life — hanging out at sushi joints, ambling between the colorful lights of downtown streets, and interacting with their diverse collection of social contacts. The series recognizes the important role that internet chat rooms, online associations, cell phones, and text messaging have in teenagers’ social lives. Yet it also finds ample opportunity to tap into that adolescent pastime of discontent with the mundane everyday, showing keen empathy with the presumed young adult viewership and sending a subtle but clear message, “We understand you.” Durarara integrates teen pop culture elements at all its seams without calling inappropriate attention to that aspect or stealing focus away from its main plot.

The second great appeal of Durarara is its diverse and colorful mix of personalities. Through their adventures around Ikebukuro, our teen trio meets many colorful and instantly memorable characters; chief among them are Shizuo, the super strong bartender with anger management issues, Celty, a headless Irish legend who literally rides a ghastly motorcycle, and Izaya, the smug and megalomaniacal information broker. But the list goes on: Kadota and his merry band of former gang members, Shinra the black market doctor, Simon the eccentric Russian sushi chef, and that’s not even mentioning the real sick freaks hiding in the woodworks. However, not all of the characters get as much attention as they might seem to merit: all too often a new and exciting character would be introduced to great fanfare, but makes his presence felt for only an episode or two before flittering out of the picture. Also, the second half of the series notably shifts focus from telling the story from the perspective of the teen leads to being a story about them, unfortunate since they are the least charismatic of the bunch. Doubly unfortunate is that this relegates many of the real stars to the background as the series progresses.

The plotting is where the root of the problems lie. It starts better than well enough; after a first episode introducing the smattering of wild personalities, Durarara quickly sets into telling a number of parallel supernatural mysteries that initially appear oblique to each other, but are cleverly intertwined. The early storylines build characters and situations that are more than they seem, and cleverly layer genuinely surprising revelations and twists with skillful misdirection, all which constantly keeps the viewer guessing. Yet when expectations are heightened, the series likes to pull back, lower the tension, and play off climaxes as less than I feel they should be. Beginning at the 2/3rds mark, we as the audience become privy to all the major secrets of the narrative, which transforms the story into a frustrating play based on misunderstandings and individual indecisiveness. It stands that Durarara’s concluding act is nothing like what made its beginning and middle such riveting entertainment. There’s a definite feeling of underutilized potential and unfinished business at the end.

Durarara is at its best when in constant motion. It suits its colorful style and outlandish story best, making the undercurrent of heartfelt existentialism palatable. That the final set of episodes bogs down in teen angst that wasted the momentum the series had built up to that point is a crying shame, tempered only by the promise that more material from its original novels is still waiting to be adapted. Overall though, Durarara is still a great watch; hip, original, engaging, and vastly entertaining. This reviewer is crossing his fingers for a second season soon.

The Rating: 7
7/10

Reviewed by: kadian1364

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