Rating: 4


I almost gave up on this series after the first 4 or 5 episodes. They are slow, mostly concerned with introducing characters (and there's plenty of them to introduce), and making sure we're clear on the setting. Ikebukuro, 2010 or thereabouts, with street gangs, thugs, underground semi-criminal life, high-schoolers, and an Irish headless rider.

Had I stopped there, this review would essentially say "go away, this is boring". Thankfully, a friend of mine insisted I keep watching, and I have to say, she was right: after the introductions, the rhythm picks up, and a story starts happening. All the characters and events are connected, the puppet master is revealed pulling the strings for their own amusement, some plot lines get resolved, some characters are happier, some are not, and I was overall glad to have known them.

Durarara is not easy to categorise cleanly: there's high school life and romance, there are supernatural elements, there's gang fights, there's high-speed chases on motorcycles, there's stalkers and otakus and yakuza and human experiments. But none of these elements is dominant throughout the series, they all blend together to produce something quite bewildering but also intriguing. For once, the characters avoid talking to each other about their problems with some subjectively good reasons, not just because "Japanese people don't talk". Most of the characters' choices make quite a lot of sense when examined via their limited knowledge and their goals, so even when you know bad things will happen, you aren't really driven to shout "what are you doing, you idiot!" at the screen. This is, sadly, not the norm in fiction, and I appreciate it when I come across it.

The story comes from a light novel series written by NARITA Ryougo (成 田 良悟), who also wrote Baccano, and the director and character designer of Durarara worked together on the Baccano anime series as well (and, unless my eyes are mistaken, there's a semi-hidden reference to that work in this series). After the first few introductory episodes, we have three main story arcs, each building on the previous ones, plus a couple of one-shot stories that help "catch our breath" between the arcs.

The director is OOMORI Takahiro (大森 貴弘), who also directed Hyper Police, Fancy Lala, Kuragehime, and the very recent Samurai Flamenco; he also assisted on Haibane Renmei; all in all, a very good pedigree, which helps explain the quality of the direction here.

The character designer KISHIDA Takahiro (岸田 隆宏) has had a very varied career, working on Master Mosquiton, Lain, Noein, Madoka Magica, Btoom. He gave us very distinctive designs, each character being clearly recognisable without any of them looking like caricatures.

All in all, an interesting set of stories told in a dynamic and engaging manner. I only have two criticisms: first, the introductory episodes are really too many, and second, the women's motivations are too often linked to their relationship with men. Mika and Namie motivations are all due to Seiji, the only reason Anri gets out of her self-imposed isolation is because of Mikado and Masaomi, even Celty often acts because of Shinra. At least, Anri and Celty have other motivations, and this makes them more interesting; probably not accidentally, they're the only two women in the series who get to talk to each other.

In conclusion: I'd recommend Durarara to most people with some interest in anime and/or fantasy in urban settings.

This review was originally published at: https://www.easternkicks.com/reviews/durarara
DatesCreated: 2015-03-08 16:15:56 Last modification: 2023-02-10 12:45:24