Reviewby Jacob Chapman,
Durarara!! x 2
The Dollars aren't the well-kept secret they used to be. Ever since a few rogue members launched an attack on Saitama's most notorious biker gang, their infamy has only grown, attracting more unsavory admissions to the open-access group. Anyone could be a Dollar, from innocent kids to the remnants of juvenile gangs to powerful and experienced hitmen. Even the Awakusu, the most dangerous criminal syndicate in Ikebukuro, has started sniffing around The Dollars now that one of its most visible members, Shizuo Heiwajima, stands suspect of multiple homicide and child kidnapping.
Of course, Shizuo is innocent and The Dollars aren't meant to be a force for chaos, but Mikado is starting to learn the hard way that what the public believes can often be more powerful than the truth. Now not one, not two, but three information brokers have him dancing in the palms of their hands for their own very different reasons, and his friends Anri and Masaomi feel like they're a million miles away from understanding what he's going through. Can all-out anarchy within The Dollars be avoided, or is this small initial battle in Ikebukuro the first sign of all-out war?
It finally happened. The bomb that Mikado lit the fuse on so many years ago has finally gone off, spreading shrapnel all through the heart of Ikebukuro. Now some very dangerous people know that he's the schmuck who started the Dollars, and at the rate that this colorless gang is exploding, they won't be the last. If Mikado doesn't act now, both the group's autonomy and his own anonymity could disappear as the group he started transforms into something beyond his control. But if he does act, all the relationships he's cultivated so far will change and might even crumble beyond repair. This is the very beginning of the end for Durarara!!, and it arrived when viewers may have been least expecting it. Potentially shocking shake-ups like the Saika epidemic or the coup within the Yellow Scarves have been averted without incident in the past, but this is finally The Incident that will change the game completely.
So why does the whole experience feel so limp?
Sadly, Durarara!! x2 has been plagued with execution problems since it began, and these storytelling speedbumps have lumped up enough by this point that they're actively sabotaging what is—on paper—a genuinely enthralling story. Shizuo has been pushed so far to his limit that he quits The Dollars! Russian assassins are getting mixed up with The Dollars and The Awakusu all at once! A big battle breaks out, revealing multiple characters' secret identities to one another and spreading even farther through social media! Tons of intense things happen in these six episodes, but most of these plot reveals lands with an emotionless shrug, as the show's hectic pacing prioritizes describing events and relationships over making their resonance felt. At some point in the process of Durarara!! x2's production, the staff began coasting on minimal animation, flatly directed scenes that melt into one another without any sense of rhythm, and even an upsettingly uninspired use of the show's fantastic score. It's not unusual for some of these episodes, which should be some of the biggest in the series, to feel like varying sets of talking heads explaining the plot to the audience with a Durarara!!'s Greatest Hits soundtrack playing on a radio in the background.
To make matters worse, all this exposition about who knows what and frantic clarification of various motives doesn't necessarily make Durarara's increasingly complicated web of intrigue easier to follow. Because every new conversation or minor fight scene is directed with the same tempered energy as all the others, regardless of how important it may or may not be to following events, each scene seems to roll up into a big ball of information that may or may not be important at all. The scene where Aoba threatens Mikado with an ultimatum from the Blue Squares is treated with the same gravity as a scene where Varona cuts Celty's head off in the middle of traffic. By the end of the season, it becomes obvious that one of these events is a massive upheaval that should have been more ominous in the moment, while the other was an almost comical distraction that probably shouldn't have been lingered on so gravely. But when seeing these events for the first time, they all play out like the same tepid sludge.
Thankfully, there are still glowing exceptions to the dispassionate tone that hangs over this sequel. When Durarara!! x2 wisely decides to back down from the intricacies of the ongoing plot and focus on the life of just one character at a time, the show immediately rises from the ashes to become the best of itself again. With so much going on with the established cast from season one, it seems like it shouldn't be possible to build up so much goodwill toward this season's host of new characters, but original author Ryohgo Narita continues to prove himself a master of sculpting memorable personalities in a heartbeat. Akane and Varona's stories are both fascinating and thoughtful in their own unique ways, and even Rokujo gets a couple great little monologues that paint a complex picture behind a very simple man.
