Sunday, January 2, 2011

Anime Review: DURARARA!! Volume 1 (Episodes 1 - 5)

As I'm finally back into the hobby after a bit of time away, I love diving into and enjoying new anime cold with either little to no knowledge of the source material or knowing that what I'm watching will most likely be slightly to significantly different than what's on the printed page. Ryoghyo Narita's lively cast of normal (and not so normal) residents of Ikebukuro, Tokyo are so far, quite an interesting bunch to watch (and amusingly enough, had me borrow the light novel set from a friend). Having just screened the first five episodes of Brains Base' DURARARA!!, I'm definitely wanting to see more.

These initial episodes weave a rapidly paced and wildly entertaining story set in modern day Japan with a cast of intriguing characters ranging from teenage high-school students to an African-American/Russian strongman to a headless Irish spirit that rides around Tokyo on a motorbike. Bizarre? Yes indeed - but it's the really good sort of bizarre. Right away, these introductory episodes pull you into the lives of the principals and each one demands your complete attention (but it's definitely worth the effort). The first episode, "Exit 1/First Word" kicks off with 15-year old Mikado Ryuminade's arrival in Ikebukuro and his reunion with childhood friend Masaomi Kida. Most of the main cast is introduced here either directly through the walk the pair take during the episode or indirectly through dialog snippets or quickly witnessed incidents in the distance. As Kida says near the end of this episode, "In this town, anything can happen and usually does..."

Thanks to the narration and how much of the first part of the episode is structured, you'd almost think Ryuminade is the main focus of the series. Save for sequences featuring the kidnapping of a teenage girl that introduces The Headless Rider as a force to be reckoned with, it's pretty much Mikado and Masaomi walking around Ikebukuro and chatting (with Kida doing 99% of the talking). However, as the other characters appear and the narrative twists and turns during these first episodes, you see that the focus is more on each principal, the interactions between different characters and how each one perceives certain events. The remaining four episodes are narrated by different characters and this technique brilliantly ties things together during repeat viewings.

Episode 2, "Highly Unpredictable" shows this off extremely well, as we learn more about Rio Kamichika teenage girl who was kidnapped in the previous chapter. Her interactions with the Rider and later, the ominous "information broker" Izaya Orihara give this episode some excellent dialog as she gets a new perspective on life. Anri Sonohara is introduced here as a classmate of Mikado's and it looks as if she's going to have some trouble in the future with a creepy teacher. We also see the other side of another incident briefly witnessed in he first episode, but I'll leave that bit of rather amusing Shizuo Heiwajima-related suspense for you to discover.

Between scenes, there are a series of chat room message vignettes that are amusing and intriguing, adding another layer of depth to the story. The screen names and different voice actors used add a bit of intrigue to these sections as well as make a point about the different "lives" some of have online. This element plus a few darker undertones introduced during the story made me think a little of Persona 3 and 4 and their take on modern Japanese society, technology and things about to come apart at the seams in terms of the daily routine and lives of everyone connected and not connected to the main characters.

Episode 3 "Rampant Evil" is an action-packed episode with a big fight scene that's both brutal and amazingly hilarious. Orihara manages to creep into Mikado's life in a great "rescue" scene where Anri is being bullied by a trio of goofy high school gals and one very unfortunate gang-banger type. Shizuo and Izaya get to mix it up (sort of) and we see that Simon is also quite powerful and not to be messed with.
For me, Episode 4: "Utterly Alone" was surprising, as it delves right into the mystery of Celty Sturluson, The Headless Rider, revealing her origin while also showing the connection between her and the unusual Dr. Shinra Kishitani. There's the making of a rather creepy romance there, I'd say - but it's quite interesting to see Celty's quite "normal" for what she is while Kishitani is a bit abnormal for what he desires.

The fifth episode, "False Advertising", features Kida throughout, showing he's not all bad jokes and worse pick-up lines. There may or may not be a romance between Anri and Mikado blooming, but Kida's antics while the trio is out an about coupled with his narration give this episode a few nice twists. The overall story stats to get darker here as Celty meets up with an unusual slasher and a gang called the Yellow Scarves is introduced. I won't reveal more except to say After the episode ended, i sat there waiting for the next to begin for about a minute and man, was I disappointed at only getting five episodes! From what I've heard from a few friends, the series does indeed take a trip down some more disturbing roads as the Dollars and Yellow Scarves enter the fray, but I'm not going to say more.

As the screener only had the English voice dub and no menus, I can't comment on how it compares to the original Japanese or mention any features other than to say I liked everyone's work quite a lot. I'm not that sort of otaku with a grudge against ALL dubbing - for me, as long as the actors nail the parts and my eyes aren't rolling back in my head when certain characters are on screen, it's all good. Fantastic animation, a great main theme and excellent closing credits wrap each episode as snug as a glove. Overall, Aniplex has a winner here in DURARARA!! and I'm actually psyched to see where the rest of the series goes from here - I don't think it'll be a happy ending foe everyone, but life often hits us all (as real or fictional characters) in many unexpected ways

Score: A-

(buy it here!)


  1. This series was the best of all the 2009-2010 animes. I liked the slow pace into just everything going nuts and each character getting a story in each chapter, how this series will do dubbed is a whole different question but for me its worth checking out

  2. As I've only heard the US dub, I can say it's fine (and the Aniplex version WILL have the original Japanese selectable on the disc with subtitles - they just weren't on the screener the company sent out). I borrowed the import set from a friend yesterday, but I haven't watched it yet, as I'm currently whittling down the pile of games here for review...