What’s with that name? It’s just a big jumble of sounds! But you’re right, it is just a jumble of sounds, like the rumble of a powerful engine on a black sportbike just before it zooms away into countless mysteries and strange encounters with the world of humans. This series has a multitude of characters, most of who are pretty interesting, a rambling story that does the job, and classic modern artwork that screams anime. This was one of the first ever anime I watched, and after rewatching large portions of it recently, I am very happy to relive my memories of it here with all of you.
This anime has a lot of characters. So many that it becomes difficult to keep up with who’s who at times. This gets worse as they move into progressive seasons. Not only are there a lot of characters, there are a lot of groups that these various individuals associate with or belong to that make it even harder to keep with who’s who. As far as characters go, this makes it difficult to develop characters beyond their basic-plus development. Difficult I say, but obviously not impossible, as this series does a pretty good job with this. Almost every character ends up being memorable, to varying degrees for sure, but nonetheless.
After some serious thought, I realized there’s a simple approach to viewing these characters which makes it not only easier to comprehend them all, but also I believe is a reasonable way to view the story as a whole. Because it is difficult to define a single main character in this show. Arguments could be make for three: Ryugamine Mikado, Celty Sturlson, and Izaya Orihara. The story is driven forward by these three in very different ways, and all three are surrounded by all the various supporting characters. So there’s a couple of ways to associate all the characters. The first is you could associate them with any of these three and group them accordingly. This is a little problematic however, as the lines between these groups become very unclear. The second way is what I prefer: Ryugamine exists on one end of the spectrum, Celty Sturlson on the other end. Everyone else falls in the middle. What of Izaya? He controls the movement of everyone in between. As much as he may imagine it, he never demonstrates control over Mikado or Celty. In fact, most of the time when his plans go awry, it’s because he’s trying to manipulate either of these two. So while it’s a little arbitrary of me, I think it’s apt to consider the characters on this spectrum.
Mikado is a very interesting kind of driving force. The first season plus some establishes Mikado’s influence in the events of the story. He works mostly from behind others, only at times appearing spectacularly at the center of so many moving pieces. His establishing the Dollars (an interesting choice of name) and his method of expanding and manipulating the totality of it is remarkably well done, at least through the end of the first full arc. As a character individually, he is pretty unremarkable. Simple hair and face, plain clothes, ordinary dull eyes, he’s perhaps the most bland MC ever imagined. It’s possible this contributes to the other two I mentioned kind of assuming part of that role, but nonetheless, I think his relative invisibility is a remarkable attribute that makes him unique. If there’s anything characters do well in this series, it’s knowing who they are, what their abilities are, and how to use those attributes and their position in their little world to get what they want. And he definitely does well in this regard. There’s not a ton more I can add about this guy. He is what he is, remarkable in his unremarkableness.
Then you have Celty Sturlson. Celty exemplifies the mystery and supernatural side of this story. This is part of the reason I like to place her at the opposite end of the spectrum from Ryugamine. Everything he is, Celty is almost the complete opposite. Where Mikado looks innocent and devises extensive plots, Celty looks menacing and puts our fires and fights those who stir up conflict. Where Mikado operates from the shadows, Celty operates in plain sight. “Really?” you might think. Celty primarily avoids the spotlight, doesn’t she? Perhaps, but who in the city doesn’t know about her? She either exists as the so-called “urban legend,” (this is an interesting translation in English, and I wonder about its Japanese meaning) or people actually have seen her, interacted with her, or in that old policeman’s case, pursued her futilely. So in a sense, everyone knows about her. Few people even know Mikado exists, and have trouble even realizing he’s the leader of the Dollars.
And as unremarkable as Mikado is, Celty is doubly remarkable. Her svelte form astride her ultra-black motorcycle, the yellow cat-eared helmet, the smoky essence she controls. And oh yeah, she’s a headless creature called a dullahan, a mythical creature from the far away land of…Ireland? You bet. While this is not the only dullahan to appear in Japanese literature, and under that same appellation, it is nonetheless remarkable given the distance between these two lands and cultures. Outside of Ireland, the only dullahan instance known to popular literature is the famous Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow, one of the world’s most well-known modern legends (and American at that). Yet here one is, right in the middle of downtown Ikebukuro, Japan. It’s so much fun!
