Light novel review: Durarara!!, Volume 1

Of all the light novel series overdue a release, perhaps the biggest title was Durarara!! Yen Press have been releasing the manga adaptation for some time, and the anime adaptation has been hugely successful, with the latest bunch of episodes currently streaming. Now we can finally see the original work (which began over a decade ago) released in English, again by Yen.

For those yet to encounter any of the previous English-language releases, Durarara!!, also spelt DRRR!!, is set in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo and follows some of the odder residents of the area. Student Mikado Ryuugamine (this is the spelling used for the surname in the novel) has just moved from the country to study at a new academy. He meets up with an old friend, Masaomi Kida, a guy with a terrible sense of humour, who helps act as a guide around the district.

While at school Mikado ends up becoming a class rep and soon makes friends with a girl in his class named Anri Sonohara, around town he meets and learns about various groups of people. Some are friendly if a bit odd, like otaku Karisawa and Yumasaki, but others he is told not to cross, such as the Afro-Russian Simon, a giant of a man, who works at a sushi restaurant; Shizuo Heiwajima, an easily-angered man dressed as a bartender; Izaya Orihara, an atheistic information broker with a sadistic streak, and a mysterious online gang known as “Dollars”.

However, the strangest resident of Ikebukuro is the legendary “Black Rider”, real name Celty Sturluson, a biker riding a black motorbike with no light, and wearing black protective clothing except for her distinctive helmet. No-one has even seen her face. The reason for this is that her head is missing. She is dullahan, a headless horsewoman from Ireland whose head has been stolen. Having tracked it to Ikebukuro, she now works as a courier as she tries to find her head, while living with underground doctor Shinra Kishitani, who is besotted with her. In this opening volume, there are reports that her head could have be in the possession of a pharmaceutical company which is about to taken over a foreign concern, but the woman in charge, Namie Yagiri, has no desire to give anything up, while her brother Seiji is having trouble with a stalker.

Comparing the novel to the anime, the main difference between the two is the way that the story is told. While in the anime several different characters narrate it, with a different character for each episode, in the novel it is mainly told in the third person. Only the prologue is narrated by an actual character, that being Seiji. This makes reading the story a lot more conventional in comparison to the adaptation. Out of the novels, the manga and the anime, the novel is therefore probably the easiest to understand out of the three. 

It also makes for quick reading. The chapters are arguably shorter in length in relation to other light novels, although to be more accurate, the chapters are not really shorter, but are each split into two, with the exception of the prologue and the first chapter. However, the novel does fly by. It took less time than I normally take on a light novel to digest the whole book, easily finishing the novel in about four-five hours. The novel is entertaining enough to make you want to keep reading it.

Ryohgo Narita is a great writer who is able to come up with some wonderful descriptions such as the time when Celty had, “seen Shinra and Shizuo have a conversation once, and it was as tender and tricky a situation as handling a stick of dynamite with the fuse lit.”

It is not just the more witty passages however which Narita excels at. There are some great immersive moments, such as one when the Dollars are summoned to a meeting in real-life, which is started when a huge chorus of mobile phones rings in unison. This scene is described in one separate section which is entirely onomatopoeic. The whole thing is displayed in italics is contains sentences such as: “tonetonetonetonetonemelodymelodymelodyringeingringringtonetoneharmonicnicnicnicharmony“. Another just has “tone” written 67 times.

While the writing is good, the artwork used to accompany the novel is less impressive. There is something about Suzuhito Yasuda’s character design that just does not look quite right, especially when compared to the artwork in the manga.

The artwork aside however, Durarara!! is a great novel, and it is even greater to see the original work finally released in English. 

Score: 9 / 10

Ian Wolf

Ian works as an anime and manga critic for Anime UK News, and was also the manga critic for MyM Magazine. Outside of anime, he is data specialist for the British Comedy Guide, is QI's most pedantic viewer, has written questions for both The Wall and Richard Osman's House of Games, and has been a contestant on Mastermind.

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