Synopsis: In the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo, the supernatural comes into contact with the mundane. A headless fairy spawns her own local urban legend as she rides through the streets on her motorcycle. A preternaturally strong man with a hair-trigger temper gets into fights with gangsters despite his dislike of violence. And an information broker pulls on everyone’s strings, maneuvering them into conflict with one another for his own amusement.
Meanwhile, three high school friends form a close bond. But that bond is tested by the secrets they keep, and their involvement in three different gangs–which are on a collision course to an all-out war with each other.
Series: Two seasons.
I’ve Watched: Both seasons dubbed.
Verdict: Amazingly fun, and wonderfully character-driven.
Dub or Sub: For this particular show, I prefer the dub–and not just because of the amazing American voice cast. Something about the appeal of the show lies in how the language is spoken. The right word, spoken in the right way, at the right time. I tried watching the sub for the second season, because I was anxious to continue the story after the four year wait between seasons, but I couldn’t get into it. Something about the atmosphere, the magic of this story, relies on how the dialogue is conveyed. On how something is said, instead of just what is said. For Durarara!!, I think understanding the punch of the language as it’s spoken really adds something.
I haven’t made a whole post on Durarara!! as of yet, but it’s cropped up a few times in my blogging–on my recommendations page, in my Best Friendship in Media Outside of Books post, and in my cosplay spotting at AnimeNEXT, a weekend of cosplay and taking pictures of Fairy Tail characters.
I love this show. It leans on the cusp of absurdity, but it does it in a grounded way, if that makes any sense. And it does go to some weird places, but that same absurdity makes it hard to take those things seriously. It manages to be both quite dark and yet light, tonally, in a way that few works ever manage–the closest comparisons I can think of would be the Marvel cinematic universe (the Avengers movies, Civil War) or Joss Whedon’s Firefly. Or Baccano!, which was another anime adapted from the same creator as Durarara!!
There’s an assortment of messed-up, unusual characters getting wrapped up in wacky adventures. And I love it. I love how off-beat all of the protagonists are, I love how any hint of normalcy to them is always a cover, I love how varied their senses of morality are. None of them are exactly models for behavior, and at least half of the relationships in the show (whether platonic or romantic) are seriously dysfunctional. But absolutely none of that is done in a way I might expect. All of the characters are unusual, so they look for different things out of life.
It is so much fun to watch them all spin circles of intrigue around each other, in spite or because of the personal connections between them. Most of the characters make power plays, many of them pull off clever plans, and all of them get outsmarted in turn, from time to time. It’s awesome. And because of the show’s over-the-top-yet-deep approach to characterization, even the most unlikable characters are just fun to watch.
Another interesting thing is how the show uses 21st century technology to create an anonymous gang with no leadership structure. None of the members know who the others are, and none of them are vetted in any way. They communicate with each other through chats, forums, and texts. For them, this becomes a means of exerting a small measure of influence in a city overrun by gangs, by creating this extensive and fast information network. And the show follows on the changes that might happen in such a gang from when it starts out, to when it grows in reputation and becomes much larger. It’s intriguing to watch and has interesting parallels with some social media platforms.
What initially got me into this show was a clip showed at a New York Comic Con panel (with the scene in the video above), where two characters–the uber-strong Shizuo and his archrival, information broker Izaya–went at it in an entertaining dynamic of mutual loathing. They’ve known each other since high school, and they literally want each other dead. This dynamic remains fascinating from start to finish. Izaya is hated by most, and a huge part of that is how he plays with other people’s lives for his amusement. But Shizuo is one of the very few people that Izaya hates back. And one of the few people who can cause problems for Izaya–not because he’s a match for the info broker’s mind games (he’s not), but because he’s practically invulnerable.
That was just the tip of the iceberg, though. Many, many of the protagonists are fascinating, and have fascinating relationships with each other:
- Celty, a headless fairy whose motorcycle is actually a horse in disguise, is oddly one of the most normal protagonists in the show. She transports items of interest around the city for cash, spends her free time searching for her missing head, and dates the son of the man who vivisected her in the name of science. (Yes, this is relatively normal.)
- There’s Simon, a black Russian who runs a sushi shop, believes in pacifism, yet knows how to physically break up a fight.
- The show’s core trio consists of 1) Mikado, a polite high school student who believes the best of people and wants to do the right thing–on the outside. 2) Anri, a shy and seemingly helpless young girl, who’s filled with a secret self-loathing. 3) Kida, an outwardly cheerful and expressive boy who’s hiding his sense of guilt and inadequacy. Each of them holds onto their friendship like it’s some sort of lifeline, and desperately wants to keep it untainted by their own problems. But that keeps them from being honest with each other and only puts more strain on each of them.
And there are so many more vibrant personalities from both seasons, including a Russian assassin forced into a day job as a bodyguard, a pop star who moonlights as a serial killer, a team of four gangsters who act as a stabilizing force in an increasingly chaotic landscape, and several schemers who compete with Izaya.
So again, this show has plenty of weirdness and adventure. And I really enjoy the journey.
“I swear to Christ, if you make my friend cry, I’ll take a soldering iron to your eyes.”
“Even friends fight to the death once in a while, right?”
“You think being strong is gonna cover up the fact you’re weak, and he thinks destroying everything is gonna cover up the fact he’s weak. Same stupid problem, different ways of dealing with it.”
“Hey, you know how I feel about arming the customers.”