Posted by sean On March - 9 - 2011

Anime has garnered a huge following in the West since the first shows were brought over in the Sixties, beginning with Astro Boy and Speed Racer.  Fifty years later, anime shows are still being brought over and translated for American audiences, the newest of which is Durarara, based on a light novel/manga series.  Revolving around a multitude of colorful characters, from simple high school students to mythological beings, Durarara tries to weave dozens of arcs to create an entertaining story but gets tangled up along the way.


Durarara is eerily similar to ABC’s Lost through its sense of mystery, its journey into the supernatural, but most of all, its narrative structure.  Made up of character-focused episodes, Durarara takes place in Ikebukuro, Tokyo as freshman Mikado Ryūgamine transfers to a local school at the invitation of his old friend, Kida Masaomi.  In the first episode, Kida gives Mikado a grand tour of the city, telling him about the gangs and the who’s-who of area, along with the urban legend of a headless biker, the Black Rider.  From there, the lives of over a dozen characters intertwine due to a series of attacks on city citizens connected to corrupt companies, secret gangs, and ancient myths.


It takes the first five or six episodes to do what the pilot should’ve done in introducing this world.  By attempting to flesh out each character in their own episode(s), the story gets spread so thin that you will finish a third of the series before you get a firm grasp on one of the main plots.  Luckily, with the show running at only twenty-four episodes, the plotlines get less drawn out from there, but that circles back to the problem of too many characters.  Some who are given too much screen time suddenly become irrelevant and disappear without tying up all of their loose ends.  At the same time, characters you want to see more often, like the violent bartender Shizuo or Russian sushi-chef Simon, are given a scene here or there without any further exposure of their back-story.


On the upside, Durarara juggles the drama and humor very well once it gets the ball rolling.  The different plotlines stem from reality-based problems such as gangs and teenage love while splicing in supernatural forces from Japanese and Celtic mythology, and like any youth-based story, there are plenty of laughs and light-hearted moments.  These are nice touches that never seem overbearing to the series as the story, deep down, is about the characters and their progression through a less-than-ordinary life.  As for the animation, it’s slick and vibrant in its use of colors.  It may not be like Akira or other anime where every crack or shadow is detailed to convey a sense of realism, but the artwork is stunning to look at most of the time and captures the feel of the city and its inhabitants.


Durarara drags at first, but then it sprints at the end, leaving behind the feeling that maybe one day the series will wrap up the story arcs it left open.  Minus the setbacks, it is a quick, cold beer for being a show that anime fans can enjoy without the worry being disappointed after several years of commitment.


Part 1 is now on DVD and Part 2 will be released on March 29, followed by Part 3 on May 31.


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