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Durarara!! Vol. #01 Light Novel Review

Durarara Vol. #1

Durarara Vol. #1

The untold story of Ikebukuro begins.

Creative Staff
Story: Ryohgo Narita
Art: Suzuhito Yasuda
Translation/Adaptation: Stephen Paul

What They Say
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE DOWNRIGHT WEIRD.
The Ikebukuro district in Tokyo is full of interesting people. A boy longing for the extraordinary. A hotheaded punk. An airheaded pseudo-stalker. An information broker who works for kicks. An underground doctor who specializes in truly desperate patients. A high school student infatuated with a monster. And a headless rider on a pitch-black motorcycle. Their story may not be a heartwarming one, but as it turns out, even weirdos like these sometimes fall in love.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
It took awhile, but Durarara finally made it to North America in its original light novel form in English. It seems like ages ago the anime was released, and the manga adaptation too. Ryohgo Narita’s tale of Ikebukuro as seen through the eyes of an eclectic mix of individuals, each harboring out-of-this-world secrets, is also his most well known. In Japan it’s far more popular than the work which proceeded it, Baccano. Here, at least initially, it was quite the opposite, although we’re still waiting for Yen to release the Baccano light novel later this year.

The delay likely means that many picking up this book are already very familiar with the story being told. The anime stuck to the novel very faithfully. Framed in the context of a high school student Mikado Ryuugamine moving to Tokyo, to the area of Ikebukuro. He came in search of excitement in the city, meeting up with his old friend Masaomi Kida, whom he kept in contact with online after Kida had moved years before. We get to see Mikado’s activities online before we’re given his alias, as he trades gossip with his other chat room regulars. Those regulars are gradually introduced over the course of the story in a clever and coy setup which perfectly illustrates how you never really know whose on the other side of the keyboard.

Mikado is not exactly an interesting hook though, so we have the headless rider to lay the groundwork for the supernatural elements to this story. The author wastes little time in introducing Celty Sturluson, a mythological dullahan who is searching Tokyo for her missing head. Rather than leave her a mysterious boogieman we quickly get her side of the story, and she becomes just one of the many colorful characters roaming the streets.

The main mystery which drives all of these characters in this volume is that of a missing classmate of Mikado’s. The reader is lead to believe that just some of the shady stuff going down in the city happens to include kidnappings. Human experimentation hides the shadows, along with a woman driven to perverse lengths for the love for her brother. She might even help him get away with a murder or two. Then there are those dangerous characters that Kida warns Mikado about, such as the short-tempered Shizou and shifty Izaya. Izaya makes a bold entrance to the story as someone who is likely capable of great acts of terror if it didn’t almost immediately bore him. Then there are the freelancers who claim to be members of the group called the ‘dollars,’ but are the violent teenagers friend or foe?

All of these characters and storylines quickly begin to meet. The author does a tremendous job juggling the scenes and scenarios without confusing the reader. The reveal of who everyone is in relationship to each other and the payoff of the climax is still as satisfying as I remember it being from the anime adaptation. The unexpected bonus is the quirky love stories which drive some of the motivations for the characters. Weird love stories seem to come quite easily to the author.

My only real complaint about how the narrative comes together happens during the scene where Mikado begins to piece together what happened. He’s far too quick to trust the two people that impose on him. If he had made just one more connection involving their online identities that trust would have felt earned. Instead, he just dives right into disclosing what he knows to them. Even though he was backed into a corner and even though they shared a common goal, it makes you wonder just how drunk on adventure Mikado was. It’s a hard swing from careful worry to all in.

The translation is excellent, providing a very smooth read for a character dense novel set in a foreign city. There are just enough carefully worked in explanations for places and world play that otherwise would have left readers in the dark. Even so, many of Kida’s ‘clever’ wordplay jokes simply aren’t funny, but I have to wonder if that’s just Kida being Kida. Likewise, the bookworms rattling off endless pop-literature references to each other comes off about as coherently as overhearing any two geeks talking with only in-jokes. That is to say… they don’t make a damn lick of sense to anyone but themselves. I noticed no typos or typesetting mistakes.

Yen Press is releasing Durarara as part of their Yen On line and this book retains the trim and presentation of other titles in that line. There’s a fold-out color illustration which introduces the cast to the reader with some choice quotes. Black and white illustrations are scattered among the chapters, and an author’s afterword to close out the volume.

In Summary
Durarara hits the ground running and wastes no time introducing the reader to a colorful cast of characters and their lives in Ikebukuro. The mix of strange happens and colorful characters is incredibly fun. The fast-paced mystery has just the right number of misdirects and tense moments to keep the reader flipping pages. The only part that falls flat is the brief humor, which is lost in translation and was probably lost on many readers in Japanese as well. However, the action and engaging cast interactions are the draw here, not the humor. Existing Durarara fans will find the original article has held up well, but there’s not much left on the cutting room floor to dig through. New readers will be well served by having this as their introduction to the series.

Content Grade: A –
Art Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B +
Text/Translation Grade: A –

Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Yen Press
Release Date: July 21st, 2015
MSRP: $14.00


Kate has a long history of leaving pieces of herself all over the internet, alighting upon fandom after fandom to briefly taste of its nectar before flitting away. She has accrued a collection of manga so large she believes her home may now have structural integrity issues. She also watches anime, plays video games, and occasionally writes and draws. You can also listen to her on the Fandom Post Radio podcast, available wherever fine podcasts are streamed.

Kate O’Neil – who has written posts on The Fandom Post.


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