What They Say:
Among the strange and dangerous mysteries in Ikebukuro one stands out: the urban myth of the Black Rider. Known as a headless monster known to roam the streets on the back of a motorcycle.
High School student Mikado Ryugamine moves to this downtown area of Tokyo, eager to experience the wonders of the big city. With best friend Masaomi as his guide, Mikado soon finds that witnessing the Black Rider was merely the beginning of a kaleidoscope of crazy encounters beyond his wildest dreams.
Set up in 2.0 Stereo and Mono English and Japanese language, whilst disappointing there isn’t a 5.1 release the general quality of the audio isn’t diminished in terms of set up, as I required no changes to my audio settings and the quality in both languages is very good, with no issues of poor synching with the subtitles, or any cuts with the video. The quality is overall very good, and with a show like Durarara where the music changes on a whim with the scenes from comic to dark, there is a good range of music to act with the voice acting, whether it is the sound of telephone poles crashing down towards Izaya or the swing of Celtys’ scythe, the atmosphere is always there and audible.
Set on a 16×9 anamorphic format, the video quality I set full screen with no slow down or transition issues, no crossed animation when pausing and with the show being mostly dark and gritty, it is coming out very clear. The subtitles sync with no issues (with two choices of full subtitles with songs, or just for the signs if you are watching the English dub or are confident about your verbal Japanese) on either language, though at times because of the dark backgrounds and characters like Celty, there are rare moments when I had to adjust the brightness though this wasn’t very often – as otherwise a quality release.
Each of the menus on the 5 discs are very similar, set up on a white background with the Celty like shadows forming shapes usually of a city or background people – each of them has a number of the characters in the foreground, whether it is Anri, Mikado and Masaomi on one occasion, or Celty and Shinra in another. There is a yellow neon sign on the left with the title, and the selections on the right. The episodes can be individually selected from the episode select (which features different characters but similar styles to the main menu), or you can play all, a set up menu and on the final disc a special features selection. The artwork and colours (black and white with yellow and then the characters) is very eye-catching which adds to how unique the series is in general. There are no issues in selection in terms of slowdown, or picking from the main menu or returning to the main menu.
The only extra on the DVD release are the cleaning openings and endings (2 openings and 2 endings) for the season. Considering there are 5 DVDs and spread the first two with 6 episodes and the last disc with 3 I was expecting a bit more to fill up the DVD so was a bit disappointed.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Anime Limited when they debuted, one of their first releases was the Blu-Ray of Durarara. With them now more established, a lot of their releases are coming back into DVDs, and this show I did watch on the US release quite a while back so a lot of it had to come back to me. But more importantly, does the series still hold up considering at the time there was a lot of buzz about it…it was unique, interesting, a bit dark and gritty, a lot of characters and how they link with each other, does it still work?
Is Izaya still the snarkiest troll in the world?
The show at first seems to start off pretty basically – we are introduced to one of our soon to be many leads, Mikado, a boy who has transferred to a new school in Ikebukuro and this is his first ever trip there in general – helped by a friend who used to be from his neighbourhood, Masaomi. At first, it is a dynamic of new country boy and talkative best friend, as Masaomi introduces him to some of his friends but also gives him advice about how to avoid in this area – just as the first episode showcases a kidnapping of a girl planning to commit suicide – however, we get introduced to a few more characters during this transition that Mikado manages to see, namely one of the guys he is warned to avoid, Shizuo, a man in a bartender outfit who seems to be insanely strong, Izaya – an information broker with a permanent smirk to his face, and a strange figure in black riding a motorcycle and a yellow helmet who seems to have a real shadowy aura around them…combined with seeing a unique girl with a scar around her neck, the mentioning of a gang named The Dollars and a big Russian sushi employee, there is definitely a lot of characters – more specifically a lot of unique characters.
A lot of the stories do interchange with other characters, that at least more than one character is always involved. The kidnap victim for example, is showcased more in episode 2, and you then see the viewpoint of Izaya and the mysterious black rider, named Celty, the interaction of several of the characters being online with this mysterious Dollars gang, and the introduction of a classmate to Mikado and Masaomi, Anri, a pretty young girl who seems reserved and shy. Pretty much any named character in it for more than a couple of episodes has a lot more to them, and it is how Durarara tells their stories and interweaves them that makes the show tick. For example, Anri is talking to a guy named Seiji who appears to be leaving school, yet later in the series, you find out he is surprisingly linked to Celty in a rather strange way, which in turn is linked with the girl with the scar Mikado noticed in the first episode. Everything ties in gradually as more of the characters are explored.
There are character episodes which introduce them more fully, and then their stories are told with other characters. We see Shizuo for example, the extremely violent bartender guy who has a real hate for Izaya (i.e. wants to shove a telephone pole through his skull every time he sees him) actually doesn’t like violence, but controlling his temper and his ability to use every ounce of his strength that normal humans cannot, talk with some back-story, learning about his actor brother, him having contact and friendship with Celty, etc. Then we have Celty herself, who is a headless being called a dullahan, but lives in an apartment with her apparently boyfriend Shinra, a very strange doctor who seems to enjoy the strangeness Celty comes with. That said surprisingly, the two are quite a fun couple despite the ‘no head’ thing which leads to a lot of the shows’ comic moments, but they do have some tender moments as well. Celty herself is quite the badass with her shadow powers, and is hired for jobs usually done by Izaya – whilst looking for her missing head. This ties in with quite a few other plots throughout the series so I won’t go into more detail here, but everything and everyone at some point gets involved with Celty.
