10 January 2011

things durarara taught me

I come by my anime in very random ways. Some people follow the announcements made by the various production companies and keep a sharp eye on the new seasons for signs of promising shows. Some people have large circles of fellow fans, or clubs, that disseminate information to their collectives. Some spend lots of time browsing download sites or going to the store to check on new releases. All of these are great ways with which to discover new series deserving of attention.

That’s not how I do things. I hear about shows randomly, either through ads that catch my eye, or people telling me how much I HAVE TO WATCH X, Y and Z, the latter being my main method of discovery. Usually I file the title away until something grabs my attention later that reminds me of it. This is exactly what happened following Otakon 2010, when a fair number of people told me I need to watch a show called “Durarara.” The name was thrown at me after both Modern Myth and Dead Like Us, attributed to the presence of a shinigami-type being one of the main characters. Still, it took me almost 4 months to finally grab the series and give it a run.

Prior to watching DRRR, I was deeply immersed in Kuroshitsuji. After DRRR, well...

This show is set to be released stateside very soon, and there is already a lot of fanfare surrounding it. Plenty of other writers have spent time reviewing the show, comparing it to other series, comparing it to the light novels and manga from whence it spawned, and some have already labeled it the “best show of 2010.” I am going to forego such declarations and analyses, instead endeavoring to just throw out some of the things about DRRR that made me embrace the show so fully and completely. And since I’m watching it again, I know that there will be a follow-up to this little ramble, because I’m already seeing things now that I didn’t the first time.

So, here I go, with a very primary school title of: “Things Durarara Taught Me.”

Slice of Life shows don’t always need to be romantically motivated. Admittedly, my experience with slice of life anime is fairly limited, mostly due to the fact that they tend to belong to the “shoujo” side of the medium, something I make few forays into. While I did love Ouran High School Host Club and Love Hina, they drew me in mostly because of their silly humor than anything else. I like to laugh, they made me laugh, I didn’t think much about any of the other aspects aside from the romantic undertones. But that was about it. Other than those two exceptions, I tended to avoid slice of life dramas because they often just did nothing for me, nor did they provide the escapism I craved from my fandom and media.

Durarara changed that. Now I know it’s tempting to not call the show a slice of life drama, what with the gang warfare, shinigami and Heiwajima throwing vending machines at people, but down beneath the surface, that is what DRRR really was. No epic fantasy there, most of the story was about a kid (or group of kids) trying to find their place in the world. Simple, pure (for the most part), and yet so elegantly done. No overwhelming need for true love, just friendship, and showing how friendship can motivate and drive people towards, and sometimes away, from each other.
In fact, when it came to certain other side stories, romance was shown as being a weakness or detrimental to the development of the character. Sonohara’s constant desire to be loved despite not being able to feel it is a good example- she slashed because she wanted others to feel the love she could not, and ended up with a legion of “children” all seeking the same need, and almost completely beyond her control. On the flipside, we see Kida’s love as causing him to forsake the world he had created, simply for the sake of belonging, and interesting conundrum when it was that need to belong that drove him to create the very vessel with which love came to him. Love makes us do crazy things, and both previous examples are understandable, albeit extreme, ends to which some people can go for the sake of being loved/feeling loved/giving love. This is a topic that, at least from my experiences, is often overlooked in anime, though as I said, my experiences with the genre are extremely limited.

Friendship is at the core of what DRRR was, and the interpersonal relationships that spring up from it are what define the characters motivations and actions. This reliance on friendship is why I think of this show as slice of life, because it relates to a good deal of what we all feel as human beings, and shows us what we can accomplish if we really want more friends.

Plus, there was the aforementioned shinigami and gang warfare...oh so nice to watch.

Multiple narratives, when done right, make a show move faster and far more satisfying. There are a lot of shows that feature large casts. But not many of them manage to weave story-lines for those casts successfully into a single unit. Oftentimes, large casts mean fancy clothing and exotic personalities all working towards the same goal, a sort of single narrative with many players (or, for example, your average Final Fantasy game). They oftentimes succeed at this. And they sometimes fail (like a modern Final Fantasy game).

Durarara manages to succeed with not only having a large cast, but also giving each player a chance to take part in the story. In the first half of the series, this is especially apparent: before gang wars become the major focus of the action, we the audience get to see the characters live their lives, with the occasional crossover between otherwise independent players. And this never detracts from the series as a whole, but rather allows us to “change perspective.” Now I was always told that changing perspectives is a bad thing, especially from the point of view of a writer, but it is those perception shifts that make DRRR all the better. Rather than focus too much on one story initially, we are given the chance to experience the stories of so many people, and shown that they are all truly unique. None of them are caricatures of stereotypes, though they all have their own interests.

