As the spiritual successor to Brain-Base’s summer sensation Baccano!, Durarara!! makes use of that madcap, schizophrenic style that made Baccano! memorable. Based on the light novel series by Ryohgo Narita, Durarara!! is an urban fairytale of unnatural proportions; it takes seemingly random plotlines, jumbles them up, and then pieces them back together. This puzzle of a story takes place in Ikebukuro, Tokyo’s own concrete jungle. Country boy, Mikado Ryugamine, hopes to start his life anew in this sprawling city, crossing paths with a Headless Rider and the shadiest gangsters in town.
The first half of Durarara!! builds momentum through its fast-paced action and bizarre characters. The plot progresses in a stylized, chronologically warped sequence of events—told and retold through different points of view. This favors Durarara’s large ensemble cast by introducing each character in an engagingly complex, yet coherent style. Although convoluted at the get-go, Durarara!! manages to maintain direction by the end of its first act, gradually weaving together stray plot threads and chance encounters between characters. With quick action and snappy pacing, Durarara!! seems to be constantly churning forward. Despite a few lulls of narration, the show takes a bold stab at unconventional storytelling.
Too bad the second half is lackluster in comparison. The switch to a more linear narrative effectively drags the speed and energy of the first arc, instead choosing to focus on the three least interesting characters of the show. What results is a frustrating love triangle of teen angst and lame misunderstandings, altogether making the dramatic climax feel contrived. Tedious voiceover narration and extraneous characters bog down the pacing and blur the show’s focus. Moreover, the finale feels rushed and unfulfilled, with too much emphasis on the build-up before the plunge. While the first half packs more punch through its vast array of characters and haphazard storytelling, much of the interesting personalities fall to the wayside in the latter half—namely appearing whenever some ass-kicking is needed.
As a whole, Durarara!! is just short of a three-course meal. It’s appetizingly fresh and thoroughly fascinating, but the coup de grâce is missing—a woman’s head. Indeed, Celty the Headless Rider is at the core of the first arc, and yet we never find closure to this gaping plot hole. This single thread which ties the two halves together never comes to fruition. After building up and hinting at a fantastic conclusion, the story simply…ends. And I like dessert.
Visually, Durarara’s attention to detail is enormous to the point of replicating city buildings and landmarks from the real Ikebukuro. From the towering sky-scrapers to the ratty alleyways, Brain-Base realistically captures the spirit of modern Tokyo. At the same time, the art incorporates a whimsical backdrop for the supernatural events. Character designs are clean and sharp, never detracting from the breakneck fight scenes or high-speed car chases. There is a slight drop in animation quality in later episodes, and character designs become a little sloppy, but overall Durarara!! has some stylish packaging.
Makoto Yoshimori’s soundtrack mixes aggressive, industrial jazz with delicate piano pieces, perfectly capturing the fickle nature of the big city—a place where day and night are two entirely different beasts. The hustle-bustle of daytime Ikebukuro is accompanied by light violins and soft piano melodies. Yet when night falls, a cacophony of saxophones and guitars both clash and mystify, sculpting the supernatural atmosphere of the show. What results is a wonderfully diverse soundtrack that never misses a beat. And I must admit, the ending theme is damn catchy.
If you enjoyed Baccano!’s trainload of quirky characters, you’ll probably find sympathy (maybe endearment) with Durarara’s cast of crazies. Although it’s a shame they’re largely underdeveloped, most of them are just plain entertaining to watch. Between Izaya, the slyly sadistic informant, Simon, a mysteriously Russian sushi chef, and Shizuo, a bad-tempered bartender, there’s more than enough Insano-gas to go around. Kadota and his manga-obsessed gang members, Erika, Walker, and Saburo provide some much needed comic relief.
Of course, given the massive list of players, they can’t all be fleshed out. Durarara!! knows this, and doesn’t attempt to develop most of them beyond their quirks. Thus, many cast members become one-trick ponies, acting as handy interventionists whenever called for (Shizuo, anyone?). Rather than digging into its characters, Durarara!! uses the connections between them to tell a story about Ikebukuro itself. And it works, for the most part.
Unfortunately, the shift of focus on high schoolers Mikado, Masaomi, and Anri is the least compelling part of the show. Their conflicts feel forced, not by any real depth, but simply by their main character status. Mikado and Anri’s blandness make their outrageous back stories seem shoehorned and frankly, the interesting side cast deserved more attention and development.
Durarara!! feels like a tame Baccano!. But being less brutal doesn’t make it less fun, since this urban fantasy delivers mystery and action with sleek presentation. So long as you’re open to mish-mashed storylines, a large cast of characters, and heavy narration, Durarara!! is solid entertainment. Just don’t hold your breath for a satisfying conclusion.
Looking for a change, Mikado moves from the countryside to bustling Ikebukuro to attend the same high school as his best friend, Masaomi. Though navigating a new school and friendships can prove tough by itself, Mikado also finds an overwhelming number of new delights and dangers in the district he now calls home. From a friendly Russian sushi bar to the violent color gangs, to even an urban legend in the form of a black motorcycle rider, each resident of Ikebukuro is unique and frightening. But the town is smaller than it seems at first, and these strange events appear to be connected. Will the growing storm sweep up the transplanted country boy and his friends or will Mikado find himself at the center of a dramatic change for Tokyo?