ANIME & MANGA - Review
17:00 - 1st June 2014, by Andrew Osmond


Anime meets Buffy! Granted, this Tokyo-set series lacks vampires, Valley Girls or a clear lead character, but the often wonderful Durarara!! shares fundamentals with the Californian slayer. The anime's familiar, everyday setting (for Tokyo viewers) is overlaid not just with supernaturals and superhumans, but a smart, knowing humour that welcomes the viewer into playing along with its cleverness. Plus - and this is crucial - it has characters who are interesting, likeable and sometimes even loveable. Durarara!! is a great call for a licence rescue by Anime Limited; the 2010 series was previously released by Beez as a sub-only DVD, but looks buoyantly fresh in this dub-inclusive limited Blu-ray release. (A DVD version follows in May.)

While the recent Garden of Words beautified the Tokyo district of Shinjuku, Durarara!! moves a short way across town to Ikebukuro, an entertainment area full of shopping malls, amusement arcades and otaku stores: bright lights, deep shadows. The area isn't drawn as exquisitely as in Garden of Words, but the real urban detail 'grounds' the series even when it goes into all-out craziness. We're introduced to this milieu through Mikado, a seemingly clueless boy from the sticks, coming to the city for the first time; he's under the wing of his extrovert pal Masaomi, a self-proclaimed, eternally confident ladykiller (despite lacking much success in actual ladykilling). The boys befriend Anri, a girl who seems straight from anime central casting (timid, glasses, a bosom with its own shadow), but believe us, you know nothing about this lady.

While the school trio is important, the range of intersecting characters is what makes Durarara!! truly refreshing. There's a black Russian chef with the stature of Hercules and the wisdom of Buddha, and the similarly-sized Shizuo, a demented parody of every 'tough guy' cliché, with a penchant for uprooting lamp-posts and hurling them Hulk-style. His nemesis is the sinister, smirking Izaya, who's impossible to watch without thinking of Tom Hiddleston's Loki, spinning webs for the humans he claims to 'love.'

But the real star is Celty, a headless bike-rider. This terrific creation is a faerie being trying to balance her Batman life of terrorising Ikebukuro scum with domesticity with a mortal man. On one level, she's a seamless blend of multinational tropes (Celtic folklore, hence her name; America's Sleepy Hollow; and Japan's own biker superheroes from Kamen Rider to Tiger and Bunny). Beyond all that, Celty has the pathos and dignity of Al in Fullmetal Alchemist, another headless hero. Only Celty is an adult woman, black vapour pouring sexily - yes, sexily - from her neck whenever she removes her helmet. Let's say it; she's smoking, and she needs no motorbike to give her autonomy.

Some individual episodes are breathtakingly good; part two, for instance, is an exquisite three-hander between a suicidal girl, the satanically silver-tongued Izaya, and Celty in goddess mode. True, the extreme cartoony battles involving Shizuo take more getting used to, and for a while you can't see much coherent plot - only for a terrific one to ramp up in the show's second quarter, full of jet-powered plot twists that aren't just gasp-out-loud, but laugh-aloud too.

The second half ups the comedy still more (some moments feel pure Joss Whedon), while putting 'timid' Anri into a tragi-bonkers parody of Bleach, with zombified armies and still more hidden histories. Durarara!! only goes off the boil in its laboured closing episodes, focusing on a gang war that's far less convincing than the headless biker. Disappointingly, the show leaves many of its threads unfinished (it's based on a long line of light novels), and they were better threads than a mere turf war.

If we were reviewing the first half of the series, we'd give Durarara!! five stars. In its complete form, ironically, it's compromised by a less satisfying finale. But it's still excellent, sporting a supernatural heroine for the ages.
SCORE: 4/5
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