You may recognise Narita Ryohgo’s name in connection with Baccano, but he wrote one other fairly successful series, Durarara the light novels that sound like the opening of a pep squad cheer. They received an adaptation from the same studio that worked on Baccano, Brain’s Base. Does it surpass Baccano? Is it worse? Roughly the same? Let’s take a look and find out.
Our story begins with a teenager named Ryugamine Mikado moving from his small hometown to the Ikebukuro district in Tokyo in order to attend High school with his old friend, Kida Masaomi. But there’s more happening in Ikebukuro than is readily apparent. There are rumours of a headless motorcycle rider, human experiments and gang activity and it’s all inter-connected. Now, let’s start with what the story does badly. At first I thought that I might be dealing with another Katanagatari since the first episode is really heavy with exposition, fortunately the series gets better after that and actually has things happen. The romance has to be my biggest complaint. There are a lot of screwed up romantic relationships. It wouldn’t bother me, except that they’re portrayed as being positive. I don’t mind screwed up relationships, but at least give some acknowledgement that they’re screwed up instead of expecting me to believe that they have a great, loving relationship. To be fair there are a couple good romantic relationships, or relationships that lean in that direction, too. They’re just in the minority. Another issue I had is that there are some really repetitive moments. Several of the early episodes cover the exact same information. You know, in case you forgot what happened between watching episodes. Then we have the humour. It’s mixed. Some of it is funny some of it falls short. Now, onto the positive aspects. Durarara does a much better job at building suspense and at balancing humour and drama than Baccano did. The story actually is very interesting and finding the connections between two elements that initially seem completely separate can be fascinating. It also has a really good climax, two in fact. One at the end of the first story arc and the other at the end of the second. Yeah, the story of Durarara is really separated into two arcs but I can’t really go into details about the second without giving spoilers.
Now we move onto the characters. Durarara has one of the same major issues as Baccano. Some of the characters are really interesting and well developed, but others lack any real depth and are just kind of dull. Some of them get some good scenes, but there’s still not much to them. The most notable example is a girl who has an entire episode dedicated to her early on, and is never mentioned again, nor does she do anything. Meaning that the episode focusing on her was largely pointless. I think she has a few background appearances but that really doesn’t justify going into her backstory in great detail. The main dividing line seems to be how central the character is to the main plot. Most of the major characters, Masaomi, Mikado, Anri and Izaya, for instance, are interesting. Whereas a lot of the less important characters, Shizuo Shinra, Karisawa and Yumasaki, for example, get very little development. There are some exceptions. Seiji is pretty central to the first arc and he’s about as interesting as wet cardboard.
Let’s look at the art. Durarara has some odd art choices. There’s one I actually really like and that’s making most of the extraneous people who only appear moving in the background colourless until they’re having some impact on the plot. Normally I would complain about something like that being lazy, but I think the execution actually makes it work. That being said, there are some aspects to the art that I didn’t like. The major one is that a lot of the locations look really similar, even when the characters or action are moving through different locales and it makes it tough to get a good sense of place. Another thing that bothers me are all the adverts for other anime. A cameo appearance or two wouldn’t bother me, but they really overdo it. Virtually any scene in the heart of Ikebukuro is going to reference at least three other anime and they don’t employ much subtlety. They illustrate the signage prominently. That being said, some of the character designs are creative and there is a sense of vibrancy to the backdrops. The action scenes are also well done, for the most part and Durarara has some really good chase scenes.
The voice acting is another aspect that’s kind of mixed. There are some really good performances from people like Kamiya Hiroshi, Sawashiro Miyuki and Hanazawa Kana but there are also some that get pretty grating. Ono Daisuke gives an annoyingly exaggerated performance and the Russian dialogue is really stilted. Yeah, the actors are trying to work with a language they may not know very well or, at best, a second language, but it is a noticeable issue. As for the music, it’s okay. It’s nothing particularly good but it’s functional.
The yuri factor is a 1/10. Yuri is absent from this.
All in all Durarara is actually pretty good. I did have some issues with it, but I think that the interesting characters make up for those with little in terms of personality and the story does have some strong suspense and the connections between the elements are really well handled. So my final rating is going to be a 7/10. It’s a good anime and worth watching. Especially if you’re a fan of Narita Ryohgo’s work.