Note: this show only has one season. It also has a sequel series, but as that is its own series, it will not be included in this review.
It’s been a while since I did an anime review. I hope the long dry spell has not left everyone too parched. Netflix has a broad spread of anime for our dining pleasure, so it is often difficult to choose which one to review next, especially if I haven’t got the first inkling as to what most these shows are about or what they’re like.
Sometimes, I just have to listen to the grape vine to give me an idea about which shows are hot or that I would enjoy. This kind of decision making led me to Durarara!!
Some Background Info
Durarara!! (alternately spelled in English as DRRR!!) is an anime about an ancient Irish fairy creature called a Dullahan, who now lives in Japan and works as a transporter for the seedy underbelly of Ikebukuro—a district of Tokyo.
Dullahans are headless horsemen who, in Irish mythology, are associated with death. This anime series claims that they are exclusively female (though this contradicts actual Irish tradition). In legend, they ride horses (or sometimes sit atop wagons drawn by horses) through the night and will only stop at a place if that is where a person is going to die soon. They are supposedly unstoppable, as all gates, doors, locks, and barriers open at their approach.
The word “Durarara” is just a permutation of “Dullahan” as filtered through a Japanese pronunciation and then embellished for good measure.
Oddly enough, this show has almost nothing to do with the title character. The female Dullahan has been living in Tokyo for twenty years, searching for her lost head. And she’s in no rush to find it, as she allows herself to get distracted by the three-way gang war that forms the crux of the show’s conflict.
The streets of Ikebukuro are getting more violent every day, and while that makes a lot of good-paying work for an underworld transporter, our heroine spends most of her time trying to prevent people from killing each other, all while falling in love with someone who tries constantly to convince her that life will be better if she never finds her missing head.
The three main protagonists of the show are a group of high schoolers who get caught up in the turmoil and tragedy of the three-way gang war. They are all…kind of bland, actually, and not nearly as interesting as the headless rider who is relegated to bystander duty.
Let’s take a look at each.
A country bumpkin fresh off the bus, ready to get his first taste of big city living at a prestigious high school. Mikado dreams of breaking out of the ordinary and wishes to have a fascinating life. The typical “be careful what you wish for” trope applies here.
He gets wrapped up in the gang war despite being told by everyone in the city not to get involved.
The smooth-talking ladies man of the group. He serves his comic relief with extra pluck, and stops at nothing to embarrass his friends.
Nerdy but well-endowed girl with horrendous self-esteem issues. Pretty standard anime fodder here.
They each have their own unthinkable secrets and tragic backstories, but none of it seems to gel. I found them all to be a little…boring? At least, they don’t feel alive to me. They come across more as paper dolls than fleshed-out characters.
The Other, Overlooked Characters
Like I said before, I can’t help but think this show would be so much better if the focus was actually on the title character.
Celty Sturluson, our female Dullahan, has eschewed the old-fashioned “horse and whip” approach to her birthright, opting instead to ride a black motorcycle with no lights and wield a giant black scythe.
She and boyfriend Shinra (a mob doctor) are trying to make their way as best they can working for criminals. Their friends include an ex-bartender with superhuman strength named Shizuo and a black Russian man named Simon who sells sushi (and probably has a background in the Russian military/intelligence community). All of these are more interesting than the main three characters, yet all of them are shoved into the background.
The one other character of significance is Izaya.
The supposed evil mastermind of the city. He is the one misleading the three gangs into going to war with each other, all for his own amusement. There are lots of characters like him in anime, but none of them have been so…unconvincing. For an evil puppet master, his bravado is conspicuously empty. Throughout the series, he does nothing to earn his arrogance.
Also, he’s impossible to beat in a fight because he’s…quick? The show reinforces this by having him constantly escaping the other characters, who just can’t seem to land a blow on him. Throughout my binge watch, I kept asking myself “Why can’t they just kill him?”. I’m still not convinced that they couldn’t have, and it would have easily eliminated all the city’s problems if they had done it early enough.
I found myself having a lot of issues with this series. They put a cramp on my enjoyment and really took me out of the story. I’ll list a few of them here.
- Prologue Episodes: You’ll remember, in my Soul Eater review, that I expressed a distaste for filling the early episodes of a series with nothing but prologue. But where Soul Eater confined itself to only three prologues, Durarara!! has seven or eight, none of them particularly engaging.
- Female Nudity: It comes in episode 4. Granted, it happens in a medical context (the woman is being operated on by doctors), but the scene still came across as a little gratuitous. It was jarring enough that it almost turned me off the series altogether. If I didn’t have this review to write, I probably would not have bothered to watch the rest of the episodes.
- Voiceover Narration: Yikes, this series didn’t skimp on the narrators. In every episode. Describing things that the viewer can plainly see happening on the screen without help from a disembodied voice. What was the point? I almost wonder if the show wasn’t specifically made for the blind, which would be cool if it was, but I don’t think that’s the case.
- Endless Recaps: In every episode save the first, the previous episode is recapped during the title sequence. The opening song actually pauses midway so that the characters can act out the most important scenes from previous stories. And that would be a cool idea, if it was the only time when the former episodes were recapped. But no, we get more that occurs during the actual action of the show. A lot of times, the current episode merely tells the same story as the last one but from a different character’s point of view. The result is something not very revealing but definitely familiar.
The question I kept coming back to was “What’s supposed to make this show special? How is it different from any other anime?”. Because all the great anime do at least one thing different—they play with form or story in a new and compelling way. I kept wondering what set Durarara!! apart from any other anime out there. And, to be honest, I never got an answer. This show does not differentiate itself, and I’m not entirely sure that it tries to. But that’s not so much avant garde as it is underwhelming.
Durarara!! and its sequel series, titled Durarara!!X2 can both be found on Netflix. If you’re favorite part of anime is the “kids going to high school” aspect, you’ll probably enjoy it. Otherwise, don’t waste your time.