ANIME & MANGA - Review
11:00 - 23rd July 2016, by Andrew Osmond

Durarara!! x2

Warning: this release is not for Durarara!! newbies. It continues the original Durarara!! from 2010, already available from Anime Limited. The series paints a manic picture of central Tokyo, part fantasy, part horror, mostly screwball comedy craziness. This is very much a middle volume. On the one hand, it carries on from the end of the original series (set six months later). But it’s also setting up two more sequel series, Durarara!!x2 Ten and Durarara!!x2 Ketsu. The latter is now airing in Japan.

If that’s a bit confusing, it’s nothing compared to the show itself. Which is odd because, as the schoolboy Mikado reflects in the sequel’s first episode, nothing seems to have changed. The setting is still Ikebukuro, a Tokyo district that’s a magnet for adventurers, eccentrics, troubled souls, smooth criminals and magic beings. Take Celty, the headless faerie courier, who’s still roaring down the streets on her neighing motorbike. The world’s angriest man, Shizuo, is still hurling cars and people (has he ever tried Valium?). The Loki-like Izaya is smirking and scheming, and the thugs, yakuza and mad scientists are all in.

The series makes few allowances for people who have seen the first series, let alone for newbies. It expects you to be up to speed on who’s who, who likes who, and who wants to kill who (that’ll be Shizuo and Izaya). It expects you to remember who’s the secret founder of the Dollars gang (Mikado), and who conceals a magic sword in her body (the girl Anri). If you’ve not seen the old Durarara!! for a bit, then give it a replay before trying the sequel, or you’ll be more lost than viewers of War and Peace. The old Durarara!! opened with Mikado touring Ikebukuro for the first time, meeting many of the players. The sequel adds many new characters; it’s a shame they didn’t take the tour too, easing us back into the story.

This series is never so kind. The early episodes are story spaghetti, a whirl of Ikebukuro life. There’s a serial killer, a Russian hitman, and a bounty on Celty’s head. We meet Izaya’s little sisters, unalike except they’re both bonkers, and a new boy student who’s strangely interested in Mikado. There are merciless shifts in time and perspective, forcing the viewer to piece events together… but that viewer may decide to switch off. Of course there was jigsaw storytelling in the first Durarara!!, and heavy-duty timeshifts in the loose-linked Baccano! (made by the same people). But it’s not so new now, and Shou makes it seem an excuse for random story slop, as threads peter out or become circular shaggy dog stories.

But there’s another way to see these episodes, as an exhilarating mix of Terry Pratchett-style humour and Robert Altman-style intercutting. They’re complicated because it’s fun to be complex; it’s a mad way to show a mad world, like Perfect Blue. Only this show is funny, with umpteen good scenes and lines to rewind for. The comedy arises directly from the cast, still treated with deep (though not indulgent) affection. Nearly all the new characters click, full of spontaneous energy. The exception is an obnoxious TV president, who gets a scary amount of screen time in the first episode, but he thankfully disappears. The early episodes are also dense, full of subtle script and background detail that reward re-views if you’re game.

Around part five, the show changes gear and becomes more linear. It drops or sidelines most of the new characters it’s brought on, and throws in more to replace them. These include a female Russian assassin and a little girl runaway; as with other characters, they’re implicitly paralleled with each other in smart and subtle ways. The main plot, meanwhile, picks up the ‘gang war’ strand from the late episodes of the first Durarara!! Motives get explored and protagonists ejected from their safe zones. Most interesting, we see what happens to counter-cultures when the barbarians outweigh the dreamers.

But these episodes have the same problem as the ‘gang’ story in the first series. They’re too slow, too long and they lack convincing stakes. The kid hoodlums feel laughably trivial beside the adult killers living practically next to them. They only dovetail convincingly in the last episode, a set of splendid comic and dramatic payoffs.

Durara!!x2 Shou mixes risky experiments and ploddy plotting, with messy results. Yet it never loses sight of the wit and characters at Durarara!!’s heart. Maybe the next sequels will find a balance, and make sense of Shou retrospectively. (It’s seemingly seeding loads of story for the next 24 episodes.) If Ten and Ketsu just repeat Shou’s tricks, then Durarara!! will decline fast, but as a bridge episode, Shou’s not bad. It still has some of the best characters and dialogue of any anime. Some reviewers have nit-picked sloppy action scenes, but Durarara!! was never really about the action, and even Shou’s slapdash bits have lightness and fun. And any show which climaxes with a furious running man footballing a rolling car gets respect.

A messy, unsatisfying sequel… still packed with good ideas and great characters.
SCORE: 3.5/5
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