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March 2011

Durarara!! - volume 1

voice cast: Toshiyuki Toyonaga, Daisuke Ono, Mamoru Miyano, Miyuki Sawashiro, Hiroshi Kamiya

director: Takahiro Omori

220 minutes (12) 2010
widescreen ratio 16:9
Beez DVD Region 2

RATING: 9/10
review by Sarah Ash




Durarara!! on DVD
Durarara!! - volume one

Welcome to Ikebukuro! Mikado Ryuugamine (Toshiyuki Toyonaga) arrives in Tokyo. The 15-year-old is transferring to a new school in the Ikebukuro district at the suggestion of his exuberant friend Masaomi (Mamoru Miyano) who introduces him to the neighbourhood - and to some of the more unusual people that inhabit its bustling streets. There's Simon, the black Russian sushi chef (Takaya Kuroda), and Shizuo (Daisuke Ono) the bar-tender with superhuman strength and a deadly ongoing feud against the sinister Izaya Orihara (Hiroshi Kamiya). Then there's the yakuza, the colour gangs: and the Dollars.

"Stay away from the Dollars," Masaomi warns cheerily, "I don't know the details but there's lots of them. And they're all a little nuts..." There's even a chance collision with a beautiful but terrified girl with unusual marking around her neck. But when Mikado sees the 'Headless Rider' zoom past on a black motorbike, an urban legend come to life, he begins to smile as the realisation that his life is never going to be the same again begins to sink in.

Durarara!! comes from the same creative team that brought us the brilliantly anarchic 1920s' gangsters meet alchemists series Baccano!; both series are based on the light novels of author Ryohgo Narita. And like Baccano! this offers an exuberantly varied cast of characters - and a host of intriguingly interwoven storylines. And by offering us a teenaged viewpoint character in Mikado, the country boy arriving in the big city, it draws us effortlessly into the story - although it takes several episodes before the most intriguing mystery of all, the story of the Headless Rider, begins to dominate the action.

By then, lots of clever little clues that have been planted earlier suddenly become significant. Another contemporary narrative device, the chatter on an Internet site about some of the mystifying events Mikado has witnessed, tantalises and elucidates in equal measure. How reliable are these unseen contributors? And who are they? And who - or what - is Celty Sturluson, and what is her link to an ancient Irish folk legend?

Distinguished from so many other current anime series by Takahiro Kishida's character designs based on mangaka Suzuhito Yasuda's bold and contemporary artwork (she's probably best known here for the manga Yozakura Quartet), Durarara!! is a pleasure to watch from its stylish opening sequence (introducing the main players) to its quirky eye-catches. Ikebukuro almost becomes a character in its own right as the neon-lit cityscapes become more than just a backdrop to the intriguing and sinister power games being played out on the streets. Heck, even the box these first nine episodes come in is really stylish, opening landscape-ways instead of the usual portrait-fashion.

Finding an appropriate opening song for an anime series is a challenge for any creative team - but when they get it right, as they do here with Uragiri no Yuuyake/ Betrayal Of The Sunset by funk-rock band Theatre Brook, it sets up all the right expectations. The blending of animated imagery with words and music should generate that 'chills down the back of the spine' moment. From classics like Cowboy Bebop, Escaflowne, and Fullmetal Alchemist, to the more recent Baccano! and Gurren Lagann, the opening sequence is key in setting the mood for what's to come. Composer Makoto Yoshimori produced the jazz-influenced score for Baccano! and the music for this Ikebukuro-based series is very different; but if I have one criticism, it would be that the same sequences are a little over-used, losing some of their distinctive quality.

Ingeniously riffing off urban legends, Durarara!! creates a genuine frisson in dealing with the supernatural in a contemporary setting (and manages to introduce Irish folklore without resorting to whimsy). Sometimes humorous, sometimes dark, sometimes just plain freakin' weird, the series is quietly but potently addictive. Nine episodes in, with another 17 to come (if we get the two extra DVD-only episodes, that is) - I can't wait to see where it's all going to end.

This DVD boxset from Beez comes subtitled only; for those that prefer a dubbed version, the US dub is currently available only on region one. Extras include text-less opening and ending sequences, and Beez trailers.



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