Reviewby Theron Martin, Jan 31st 2011
DVD Part 1
On any given day, a million people traverse the streets of Ikebukero. Some are purely ordinary, such as color gang members, “gal” girls, illegal immigrants, anime/manga otaku, kidnappers, an underground doctor, pervert teachers, and a girl seeking to make a meet for a suicide pact. Others are decidedly not, such as a black Russian working at a sushi shop, an apparent bartender who tosses vending machines and uses street signs to fling foes aside, a seemingly supernatural slasher, and a decidedly supernatural headless biker/transporter, who is actually a type of Irish fairy who has come to Japan to seek her head, which may or may not be walking around on its own. Mikado Ryugamine, a young man who has come to Ikebukero to attend high school with his best friend from elementary school, either hears about or encounters all of these eccentrics and more as his friend introduces him to the district, but he also has adventures of his own when he tentatively makes friends with a shy, busty classmate whose best friend went missing while stalking a guy. He also meets Izaya Orihara, a notorious information broker who seems to relish stirring up trouble and messing with people's heads and has taken a noted interest in Mikado. Lingering in the background are the Dollars, a near-legendary Internet-based gang about which much is rumored but little concrete information is actually known.
Every so often anime spawns one of these quirky series primarily about collections of eccentric characters doing eccentric things against a backdrop of normality. Durarara!! is the latest entry, a series which bears structural similarities to predecessors Baccano! and, to a lesser extent, Boogiepop Phantom. Like its predecessors, it spins out a seemingly disjointed collection of overlapping plot threads and background stories while developing a broad cast of characters and flavoring itself with more than just a hint of the supernatural. Perhaps not surprisingly, it also joins its predecessors in being based on a successful lite novel series; manga and game-based series which display this level of charming quirkiness are increasingly rare these days.
The success of the first nine episodes as entertainment value depends largely on how wrapped up the viewer gets in the individual stories of its broad ensemble cast, as this part of the series focuses far more on establishing characters than constructing a plot that is more than vaguely coherent. In fact, to claim that there even is a definable plot at this point might be overstating the case, although clearly Izaya Orihara and the lady in charge at the pharmaceutical company are independently up to something and the whole business with the missing head, which looks like it's becoming a uniting factor for multiple story lines as this set ends, clearly speaks to a deeper mystery. Even so, the persistence with which the series concentrates on its back stories and shifting perspectives, while it can be an attracting factor, is also the series' greatest weakness; there is simply too much of it for such a limited time frame, and that will not sit well with viewers who want more than a character study.
Others, though, will find plenty enough riches in those character and perspective studies to keep them fully involved. The notion of a sexy, headless woman romping around on a motorcycle (which sounds like a horse) looking for her head while communicating with an iPod-like device is an intriguing one which certainly does not come up every day in anime, while Izaya Orihara certainly earns his honors as co-Bastard of the Year; his conversation with the suicidal girl on the roof in episode 1 is a masterpiece of low-key cruelty. The otaku couple which merrily offers to use certain manga as torture guides puts a different spin on the standard fanboy/girl shtick and the vending machine-hurling guy feels a bit fresher than the typical “always pissed off and violent” character. The Russian sushi guy is just plain weird, but in a good way, and the mysterious slasher offers a suitable taste of quirky menace distinctly reminiscent of Baccano's Rail Tracer. On the downside, the incest angle which comes up late in this set falls flat and the school-based elements have yet to show much that is special, but so far there is more than enough potential elsewhere to make up for that.
Durarara!! is also an otaku funfest. The first few episodes liberally sprinkle nods to other anime and manga titles throughout their content, including Darker than BLACK, Le Portrait de Petite Cosette, Shakugan no Shana, Bludgeoning Angel Dokuro-chan, Spice and Wolf, Yozakura Quartet, Ladies vs. Butlers, Hell Girl, Baccano! (of course), and Cencoroll. One episode has a brief scene of nudity, though prurient fan service is otherwise sparse, and these episodes do deliver some occasional bloody violence.
Durarara!! is a product of Brains Base, the same studio responsible for Baccano!. That the two series have a common Director and Character Designer is quite evident in the visual style and composition of the series; character designs, animation, and especially the design and execution for the opener are all very similar between the two, though this one makes better use of CG effects. Backgrounds are rich in detail and authentic feel, but the series takes the curious move of portraying background crowds as undefined gray outlines, which may seem odd until one realizes how effectively that draws attention to the main characters. The best-looking scenes typically feature Celty, but considering that she is the series' signature character that is to be expected.
Music Director Makoto Yoshimori also carries over from Baccano!, though he gives this one a decidedly different sound filled more with a wide range of quirky themes which play up the eccentric flavor of the content. Rockin' opener “Betrayal of the Sunset” shares with its predecessor the habit of including review clips from previous episodes, while more rap-themed closer “Trust Me” offers a different but still appealing sound.
Aniplex only included clean opener and closer as Extras, with English credits also given separately and full Japanese credits retained in the opener and closer. The nine episodes are split across two disks in a slipcase which includes bonus art and postcards featuring series characters. Aniplex did, however, call on Bang Zoom! for the English dub, and BZ responded by bringing in a lot of prominent names. The results are quite impressive, as nearly all roles are exceptionally well-cast (both for fitting the roles and for how they compare in vocal style to the Japanese originals) and performances sound smooth and natural. Bryce Papenbrook (son of the late Bob Papenbrook) sets the tone from the earliest scenes with a wonderful job as Mikado's best friend Masaomi, Kari Wahlgren may be an improvement as the voice of Celty, and even Spike Spencer pops up in a role where he doesn't sound like Shinji. The likes of Steven Blum, Crispin Freeman, Michelle Ruff, Yuri Lowenthal, and Patrick Seitz also populate this one, but the other most notable performance belongs to Johnny Yong Bosch as Izaya; he has never really voiced a total bastard role before (the closest is probably Lelouch), but he attacks this role with gusto and produces a satisfyingly slimy result. The script stays fairly close except where using more English-appropriate slang.
The first third of Durarara!! is not quite as crisp or intensely involved as its predecessors, partly because of a more casual style and partly because it takes much longer to get itself established. That fault cannot be explained away just by its greater length than its predecessors, although that may, perhaps, indicate that 24 episodes is a running time just a bit too broad for a series like this. Still, there is a lot here to build interesting stories from, and the last couple of episodes give the definite impression that things are just beginning to heat up.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Very strong English dub, a plethora of quirky characters and overlapping stories.
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