Now I admit DRRR does under-develop some of their characters. In fact, the second half of the series felt incredibly rushed, and didn’t do quite the same justice the first half did (not to mention introducing characters in the opening credits that never appeared on screen. Exactly who is Tom Tanaka, and was Kasuka supposed to be Shizuo’s sister?). Maybe they ran into timing troubles with the limited run of the show, but I felt there could have been so much more to explore. Here’s to hoping for a second season somewhere down the road.

Headless girls can be hot. I love Celty Sturlson. I love her because she doesn’t act like a “typical shinigami.” I love her because she has her own motives. I love her because she is just as “lost” as everyone else in the series. But I love her the most because she is inserted into the story without any modifications to her concept. Right after watching DRRR I made a point of looking into the Dullahan mythology and found it to be a most interesting story. The idea of one of the Fair Folk being charged with summoning the newly dead was something I had never encountered before, and while it mirrored the idea of the shinigami as I’ve seen it in other anime, unlike others it was simply planted into the story and allowed to become a catalyst for acculturation. No attempt to make a “Japanese dullahan,” no twisting of the source mythology to make it more Asian. Celty lived and acted like an Irish Death Fae would act. Sometimes it worked for her, sometimes it didn’t. The modern flavor added to her character immensely, and made her a relatable protagonist among many other things.

I’ve heard a lot of people talk about her at cons, mostly due to the fact that she has no head, which said fans find cool. I find that Celty’s attempt to recover her head satisfying because in the end she realizes that there is more to life than dwelling on the past. Like so many of the other characters in the series, Celty understands that what she has is more important than what she lost, and she should be satisfied with it moving forward. That might be one of the main undercurrents within the show itself, and she represents it splendidly.

When in doubt, throw a vending machine. I can’t write about Durarara without mentioning the amazingness that is Heiwajima Shizuo. Though we know precious little about him, and he appears to be a very one-track minded character (after all, he throws vending machines at people), in actuality, Shizu-kun might be one of the most interesting creations within the context of the story. Yes, he’s a loner. Yes, he overreacts. But at the same time, he isn’t motivated by any of the same ideas or ideals that motivate other characters like him. For example, he never actually wants to hurt people, and yet he causes more harm than anyone else in the entire story, shinigami included. When your personal body count is higher than that of the token death god, you have to step back and say “wait a minute.”

He also seems to lack an ulterior motive, outside influence or someone “pulling the strings.” He is, in a nutshell, independent. Yes, he has a strong hated for Orihara Izaya, and he likes to focus the majority of his rage on said character, but other than that, he tries not to choose sides, electing often to act on his own will and whims. He befriends Celty, becomes the object of the Slasher’s affections, and challenges Simon Brezhnev whenever he can, but you never get the feeling that he has reasons for this other than his own desire to prove himself, or just test out the other person in the encounter. He has little tolerance for stupidity, little tolerance for disloyalty, and a strong desire to defend, traits that even some of the main characters seem to lack. And above all, you can take him at face value, because he doesn’t seem to be the type to hold cards in reserve.

Is Shizuo the best-crafted character in the series? I wouldn’t go that far. There are a lot of players in this game who have such powerful developments. But is he the most fun to watch? I would argue yes.


The best villains have the simplest motivations. I can’t talk about Heiwajima without mentioning his “arch-enemy,” Orihara Izaya. Mostly because I also can’t decide what Izaya’s intentions are. In fact, for a time, I couldn’t even decide if Izaya was even human. I mean, there was already one supernatural creature in the show, so would it be that much of a stretch to think that Izaya was a demon, or fallen angel, or some other like-minded creature that was there to test the characters? After all, he felt so random. One moment he was helping someone realize their life’s worth, and then not five minutes later he’s berating them into suicide, because he just wanted to see what they would do. He’s like a less bloody Jigsaw, with more money and influence.

Which I suppose in the end is why I love to hate him. Orihara Izaya isn’t your typical villain, lusting for money and power. He has that already. He isn’t bearing a grudge on one of the main characters, but several of them seem to have one for him. He isn’t trying to start conflict (all the time, that is), but he loves to witness it. In short, Izaya is motivated by one concept, and one alone.

He’s bored. And he’s doing these things essentially for fun.

He wants to see how people react. He’s playing games with them, but not instigating them (much), just making the pieces move towards ends they might have eventually, just faster. And he seems to get a good laugh of it all. The simplicity of it all is both maddening and refreshing at the same time. You never want to see him get out of trouble, but when he does you secretly cheer, knowing he will live to fight another day. His smirk will continue to infuriate everyone he comes into contact with, especially Shizuo, which leads to more airborne vending machines, etc etc etc. Orihara Izaya is one of the great ones here, and proof you don’t need to be all powerful or some kind of supernatural deity to muck up the lives of people. All you need is a bit of ingenuity, some capital, free time and an abundance of boredom. The rest will fall into place.


  1. Yes, I loved it. Easily the best anime I watched all last year.

  2. Please! Please go read the light novel, the story and cast development expands so much more after the 3rd book which the anime rashly ended and much more in dept view of character relationships

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