ANIME & MANGA - Review
10:46 - 17th July 2015, by NEO Staff


For those who like their high school dramas with a side of gang warfare, not to mention a supernatural twist, Durarara!! may just be the answer to your prayers. Set amongst the high-rise streets of Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district, the show follows the interconnecting lives of the main players in the area’s complex and dangerous underbelly, as their stories become increasingly entangled.

At the heart of it all is Mikado Ryugamine, a newly-arrived high school student looking for a bit of big-city excitement. Of course, when the city in question is inhabited by erratically violent enforcers, Russian sushi chefs, and manipulative information brokers (not to mention three warring gangs), excitement is easy to come by. As the turf war around them escalates, however, Mikado and friends are more fascinated by the rumours of a headless rider said to haunt the city’s streets. The rider is in fact a Dullahan named Celty, and for those not up-to-date on their Irish folklore, that makes her a headless, mythological harbinger of death. She might be too busy searching for her missing head to care… but throw the mysterious ‘Slasher’ attacking Ikebukuro’s citizens into the mix, and the city’s streets are about to become a whole lot more dangerous.

Durarara!! is an ambitious ensemble piece that, for the most part, deftly weaves its multiple narrative threads to construct a world as highly stylised as it is rich and engaging. There’s a theatrical flair to the neon-lit streets, and anonymous, greyed-out crowds that gives the unfolding drama a surreal immediacy, thrusting the main characters forwards and forcing their stories before your eyes. Throw in the film noir narration and the well-deployed Rashomon effect as those stories unfold, and you’ve got the ingredients for a visually striking and above all engaging thriller.

While the first half of the season is more like a slice-of-life cross-section of Ikebukuro’s weird and wonderful inhabitants, the latter settles more comfortably into the unfolding of its complex main narrative. The opening episodes teasingly establish the various subplots, along with the characters that will be drawn into them, and the satisfying ways in which many of these come to fruition later on make a thorough watch and re-watch a must. However, tonally there’s a shift as it heads towards its climax, with the show’s enjoyable sense of humour gradually being replaced by a dark and angsty feel that lends its more dramatic moments some real emotional weight.

That isn’t to say Durarara!! is by any means perfect. At times, the show drops a few threads in its otherwise carefully woven narratives, leaving some sub plots feeling hastily resolved, if they are resolved at all. There’s also a strange disconnect between the show’s supernatural and thriller elements, the former of which are so easily accepted by the majority of characters that they never feel as important to the narrative as they should. Some characters are introduced with the promise of serious ramifications, only to be almost immediately forgotten about, while others show so little development within their personal arcs that, when compared to the more interesting trajectories of the main characters, they barely merit the screen time they actually receive.

Ultimately, though, in its ambitious diversity and willingness to experiment with multiple perspectives, these relatively minor flaws in execution do little to prevent this being a hugely enjoyable watch. Coming from much the same team behind Baccano! (including director Takahiro Omori and an outstanding OST from Makoto Yoshimori), it’s the perfect time to rediscover this excellent first season, as the follow-up hits our screens across the rest of 2015. If you’re looking for some Tokyo thrills, then Durarara!! is the perfect place to start.

Having received a disappointing launch on Blu-ray last year (thanks to some now-rectified on-disc errors), it’s great to see this unique teen thriller being given a second wind.
SCORE: 4/5
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