Quiet, unassuming fifteen-year-old Mikado Ryugamine moves from his safe but boring countryside home to Ikebukuro, Tokyo to start high school with his old friend Masaomi Kida – and witnesses for himself an urban legend: the headless black bike rider. His life will never be the same again as he encounters Simon Brezhnev, the Russian sushi seller, Izaya Orihara, the shady information broker, and impossibly strong bartender Shizuo Heiwajima and finds himself caught up in vicious clashes between the gangs that want to rule the streets: the enigmatic Dollars; the Yellow Scarves; the Blue Squares. And then there’s Anri, the shy, bespectacled girl in his class at school; surely she can’t be harbouring a secret as well? Internet chatrooms are buzzing with rumours about a sinister red-eyed slasher, the gangs, and the disappearance of illegal immigrants. With a dullahan, a headless female Irish harbinger of death, smuggled into Tokyo years ago and still searching for her lost head, haunting the streets with her black horse transformed into a sleek black motorbike, Mikado’s never going to bored again…
A long time ago (well, 2010 to be precise) Beez brought us a new anime series based on a series of light novels by Ryohgo Narita (Baccano!) woven around an ill-assorted but captivating group of people thrown together in present-day Ikebukuro.With its irresistible deadpan delivery of urban legend, humour and horror, played out/brought to life with quirky character designs by Suzuhito Yasuda (Yozakura Quartet) against a jazzy background score by Makoto Yoshimori (Baccano!), Durarara!! was fresh and…different. The R2 Beez version (with its elegant landscape boxes) soon became unavailable – and it was released on DVDs with English subs only. Now we have Anime Limited to thank for these brand new Blu-ray and DVD versions which contain the US dub as well as the English subs with the original Japanese audio. Yes, there were teething troubles with some of the Blu-ray discs, especially the subtitles (mentioned in our earlier review on the site) but all those problems have been dealt with in this re-authored standard edition, and very impressive this set is too.
Why offer a second review on Anime UK News? It’s a chance to discuss the US dub (I reviewed the sub-only Beez edition back in the day) and also to look back at the original series in the light of the streaming of Durarara!!x2 Sho as we wait for the second part of a projected three to be screened.
One notable feature of the animation (although other series have used this technique before) is to portray the city crowds milling around the main viewpoint characters as grey and featureless until one especially magical and significant moment when, as their cell phones light up, they transform to fully fleshed-out, colourful individuals.
Like Narita’s other light novel series Baccano!, Durarara!! revels in the interactions (or should that be head-on collisions?) of its large, colourful and frequently devious and disreputable cast of characters. Everyone has a backstory – even young Mikado – and when a certain information broker is pulling the strings, playing god and then settling back gleefully to watch the carnage, no one is safe. The only one who dares to oppose Izaya’s Machiavellian schemes is bartender Shizuo, preternaturally strong and with considerable anger management issues – and yet, in his own way, one of the few genuinely pure-hearted characters in the series. The voice casting for these two has to be pitch-perfect. Happily, with experienced VAs Crispin Freeman as Shizuo and Johnny Yong Bosch as sly Izaya, and a lively dub script from translator Adam Lensenmeyer with script adaptation by Kristi Reed, the English version works surprisingly successfully. An example of the many ways the script has been enlivened for the dub comes in Episode 7 ‘Bad-ass Dude’ which is all about Shizuo. Shizuo is restless, muttering about a bad smell in the air (Izaya’s around). However, this is rather more vividly portrayed in the US version as he growls, “Smells like shit.” Later on, when the ever-smiling Masaomi is teasing Mikado in front of poor embarrassed Anri, the subtitles tell us he is talking about her ‘erotic’ vibe but the words that we hear are “Boobilicious!” It’s much more immediate and far less decorous than the subtitles but at least the option is there to choose one or the other. And with its contemporary big-city setting, Durarara!! lends itself better to a dub script than, say, a series set in the Warring States or Heian era.
