Reviewby Mark Sombillo, Feb 15th 2011
Durarara!! Part 1
Mikado enters the world of Ikebukuro timidly but with a glint of excitement. It's his first real venture out from the quiet hometown that he grew up from and he is only too happy to be joined in his new school by his childhood friend Kida, a decidedly rambunctious fellow who has lived in Ikebukuro since four years ago. In his new school he meets Anri Sonohara, a soft spoken yet reservedly pretty girl whom both he and Kida develop an awkward, comical attraction to. So as the three of them solidify their friendship the story unfolds of their normal high school life which involves colour gangs, unscrupulous pharmaceutical companies, black Russian sushi vendors, serial slashers, inconceivably strong vending machine throwing bar tenders, headless motorbike riders, manipulative schemers and a host of other characters that makes life in Ikebukuro something special. Yup, normal.
I've seen quite a number of “slice of life” anime and you could say that I'm probably a fan of this genre. They don't tend to raise your adrenaline levels or even keep you expectantly waiting to laugh but at the end of a long day in the office, it's nice to just grab a mug of hot chocolate, put your foot up and reminisce about a moment in your own life when you could relate to what's happening in the anime you were watching. The first few minutes of the first episode of Durarara begin with an introspective self narration by Mikado, a story telling device typical of these kinds of drama. With this cue, I was soon planning what kind of biscuit would go best with that mug of hot chocolate.
That was until the rider with a motorbike that sounded like a horse, who was at first referred to as a “he” but clearly showed the curves of a female, rode through the streets under the overpass of Ikebukuro, stunning Mikado into speechlessness. I clung on to the fantasy that this was going to be a relaxing show for maybe another second until vending machines and street signs were being thrown around in what looked like a fight by Godzilla and any number of his usual foes. After that all expectations were thrown out the window and the scene where a guy clad in back jacket with fur collar inciting a girl into suicide suddenly didn't feel so strange anymore.
That's about how nutty this show slowly devolved into and yet by the end of the first DVD volume, there's every indication that things are only set to get even more extreme. To be a bit more precise, it is not that this series is just a show of attrition whereby plot elements from previous episodes keep mounting up to reveal even more explosive outcomes, but rather that at each step of the way it actually seems like the show is evolving to something else. In one moment it seems to be a satire of the underground gang culture, the next it's a modern take on old Irish folklore and so on.
Durarara is presented in a “Pulp Fiction” style narrative whereby many plotlines are occurring concurrently with an equally substantial number of characters moving of their own impetus, irrespective of anybody else's motives. At certain junctions, their lives and actions begin to brush against each other where skirmishes ensue and alliances are forged. But we're getting ahead of ourselves here as in this release, the primary goal is all about setting up the characters and reveal only the slightest hint of things to come. This means that for the most part it all feels like we're stuck in second gear; it's getting somewhere but not fast enough.
One story telling tool that seems to be overused is the re-showing of scenes. As there are a lot of intertwined stories occurring, the most convenient way of keeping everyone appraised of the situation is to go back to a scene that was previously shown, perhaps one that didn't immediately seem to have a point initially. I can see this being a necessary element a few episodes down the track but it's not uncommon for these repeated scenes to happen within the same episode. It worked for the weekly TV release, but in context of a DVD volume it just felt like superfluous padding.
The production quality is top notch with fantastic attention to detail prevalent in the cityscape. Character design and animation was also commendable for both being nicely done as well as for being memorable; it's quite easy for one to realise if a cosplayer was exhibiting a character from this show. There's a combination of jazz intonations and more subtle piano compositions that highlight the high school life side of things; it's typically when you hear this that you're led to believe all is normal once again.
Voice work was also superbly done. Of particular note is the performance of Patrick Seitz for the part of Simon, the Russian sushi vendor. In Japanese this particular character has always felt very awkward as apart from the disjointed wording, I wasn't all that convinced that the character was meant to be from Russia. In English however, the accent was more clearly defined. Crispin Freeman's voice as Shizuo was also another part which I thought felt more genuinely menacing than its Japanese counterpart.
It is quite obvious that this is one of Siren Visual's premier release titles judging from the high quality box casing for the first volume which contains 2 DVDs with the first nine episodes. Artwork is certainly eye catching and is worthy of being a collector's item. Though the story being presented is relatively interesting, this first lot isn't as engaging as one would like so it's a nice idea that Siren Visual is doing more to try to persuade people to get into it. One oddity that I easily circumvented was the default subtitle ordering. The Japanese audio is on by default so the subtitles that were on was for the full translation. When I switched over to the English audio however and turned off these subtitles, it got a little tricky when Celty tried to communicate (she only talks through text in her phone which was in Japanese). Luckily there was a second set of subtitles that addresses this quandary.
Durarara generated a noticeable hype during the time that it aired in Japan and how could it not. At almost every turn the story feels alive and constantly moving, easily catering for just about anybody's taste in narratives. But this miasma of multiple stories can be a bit much to wade through and in context of this first volume, it might prove difficult to decide to continue to the next one. Perhaps a full series pack would have served to make it more enticing but alas, this is all we have for now. All I can tell you is that if you're a viewer that loves a gradually unfolding yet complex storyline with a climax that knocks you out, then grab your boxing gloves and get ready for the rumble!
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : A
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Fantastic line up of characters that will engage you.
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