Even the characters you felt wouldn’t have much involved apart from a coming of age story are really deep into Ikebukuro’s underworld. Mikado, the country kid visiting the big city? Turns out he is more involved with the mysterious Dollars than anyone could have guessed. Masaomi, the flirty doesn’t take anything seriously guy? Was part of a rival gang the Yellow Scarves and his girlfriend is in the hospital because of a gang bust-up. Anri, the shrinking violet girl who seems to be there just as a love interest? Oh boy…where did ‘demon sword and possession’ come into play? Those guys that were just Masaoidas’ friends? They have some gang backgrounds, (two of them have big anime fan boy/girl tendencies) Seiji who left school? Scarily obsessed with Celtys’ head and the former friend of Anri now wearing it? Some of it seems just out of nowhere, yet the show does slowly link in everything and it does actually make sense.
Not helped by Izaya, along with Shizuo probably the shows most memorable character. An information broker, he seems to know ‘everything’. The leader of the dollars? Where everybody is? The location of Celtys’ head? He is utterly fascinated by humans despite being (we think) human himself – has a real hate/hate relationship with Shizuo despite pretty much always smiling in a sinister way whenever they meet (that smile is mostly permanent on his face throughout the series) – no-one seems to be able to touch him physically or mentally, gets away with practically everything even when he does the most horrendous things (except for one punch the lovable sushi leaflet distributor Simon gets on him near the end – you don’t mess with Simon) – however, you cannot deny how entertaining he is throughout it. His manipulation of pretty much everyone (even Celty at times) makes him a massive presence in this series, where he is almost a deus ex machina in how everyone and everything is connected, yet he is so entertaining to watch.
There are a lot of story arcs that are mixed in together. Almost everyone gets involved with each other (Mikado has links with Masaomi, Anri, Celty, Miki, Izaya for example throughout the series, Celty pretty much has one with every major character that it is hard to see who you would clarify as the main lead in this show) when the story changes – from coming of age moving to big city, then to discovering the mysterious black rider, then the first actual meeting of the Dollars friend and the reveal of the headless black rider, to 6 months later the discovery of a mysterious slasher, to the demon sword Saika and Anris’ role, to Masaomis’ past and his old gang returning the Yellow Scarves, to the final clash of roles between the three kids Masaomi, Mikado and Anri for different reasons…whilst Shizuo and Izaya always somehow get involved in all of these messes, whether deliberately or not so. There are many other things also added throughout, such as the reporter looking for the toughest guy in Ikebukuro, the police officer determined to arrest Celty, the woman Namie of a pharmaceutical company (who is involved with human trafficking, all stemming back way in episode 1 with the kidnapping of the suicidal girl) who is obsessed with her brother Seiji and going to any lengths to protect him – all of these are interlinked with the story and it actually makes sense thanks to helpful flashbacks to earlier episodes and scenes from a different point of view.
Granted, the show isn’t perfect. There are a couple of episodes added almost as bonus episodes which don’t add much to the story aside from extending the length to 26 episodes (one at the half way point and one at the end, though the end episode introduces a few more characters potentially setting up a sequel like Izayas’ siblings) – also the second half of the anime I consider to be weaker than the first because the introduction of the slasher almost seemed like a retread with the headless rider who has been accepted and with the exception of getting Anri involved and what her link was, it does seem a bit out of place even for an anime strange as this (it was barely hinted in the first half about the demon sword Saika but then comes out of nowhere as one of the main plots for the second half). That said, I still liked the second half as it got more characterization for Masaomi and Anri, and it did lead to how all three of the kids are involved together without knowing what or how the other one is involved. Anri’s back-story is quite sad as well and glad she wasn’t just there for token fan service or love interest for the two boys.
The series is one of those that at first may seem confusing, but in truth tells its tale very well. It has quite a lot of characters, but they are all linked in with another story that they are all memorable, and entertaining in their own ways, whether it is Shizuo actually saying he hates violence just as he rips up another vending machine, Shinra and Celtys’ strange but surprisingly sweet relationship (and just wait till Shinras’ father enters for a couple of episodes – he is actually the strangest one of the three) . I loved how there were subtle hints throughout (on rewatches you look for them) regarding characters like Mikado and Anri, or that Masaomis’ flirtatious nature appears to be a façade when you see hints of uncomfortableness with his past or the fact Izaya obviously knows about him and can read him like a book. Izaya of course has many moments where he screws everyone over, even when he appears to be helping (early example is when Mikado is in trouble with some bullies, he helps out…by stomping one of the girl’s cell phones to bit. Few episodes later, her boyfriend comes to get revenge…on Mikado ^^) – he is a loner yet doesn’t seem to regret anything, and whilst his past is still in mystery, you will always remember him. Shizuo is also extremely memorable just because of his rage and his back-story and power is explained as well as it can be – but the fun is just either seeing him snap…or actually having civil discussion with Celty for some surprisingly intellectual moments. Everything is connected, and part of the joy is connecting the dots and watching it through as it is told near perfectly.
And hey, it has Isaac and Miria cameos from Baccano. I love those guys.
Durarara is a very smart series, which takes its time to tell the stories involved and among a multitude of characters that are all unique and have all got some good depth to them. This is told through character episodes, and expanded through their interactions with pretty much the whole cast. The fun is seeing how it all evolves, and the secrets most of the cast hold are told discreetly well before the big reveals. It all links together, and it is a great piece of storytelling, characterization, fun and intelligence in a dark and gritty, but also at time comic, series.
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: C-
Released By: Anime Limited
Release Date: May 11th, 2015
Running Time: 650 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.