Another character who has to be voiced with care is Celty, the Black Rider, who is beautifully portrayed by Miyuki Sawashiro in the original cast; for my money, Kari Wahlgren gives an equally well-nuanced performance, capturing the range of Celty’s moods from capriciously wayward, through panic, to righteous and justified anger. Her complex relationship with sketchy (but smitten) young doctor Shinra Kishitani (Jun Fukuyama in the original) is one of the strong points of Durarara!! and Yuri Lowenthal brings just the right lightness of touch to his portrayal. Even the lesser roles are cast with high-profile names from the world of US voice acting; when you see VAs such as Kyle Hebert, Dan Woren, Laura Bailey, Spike Spencer, Stephanie Sheh and Sam Regal in the cast list, you realize the appeal of appearing in this prestigious show. (And the accents for Simon, the black Russian (the ever-reliable Patrick Seitz) and illegal immigrant Kazutano (David Lodge) sound more convincing to Western ears.)
As well as the suitably quirky, eclectic score (Irish folk music for the dullahan, squealing modern jazz horns for the frequent moments of conflict, strangely shimmery instrumentation for supernatural happenings) Durarara!! is notable for its outstanding Opening and Ending Themes. In my 2010 review I wrote: ‘Finding an appropriate Opening Song for an anime series is a challenge for any creative team – but when they get it right, as they do here with ‘Uragiri no Yuuyake; Betrayal of the Sunset’ by funk-rock band Theatre Brook, it sets up all the right expectations. The blending of animated imagery with words and music should generate that ‘chills down the back of the spine’ moment.’ However, none of the other Durarara!! Openings have come anywhere near the iconic power of this classic track. The second, “Complication” by ROOKiEZ is PUNK’D (eps 13-24), starts in uncharacteristically muted fashion and, although it builds to a climax, it’s something of a let-down. The Opening Theme for Durarara!!×2 Shō, “HEADHUNT” by OKAMOTO’S, sports a strong and grungy rock band vibe as if spoiling for a fight, which catches the attention, if nothing else.
The first Ending Theme “Trust Me” by Yūya Matsushita (eps 1-12) is also the strongest and most memorable of the three (earworm-memorable!) showing us a vertical column of the main characters, each connected to the one below by the curling tendrils of Celty’s black smoke. The second Ending,”Butterfly” by ON/OFF (eps 13-23) lacks the impact of the first and shows the characters (frozen in time in various poses and connected by Celty’s smoke) scrolling past horizontally.
The Ending Theme for Durarara!!×2 Shō reinvents the vertically scrolling character column from the first episodes; “NEVER SAY NEVER” by THREE LIGHTS DOWN KINGS (autotune) seems perhaps the least memorable so far. In fact the music written by Makoto Yoshimori for the first series is re-used so much (and not always dramatically appropriately) that it leads one to ask if they have enough money to commission any new material. This is a shame as the new series needs all the help it can get if it’s not going to appear a pale echo of its former glories. Part of the problem – apart from some rushed and shoddy animation – lies in the scripting. The source material uses such a large cast of characters that without very clever writing in the TV adaptation, the power of the individual storylines can swiftly become dissipated, lessening the impact and losing viewer identification.
Reserving judgment on the shortcomings of the ongoing x2 (and here’s hoping they can all be improved on before the DVD/BD version is released) there’s no doubt that Durarara!! holds up extremely well as one of the best anime TV shows to come out of the first decade of the new century.
This set contains both OVAs (Episodes 12.5 and 25) and the only extras are textless Opening and Ending Themes. A nice self-referential touch in the anime is the passing appearance (more than once) of a certain quirky couple Isaac and Miria from Baccano! which conveniently reminds us that Anime Limited will soon be bringing out their new edition of this hair-raisingly excellent show later on this year.
With its almost pitch-perfect blend of urban legend and charismatic characters, Durarara!! is one of the few anime TV series that repays many viewings and this re-authored new version from Anime Limited is to be welcomed.