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Saturday, 11 July 2015

Durarara!! x2 Shou

Durarara!! x2 Shou

Once again, I have found myself in a situation where I've watched too much Durarara!! too quickly. I could probably have spread it out more evenly, but instead, in my rush to get this review up for this Saturday, I ended up downing about seven episodes in one night, which was an experience. 

(It has also, in all likelihood, coloured my opinion of x2 Shou, which was after all meant to be watched over the course of twelve weeks, not three days.)

Picking up six months after the end of the first series, Durarara!! x2 Shou sees a serial killer, Hollywood, roaming Ikebukuro. At the same time, a series of attacks by Dollars members in Saitama rouses the anger of biker gang Toramaru and their leader Rokujo; Yakuza princess Ayane ends up in the care of Shinra and Celty as a pair of Russian assassins attempt to kidnap her; and a new student at Raira Academy, Aoba, approaches Mikado and Anri with sinister intentions.

I'll be honest, I didn't get into x2 Shou in the same way I got into the first series - and part of that might be that it's only the first cour of a full second series, but a lot of it is that it felt a lot less clean and efficient than the first series, and a lot less impactful. Much of what I liked about Durarara!! is that it was sharp and wasted none of its very limited time, and that it knew how to set up plot twists so that they hit the audience with great force - in contrast, x2 Shou feels sloppy, and its dramas only rarely manage to reach the heights of the first series.

Perhaps oddly, the storyline that I think cleaves closest to the first series is the Aoba storyline - it builds off plot developments from the first series in a very natural way, and its culmination in the twelfth episode is one of the most striking moments of the series, and feels like a turning point in the storyline. Aoba himself is a great character, a kind of Izaya-Masaomi fusion who worms his way into Mikado and Anri's good books.

N'aw, you're adorable, Aoba.

Not all of the new characters - of which there are a lot in an already crowded cast - are created equal, though, which is one of the major reasons for how flabby x2 Shou feels to me. Some characters, like Izaya's sisters, are introduced only to have very little impact on the plot - in the case of Izaya's sisters, they actually stop showing up part way into the cour, instead only appearing in chat logs that primarily exist to showcase other characters' agendas and various torments. Other characters, like serial killer idol Ruri and Shizuo's brother Kasuka, are massively important in early episodes only to vanish entirely in later ones. 

(The entire Hollywood plotline at the beginning of the series, actually, is an odd one. Events in the final episode suggest that it'll be very relevant to the second cour, but the actual arc feels like it fizzles out rather than actually go anywhere, and that's not helped along by the oddly blase reactions that everybody has to Ruri's serial killing.)

Then there's the third category of new character, like gang leader Rokujo, Yakuza daughter Ayane, and Russian assassin Varona, who are all important to the story but who feel like guests momentarily wandering in from other storylines, rather than actual fully fledged members of the cast. 

Seriously, what is up with the Heiwajimas, though.

Those last three are all mostly relevant to the second arc of the cour, in which a gang war brews between the Dollars and the Toramaru, while - something goes on with the Yakuza. It probably was made completely clear what was actually happening in the whole Yakuza plotline, but at that point my attention was starting to waver, and none of it actually managed to sink in. As far as the gang war plotline went, though, it felt very much like a cut-price version of the Yellow Scarves plotline: Many of the same story beats, but without either the personal investment that came from Mikado, Anri and Masaomi being the key figures in that gang war; or the dramatic buildup that came from the tension turning to mob violence turning to attempted murder.

Which isn't to say I didn't, on the whole, enjoy this cour - I did, I just think it measures up poorly to the first series. But the cast of characters are still fun and diverse, the humour is often great, and while I wasn't keen on a lot of the new characters, I did enjoy both the addition of Aoba and the addition of Kasuka (who did show up in the first series, but only very briefly). I thought that the themes of bigger fish starting to focus their attentions on Ikebukuro was well laid out in the cour, even if ultimately it feels more like set-up for future episodes than anything else. The series ended on a very striking note, too, with several pay-offs to ongoing plotlines that leave us with a very solid foundation for another twelve episodes.

Mechanically, the show hasn't declined in quality either. The animation is still very strong, the soundtrack is still nice to listen to, the voice-acting is still very good. As with the first series, there isn't much in the way of those basic components that I think can be improved upon.

All in all, Durarara!! x2 Shou doesn't really manage to live up to its predecessor, but it lays the foundation for a second cour that might well blow me away. Just - if the Orihara sisters come back, if we could maybe avoid the creepy incest moments like the plague. I realise there was only one, but it was very uncomfortable. Let's - let's just not, all right?

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