Mean Streets and the Mad Folk Who Roam Them: Durarara!!

Copyright 2010 by Brain's Base.
Copyright © 2010 by Ryohgo Narita and Brain’s Base.

Trying to describe either the story or the cast in an anime series like Durarara!! is a challenge. But watching this colorful display of passion, mythology, and intrigue sure isn’t.

Based on the light novel series by Ryohgo Narita, our story begins with the arrival of a Japanese high school student named Mikado Ryugamine, who meets up with his streetwise friend Masaomi in the wild neighborhood of Ikebukuro, Tokyo. While both young men have their eye on their cute classmate Anri, the world around them explodes into magic and mayhem. When there isn’t an attack attributed to the street gang called the Dollars or a rare sighting of the Headless Rider called Celty Sturluson, the city is abuzz with sightings and attacks from a mysterious wraith called the Slasher. Mikado, Anri, and several other characters get immersed in gang culture, folklore, urban legends, and other madness taking root in Ikebukuro, all under the watchful eye of the manipulative data broker Izaya Orihara.

What makes this anime so refreshing is that, while Mikado is our first protagonist, the series isn’t entirely focused on him. Sometimes we focus on Celty (voiced by Kari Wahlgren), an Irish-born dullahan living in Japan with her doctor boyfriend Shinra (voiced by Yuri Lowenthal) while she searches for her missing head. At other times, we might pick up on Kyohei Kadota (voiced by Steven Blum) and his manga-obsessed troupe of misfits. And sometimes we look at the many troubles that Shizuo (voiced by Crispin Freeman) faces in keeping his temper and superhuman strength in check, especially when it comes to a cunning bastard like Izaya (voiced by Johnny Yong Bosch). And that’s not even scratching the surface of the cast. By bouncing from story to story, we get a sense of what daily life in this version of Ikebukuro is like and how everyone’s issues are related.

Celty (left) and Shizuo (right). Copyright © 2010 by Ryohgo Narita and Brain's Base.
Celty (left) and Shizuo (right). Copyright © 2010 by Ryohgo Narita and Brain’s Base.

If I seem a little too obsessed with listing all the voice actors in Durarara!! that’s only because the English dub cast is quite exceptional. While sometimes the script can be a little heavy-handed, the ability of the actors to bring emotional weight and fierce passion to their lines is spectacular. Special credit goes to Kari Wahlgren for giving voice to Celty, having to emote for a character without a head, and for Johnny Yong Bosch in playing Izaya with one of the best sly villain’s monotones I’ve ever heard.

Visually, the show is about as good as its voice acting. The smooth lines and impressive color shading makes this a very lovely slice of life anime. Of course, there’s also several instances of creepy visuals like how Celty’s shadow changes to a headless horsewoman when she’s riding her motorcycle through Ikebukuro or the smoke rising up from her neck when she’s not wearing her iconic helmet. The show also takes time out to jump to an online forum, where iconic characters in the show talk about plot developments under a variety of usernames. The clever use of voice actors gives us a clue to each user’s identity before the show eventually reveals them all and how they’re connected.

While Mikado and his friends became more interesting as the show went on, I think my favorite interactions were between Celty and Shizuo. Theirs was a really nice friendship, as they were two souls who didn’t quite fit into the city, but respected each other. Not to mention they’re two of the scariest and most badass characters in the whole series. And in spite of the semi-racist appearance of the Afro-Russian sushi vendor called Simon Brezhnev, I did enjoy his dialogue, especially when he dropped his poor English for trading barbs in Russian with Izaya.

The nice thing about Durarara!! is about it’s got something for everyone. It has teenage crushes and romance, quirky comedic characters (who aren’t totally annoying), giant fight scenes and car chases, handsome male characters with tortured pasts, power plays, gang wars, slasher movie tropes, and more. It’s a big adaptation and beautifully done, too.

Looking back, I find myself comparing it to the experience I had with the last anime I watched, Madlax. But while Madlax also had beautiful animation, heavy symbolism, and a giant cast, Durarara!! actually made me enjoy all of that from the very beginning until the very end. I now consider it one of my all-time favorite anime series, right in between Welcome to the NHK and Samurai Champloo.

The English dub of Durarara!! is available through Super Channel and Adult Swim.

Bibliography: Durarara!! (anime). Directed by Takahiro Omori. Produced by Akeko Yokoyama, Atsushi Wada, Hiro Maruyama, Kozue Kaneniwa, and Yasuyo Ogisu. Written by Noboru Takagi. Brain’s Base (studio). Anime Limited. Adult Swim (US). Original broadcast run: January 7, 2010 – June 24, 2010.


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