One of these monologues is aimed at Mikado, which leads to the series' climax and one of the most jaw-dropping turning points of the entire story. Durarara!!'s protagonist (if you can say there's only one) has always been a divisive presence in his own show. Some viewers found the starry-eyed high school boy too bland and unmotivated to carry such a big violent story, while others find his almost painfully normal personality to be an important ballast to the insanity of the world around him. At long last, one of the biggest rifts in Durarara!! fandom can come together in praise of the character as he finally proves why he's been placed at the center of Narita's mad epic. Mikado's normalcy turns out to be just as fragile as his invisibility, and once he starts to lose one of those things, the other crumbles away as well. Above all else, Mikado wanted to be the faceless core of something bigger than himself, and there's nothing "normal" about the psychology of a person who will do whatever it takes to avoid being exposed or defined by the world. Mikado has officially turned to the dark side, and his unsettling seesaw between good and evil finally turns him into the engrossing protagonist he was meant to be.
In the end, all scenes both fiery and lukewarm converge on a final battle that reeks of wasted potential. Some aspects of the fight seem to start early and drag on too long for no reason (Rokujo and Dotachin) while others seem to resolve too quickly too late in the game (Varona and Shizuo). There's joy to be found in some of these victories and defeats on paper, but they're directed and animated with all the passion of a halfhearted obligation to just get to the end already. Even the next season cliffhanger, another major shocking event, just sort of flicks by before the show cuts to black with more fatigue than impact. Adaptation is definitely a difficult art unto itself, and the gulf between the strength of this season's writing and its lackluster presentation is often exhausting to bridge. It's a shame because this story deserves better, but maybe it's a blessing that fans will get to see the whole thing animated at all.
Aniplex's extras for the release include the requisite postcards and promotional art booklet, along with an English dub track and an OVA (episode 4.5) that details exactly what went down at Shinra's hot pot party. Surprisingly, the Hot Pot Party OVA may be more enjoyable than any of this season's main episodes! Durarara!!'s occasional forays into its cast's childhoods have always been delightful, and this OVA is nothing but heartwarming flashbacks that flesh out how some of the show's strongest relationships began (Mikado & Masaomi, Anri & Mika, Shizuo & Tom, plus snippets of others) with verve and humor. Durarara!! x2's rocky English dub also improves by leaps and bounds for this OVA and about episode 9 onward in the main series. The English dub was painfully wooden and unnatural for the first half of the season, but when the always-solid adaptive script combines with the improved performances in its final quarter, the dub really shines, sounding better than it ever has before. Johnny Yong Bosch is a talented voice actor, but comparing Izaya's stilted and unconvincing chitchat with Mikado in episode 7 to his infinitely more natural and even playful talk with Masaomi in episode 10 is like night and day, really driving home the importance of the voice director in the production of a strong dub. There are no detailed production credits for the dub, but the difference in performance quality is so immediate and drastic that it's probable a different ADR director took over for the show's last quarter.
Durarara!! x2 is still hard to recommend to any but the story's most diehard fans. For those that have the patience and enthusiasm to stick with it through its numerous clarity problems and tiresome production hiccups, there's still a unique and compelling character drama with dozens of lovable shades at the heart of the tangly mess. For everyone else, it may be best to cross your fingers and hope all the novels get released in English. Adapting a novel series with this many moving parts to TV was always an exercise in compromise, but Durarara!! x2 has only barely been putting in the effort to make it work, and the less hard it tries, the easier it becomes to drift away.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : C
Art : B
Music : B
+ New cast members are all fleshed out in compelling ways, Mikado's turn to the dark side is chilling and carries massive implications for the story going forward, terrific hot pot party OVA
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