Durarara!!, vols. 1-2

Durarara 1Fifteen-year-old Mikado Ryuugamine has grown tired of his quiet, uneventful life in his hometown. So, when his childhood friend Masaomi Kida suggests he transfer to the latter’s high school in Tokyo’s vibrant Ikebukuro district, Mikado jumps at the chance to move to the city. From the moment he steps off the train, he finds himself immersed in a frenetic world of otaku, stalkers, rival gang members, unlicensed doctors, rogue scientists, Russian sushi hawkers, ex-bartenders, information brokers, and one very real urban legend roaring through the neighborhood streets on an impossibly black motorcycle. Adventure-starved Mikado thrills at the excitement all around him; he just wishes it didn’t come with quite so much danger.

Adapted from Narita’s original light novel series (illustrated by Yasuda and sadly not yet available in English), Durarara!! is a fast-paced slice-of-life story with Ikebukuro itself as the subject. Mixing action, comedy, horror, romance, and drama with a colorful ensemble cast and a touch of the supernatural, the complicated plot weaves together linking events as seen through multiple perspectives to create a picture of a uniquely crazy, secret-riddled neighborhood. Little here is who or what it seems and the intrigued reader is kept guessing as one unraveled mystery leads to another.

Newbie Mikado proves a convenient vehicle for introducing many of Ikebukuro’s variously odd and dangerous inhabitants without erasing his own personality in the process. He doesn’t just want to witness this world, he wants to be a part of it. The art brings the city and its denizens to life with crisp, clean-lined, uncluttered visuals that flow well and are surprisingly kinetic, considering how much walking and talking they portray. Despite the large cast, the reader learns enough to remember who the significant characters are, wonder at their backstories, and look forward to their entertaining interactions. Yasuda’s attractive, easily differentiated character designs certainly make that easier, as do the unique personalities behind them. Still, there is a lot of fragmented, compressed information squeezed into these initial two volumes and the reader may feel a little overwhelmed on the first read-through.

Fans of the earlier North America-released animated adaptation of the light novels will find just enough variation here in look and story (artist Satorigi’s rounder faces or the particulars of Izaya’s suicide pact, for instance) to keep things fresh and spark their interest in the source material, supporting Narita’s afterword comments about Durarara!! being a “mixed-media project” he’d like people to enjoy in all its incarnations. Clearly, the Japanese publishers would like that as well, if the blatant yet clever in-story self-promotion of the distributors and studios behind the series’ diverse media is any indication (showcasing your titles while characters shop in a famous bookstore is one thing; having characters include them as part of their ingenious torture of a closed-lipped kidnapper is quite another).

Durarara!!‘s introductory teen protagonist may not personally be involved in anything particularly heavy yet, but the reader’s expanded acquaintance of local high-schoolers and grown-ups reveals the city’s dark, sometimes twisted underbelly and steers the series toward older teens and adults. There’s an edgy current of potential violence that usually stops just short of being realized (the fake-outs are numerous and effective). There are also two bathing scenes with obscured nudity as well as a few unhealthy obsessions (with siblings, with classmates, with heads in jars). None of it is especially graphic, however, including the mildly strong language. But part of what makes the series fun is the unpredictability and psychological tension created from repeatedly testing those boundaries. Silly, snarky, and a little scary all rolled into one, Durarara!! is like a good roller-coaster: fast, intense, and ultimately safer than your brain thinks it should be.

Durarara!!, vols. 1-2
by Ryohgo Narita
Art by Suzuhito Yasuda (character design) and Akiyo Satorigi (art)
Vol. 1 ISBN: 9780316204903
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9780316209311
Yen Press, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: OT (16+)