by Jacob Chapman,
If you're a fan of Durarara!!, and you really love the series for what it is, then you know what's coming and you've already accepted it. It's time once again for the "Everything You Know Is Actually Wrong Ha Ha Ha" anticlimax arc finale! The good news is that this arc's conclusion is a solid one, closer to the quality of the excellent first and second story arcs than the (abysmal) third and the (shruggy) fourth. (Yes, this arc covers books five and six of the novels, but the "Akane" and "Blue Squares" stories basically slur into one big one instead of being distinct like the previous four, at least in this anime adaptation.) It's a pretty good story overall once you put the pieces together, but that brings us to the bad news. The bad news is that it is extremely difficult to put all those pieces together, thanks to the show's continually lifeless execution.
I'm going to break this down as simply as I possibly can. (It's explained very poorly in the episode itself, through slapdash exposition across several short scenes.) First of all, while he was certainly enjoying the chaos around him, it turns out Izaya had nothing to do with the madness of this entire past story arc. Sure, he impersonated Masaomi to mess with Mikado. Sure, he planted a few cruel ideas into Akane's head. But framing Shizuo for murder? Leaking the Dollars' information? Contracting Russian assassins? Somehow, none of that was him. Shizuo was actually framed by Akane's father, who had three of his own men killed himself, and decided to use the infamously violent Shizuo as a patsy, only paying off Izaya to direct Heiwajima to the right spot at the right time. True to his word, Aoba infiltrated the Dollars all by himself and considers Izaya an obstruction to his goals. We still have no idea who hired Varona to kill Anri, but the information broker that hired her to kidnap Akane doesn't seem keen on sharing his turf with Izaya. The episode ends with this mysterious "Yodogiri Jinnai" stabbing Izaya and leaving him for dead in the street. All of this is jammed into the episode's weak final third, but there's a lot to like about the first two thirds leading up to it.
Since the whole tangled situation is really composed of separate coincidences and misunderstandings rather than being a puppetmaster scheme, it can easily be solved in bite-sized pieces. Shizuo publically renounces his Dollars membership and rescues a recaptured Akane from Sloan&Varona in what is easily this series' most fun action scene. For as much as I've harped on the season's direction, the first third of this episode is exhilarating, funny, and emotionally cathartic, as Shizuo breaks up the turf war with his sheer menacing presence and then goes full HAM on Akane's kidnappers, not just to clear his own name, but out of genuinely touching affection for his would-be assassin. He's cleared of suspicion and no longer a Dollar, so that removes the Awakusu group from the conflict. He scares off most of the Saitama bikers as well, diminishing their threat somewhat, but the rest is up to Mikado in the second third of the episode.
Mikado explains to Rokuro that he is the leader of the Dollars, and he never intended for them to hurt anyone. Rokuro's a smart cookie, so he responds by choosing to both believe and disbelieve him. That confession only proves Mikado can't be the leader of the Dollars, he says. Anyone that kind and self-reflective would never be comfortable letting an ungovernable force of potential terror run free in the city. If he was the leader of The Dollars, he'd have to be some kind of narcissistic psychopath. That's not who Mikado is, right? Privately, Mikado breaks down in tears as he realizes just what kind of person he's become. He approaches the Blue Squares with a final answer to their ultimatum, in one of the most shocking and intriguing moments of the entire series.
Confusion aside, the greatest takeaway from the Awakusu/Blue Square arc is that we don't need some wicked puppetmaster to threaten Ikebukuro anymore. Izaya may not have been directly responsible for any of the declarations of war that spun out of control this season, but that's because he's been playing a longer game. Using people like pawns hasn't worked out so well for him recently, so he's become more interested in finding a way to make his war game play itself. The story's greatest antagonist might actually be Mikado, since he's the only person Izaya has been "playing" recently, and only in the interest of convincing the would-be Dollar King that he's always been a chessmaster on the inside. Maybe it's true. Durarara!!'s most passive protagonist ends this arc by making a devil's deal with the Blue Squares, agreeing to become their leader in exchange for their help in subtly reforming The Dollars to his approval, without destroying the gang's anonymity and "rules-free" image. Lest we assume Aoba's in control of this situation, Mikado commands the scene from start to finish with his own personal conviction, betraying a lot of frightening ambition behind that friendly face. That, and he stabs Aoba through the hand to force a blood contract between them. That definitely made me jump. I'm glad Mikado finally snapped. I like him better already.
Oh, and Sloan&Varona are found by the Awakusu thugs, some kneecaps get blown off as recompense for the kidnapping, and a few deals are made to exchange their lives for weapon-dealing perks or something like that. Simon's there, I guess. Whatever. I hope they don't ask us to care about that stuff next season. It's just not very interesting.
Durarara!! has always been wheels within wheels. Its complexity and insanity form the backbone of the story's appeal as each seemingly distinct thread eventually winds back into the others and brings the whole to life. That said, you can only play the "Everything You Know Is Wrong" anticlimax card so many times before it becomes exhausting. There were so many matryoshka wheels spinning around in this season that the story ultimately seemed to be locked in place. It made a lot of noise and raised a lot of stink as it burned all that rubber, but it didn't take us on much of a journey. I'm glad it got to conclude on a high note, but the amount of mistakes and contortion it took to get there were arguably not worth it. I'm not sure I'd recommend this to any but the most diehard Durarara!! fan. (The busted production values don't help either.) We're now halfway through the complete story as laid out in the novels, but I feel more cursed to find out how it ends than blessed by the experience of watching it.
Episode Rating: B+
Series Rating: B-
Hope has been an anime fan since childhood, and likes to chat about cartoons, pop culture, and visual novel dev on Twitter.
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