Saturday, 7 April 2012

デュラララ!! / Durarara!!

I started watching Durarara!! when it began to air, back in the beginning of 2010, and was being hyped up as the next big thing – which, arguably, it was. After a few episodes, I stopped to watch Baccano! My reason for doing so stemmed from a misunderstanding, really – I read that Isaac and Miria from Baccano! were in the show, so I decided I didn’t want to see these characters without understanding their origin story, and only when I resumed Durarara!! did I realise that in fact they only had a momentary cameo in a single episode – but I’m glad that’s how I did things.

You see, it's not just that they are from the same author and are made by the same anime studio, with the same director. In many ways, Durarara!! leads on from and is informed by Baccano!, and I really feel I understood a lot more watching the series after having seen that great, stylish, stylised story.

It’s not hard to make direct comparisons: both have a large cast of characters, all of whom have their own stories. Both have supernatural elements, and a lot of fighting. Both are about the strange things that can be found beneath the surface, and both are more slices of larger, ongoing stories than complete beginning-middle-end narratives. In more direct terms, too, it’s quite useful to draw comparisons: Baccano! probably has the more original and compelling setting, but Durarara!! has a more tight-knit story. While Baccano! has a few characters who are likely more interesting than any in Durarara!!, the latter develops its full cast more completely. Durarara!! shows from the very start that it has a lot of supernatural happenstances, so there is no jarring appearance of magic potions or slight disappointment things aren’t kept more naturalistic, but the stakes in Baccano! are much higher and its timescale far broader. The truth, though, is that they really compliment one another, and really work best seen concurrently – and trust me when I say that the weirder elements of Durarara!! seem to make more sense after having seen Baccano!

An ordinary boy with the brilliantly fancy name of Ryuugamine Mikado (with which his incredibly ordinary online handle – Tanaka Tarou – is an amusing contrast) moves to Ikebukuro, a built-up part of Tokyo that not many English-speaking tourists go to, and which I know primarily as Mami’s stomping ground in Super Gals! and for having an affinity with owls (‘bukuro -> fukurou, which means ‘owl’). What seems at first a simple story about a naïve country boy moving to the big city, meeting his childhood friend and his funny friendship group gets more complicated as it becomes apparent Ikebukuro has some crazy personalities: a waiter who goes on rampages with his super strength, a dark-skinned Russian immigrant who enthusiastically sells sushi in broken Japanese but is about the only one who can stop such rampages, and most iconic of all, a biker clad all in black who is actually a female spirit from Ireland searching for her head – a dulluhan, the creatures that inspired the likes of The Headless Horseman. Beneath the surface are other factions – delinquent gangs, a demon sword who possesses all it slashes, a man who loves to toy with others’ minds and some very silly doctors for the criminal underworld.

Unlike Baccano!, conflicts between the characters will most likely lead to cartoon violence rather than anybody’s life actually being in danger, but if anything that makes the contrast between daily lives and the big, exaggerated second lives the characters lead more believable. As the spotlight is turned on each character in turn, I found myself liking just about all of them, and never being bored – especially as there’s enough of a plot that episodes flow into one another rather than coming across as repetitive or, indeed, episodic. The fact that the most likeable characters, other than the boys at the centre of it all, are the most outlandish ones – the dulluhan who can only communicate through typing, the gentle giant from Russia, the misunderstood ultra-strong guy who so often ends up throwing about enormous pieces of the scenery – is testament to some clever writing. It’s also funny, and I love the nods to other anime – not just Baccano! but things like Wolf and Spice and Shana.

Durarara!! isn’t constantly the best-looking anime, but it’s definitely nice on the eyes and some of the effects –like Celty’s powers – are spectacular. There are some fun character designs, like the daft gals, and you definitely see a lot of things you won’t see anywhere else, like men hurling vending machines at one another. Witty, strange and yet also a little more heartfelt than its predecessor, I’d recommend it highly – but it’s best enjoyed after having seen Baccano!

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