Durarara!! / Durarara!!x2

5 out of 5

Directed by: Takahiro Omori

My first question, answered: Durarara is onomatopoeia for the sound a motorcycle makes when revving.

Amidst a bevy of very colorfully named anime / manga, I have to applaud creator Ryohgo Narita (of the original light novels, partially adapted as the anime series Durarara!! and Durarara!!x2) for his concise titling skills: just as Baccano! (‘ruckus’) was an apt representation of that story’s swirling of activities, so is Durarara – a motorcycle revving – perfect imagery for its story: the sense of gearing up to go; but also being in motion, with, perhaps, some stereotyped vibe of ‘cool’ or ‘danger’ that comes from it being a rad motorcycle.

So, okay, fine, that’s the title, and that’s the tone.  Then next would be what it’s about: a dullahan – an Irish fairy – searching for her missing head; a bunch of ‘color’ gangs going to war in the district of Ikeburo – including a viral, ‘colorless’ gang called Dollars; a mysterious slasher with red, glowing eyes; separately, a serial killer who dresses up in Hollywood makeup; a bartender-attired bodyguard who has the strength to toss motorcycles like it ain’t no thang; an information broker who enjoys pitting people against one another; a Russian sushi-shop worker who offers advice in broken, but surprisingly relevant, Japanese…  Had enough yet?  Getting flashes of that ‘ruckus’ from Baccano!?  Well, fear not, for those, like me, who were overwhelmed by that show’s overlapping lack of points: while Durarara!! shares the ensemble cast and looping timelines, and while some of that admittedly does get cluttered, it never stops being entertaining, or interesting, or thought-provoking, because behind all of the noise is an actual theme: of relationships.  Not of the lovey-dovey kind, necessarily, though there are some of those, but just human relationships in general: we bump into one another; we drift together; we drift apart.  Things overlap in Ikeburo, but not in a forced “it’s all connected” fashion: rather, we meet all of these people as they float – naturally (within the context of the series’ heightened reality) – into eachother’s lives.  And generally, all of these people have different goals, but again, rather naturally, just by dint of existing in the same area… those goals will criss-cross, and things will get messy.  And Durarara!! revels in that, sometimes for comedy, sometimes for mystery, and sometimes – acefully timed to build up towards the end of each 12-13 episode cour – for thrills, swirling all of these seemingly confusing bits and pieces around and then suddenly making sense of them all, everyone revving up to get to where they’re going, or to solve the new big problem of gangs or killers…

And then staying where they are.  That’s a big part of that motorcycle imagery: the motor’s going, but you’re staying in place.  Durarara!! manages to be this masterful capsule of that very same issue which plagues many of us: our dreams of something new and fresh while wanting to hold on to the familiar.  Prepping to go and never leaving.  But our characters do learn and grow; this isn’t a slap in the face for staying in Ikeburo, or wherever, though there is something to consider regarding a few of our key players: Mikado, diminutive and plain, who, during the course of the show, practically forces himself into the absurd; Celty, our dullahan, conflicted between wanting to find her missing head and fearing its discovery for losing her current headless-self to her head’s memories; and Izaya, the information broker, whose only joy is trying to see if the human beings he manipulates will ever respond in a way that surprises him.

These are all unique takes on a concept; a thought puzzle of what makes us us and our relationship with the world around us, realized as characters we come to love and hate.  And you’ll get to know, well, a surprising amount of people in Ikeburo – though maybe not all equally well, as the opening credits kinda want you to believe – and people to sift through all those wacky plot points mentioned above.  And even if you can’t, the show is a joy of animation (Brain’s Base in season 1; splinter studio Shuka in season 2) and acting, and isn’t scared to pause every now and then to take a breath on some quieter scenes, or to try to review some of its more complex interactions, or to give you a laugh, or some otaku fan-service, or etcetera.  Or you can just listen to the score from Makoto Yoshimori.

But to start, you can answer a couple of questions: a motorcycle revving, and it’s a show about… relationships.