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Friday, 3 July 2015

Durarara!!


Durarara!!



Durarara!! was actually a recommendation, and not something that I was likely to end up watching if it hadn't been recommended - while I was very vaguely and distantly aware of it beforehand, I'd never mustered the interest to watch it, and even after it being recommended it was about a week before I got around to watching it, because - well, actually, mostly because other things had reviews scheduled and I had to finish watching and/or playing those.

When I did watch it, I ended up mainlining twenty-five episodes of it in about three days, which I see now was too great a concentration of Durarara!!, too much in too short a time.

Durarara!! is a story about making things very difficult for Murphy when he has to write the synopsis portion of the review. I've written four different versions of the synopsis so far and none of them really work.

Okay, let's try this as best we can. Durarara!! Ikebukuro and the people who live there. Moving there from the countryside, high schooler Ryugamine Mikado reunites with old friend Kida Masaomi, and strikes up a friendship with quiet, shy student Sonohara Anri. A thriving Tokyo town, Ikebukuro is home to many strange people, including information broker Orihara Izaya, super-strong and short-tempered man Heiwajima Shizuo, the Dollars gang, the mysterious Slasher, and Celty Sturluson, a dullahan from Ireland who has come to Ikebukuro to retrieve her stolen head.

- No, that ... that wasn't very good. Ugh. This is a very difficult series to review.

Their love is pure and cannot be stopped by little things like her not having a head.

We'll start with the technical stuff, then: Animation, soundtrack, voice work, and pacing, all of which are actually very good. 

The animation is quite simple at times, but it's always very stylish and pleasant to look at, with animation quality never dropping significantly, and the show uses it in interesting ways - the many bystanders in Ikebukuro are usually coloured all in grey, and at one point when they are turned into active participants in the plot, we seem them all turn to colour; and later when the Colour Gangs become plot relevant, gang members are often coloured grey except for their gang colour. That's some clever animation work.

The soundtrack is full of earworms, and there are a few stand-out tracks on the OST, such as Celty's theme, Green Memories, a tune that brings to mind traditional Irish music. Voice work is also generally strong - none of the cast particular stand out in relation to each other, because it is pretty much good across the board, but kudos to Izaya's VA, Hiroshi Kamiya, for managing to record technically perfect (if heavily, heavily accented) Russian lines for the final episode.

(The dub's voice work is also generally fine, although as a rule I tend to recommend going with the sub of any anime if you can. Except with Digimon.) 

N'aw, Izaya.

Which leaves us with pacing, which is an odd one. The first nine or ten episodes or so aren't paced terribly, but as they are slice-of-life episodes focusing on individual characters, whether they pass quickly or feel like they're taking an age will depend a lot on how much you like the character in question, and they can't be skipped because apart from a few monologues on the nature of the human condition, there's pretty much nothing in Durarara!! which can be skipped. Everything eventually becomes relevant to the plot in some fashion or another, which is some brilliantly tight plotting work, but maybe going to grate a little when you're watching an episode focused on somebody you don't much care about.

Durarara!! a great example of a series that knows its themes and focuses heavily on them, and in this case that theme is human connection, with everything tying back to it in some fashion. All of the characters in Ikebukuro are at least somewhat connected, even if those connections aren't clear at the beginning, and as the series goes on, plot twists very often take the form of revealing a hitherto unknown link between two characters, while larger plot arcs often revolve around a specific type of unhealthy relationship. Obsessive love shows up a few times.

-Distant, tinny noise of a bullying PSA.-

Which I do appreciate: I like series that have a strong thematic focus and that execute that focus without resorting to massive monologues about them - which Durarara!! never does, its few short monologues tend to be theme-adjacent rather than on the nose explanations of the thematic message it's trying to drum into you. Instead, Durarara!! is very keen on showing, and it has worked its ideas of human connection into every aspect of its plot, sometimes more subtly than other times.

It's also a great example of a series which has supernatural elements but isn't about magic. There are two major supernatural elements in the series, and while they're both important to the plot, neither of them are integral to it. If Celty had a head, the plot would continue largely unchanged in a lot of ways, for example. Which is fine - not every series with magic in has to be about magic.

All in all, I did enjoy Durarara!! a lot, and I'll be starting on the second series of it soon. Once I've had a few days break. You could probably use that break to look it up and watch it, actually, so maybe go do that. Don't make my clumsy attempts not to spoil any of you go to waste.

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