She is without doubt the most remarkable of the main corps of characters. Every aspect of her design is well done. She is dependable, loving at times, smart, direct in address. Lacking a head, she relies on text to communicate, and although it’s unbelievable for her to type that fast, it works really well as part of her character. But the best part, we lucky bastards watching get to hear her speak her lines! And the voice of Miyuki Sawashiro (Kanbaru Suruga in the Monogatari series, Sinon in SAO, among others) is as magnificent as ever. An easily memorable and iconic character, she is a favorite among the cosplayer world, and rightly so. I could go on and on about the aspect of her headlessness, and so many other fascinating things about her, but I must move on for now. Someday I might add details on her separately, as she’s worth the time it takes for good critical character analysis.
We must not forget Izaya Orihara. Those who forget about him tend to regret it. If Mikado drives the series forward, and Celty serves as a catalyst throughout, Izaya adds the kinetic energy for all of this to happen. He likes to think of himself as the ultimate power in this little realm called the Ikebukuro underworld. And he very well could be, but that for all his success in moving pieces and getting what he wants, he ultimately doesn’t particularly succeed by any measure. He ends up being what he outwardly claims to be only, an observer of the human race.
This is the most fascinating part about his character in my opinion. You could argue that his hubristic dialogue, his scheming, his design and appearance, his voice acting from Hiroshi Kamiya (Araragi from the Monogatari series, Yato from Noragami, and the great Levi Ackerman from AoT) are all fantastic. But it’s this ongoing theme he insists upon, that he is an observer of humankind, that makes him so remarkable. It’s perhaps explained best in one of the episodes in the x2 arc, by whom I forget at the moment: as a lover of cats might love to watch cats, so a lover of humans might love to watch humans. The exception to this example, of course, is that cat lovers don’t manipulate cats, and often in completely unethical ways, as a basis for their observation. Such is Izaya’s way. Seemingly without restraint, he sates his perverse love for humankind with far-reaching manipulations of information and people, all to, apparently, get reactions that he can predict and observe. He fancies himself a god, or at least non-human. And for some time, he almost convinces you he is. For long periods of time, and especially so in the first season, everything goes his way. Or, it seems like it does, until the very end. His self-satisfaction is only checked by the occasional and terminal interruptions to his plots, usually at the hands of Celty or Mikado. It’s so much fun watching his very human reactions to these unanticipated events. And almost unfailingly, the form of these unanticipated events ultimately takes the shape of a tall and lanky blonde bartender, purple glasses over his piercing eyes, with a vending machine heaved up on one shoulder.
Ahaha, the fascinating Shizuo Heiwajima, the second most bizarre character in this series. His dynamic is quite remarkable among the characters. The dynamic is this: he’s so strong he can handle any object that exists on the planet like it was a featherweight. It would cause a great deal of confusion and disturbance, but the author handles it in a masterful way: Shizuo is almost completely apathetic about the world around him. But his apathy ends where his presence begins. If something bad is happening and he’s nearby, he’s getting involved, and in a big way. This usually takes the form of a flying car, or a street sign wielded with deadly force, or some half-finished construction project being torn to pieces. The only thing he gets really frustrated about beyond his immediate area is Izaya, who he lives to hunt and battle. Their occasional battles occur almost always after Izaya’s plans begin to fall apart. This is most likely because it’s never a part of Izaya’s plan to encounter Shizuo. If anything disturbes Izaya’s life plans, it’s Shizuo’s existence. If there’s every any measure of Izaya’s plans, it’s his goal, and ultimate failure, to kill Shizuo. Yes, Shizuo thinks Izaya’s name is “bastard,” and Izaya mistakes Shizuo for a little girl.
Anri Sonohara is a strange character. Is there a sadder face in anime? Yes, but the point remains. I would like to talk more about her, as I like her a lot in the series, but she is at times all too convenient to the circumstances surrounding her. Particularly, her Saika, the embodied katana she carries, creates a rather blah “am I a monster?” theme running through her character. Saika and her “love” for humans has potential, particularly in context of Izaya’s purported “love” for humans. But this ends up trailing around aimlessly through the series, really only serving to create the doubtful and cautious personality that we associate with Anri. And then by the time we reach the x2 arc, it seems like everybody’s got a Saika ability, and the dynamic it causes ceases to be unique, and just causes confusion. The writer could have done better with this.
There are others I could go into. Masaomi is a tiresome character, but is the third part of the Mikado-Sonohara-Masaomi trio. The four otaku buddies in the VW van are fun, oddly reminiscent of Scooby Doo. They’re so goofy, but I particularly like how Walker Yumasaki can go from grinning otaku to grimly serious death machine. It happens very little, but it’s quite interesting when it happens. Kyohei is a strong character, and indeed, he is referred to as one of the main cogs of the Dollars, and the writer makes good use of this dynamic at least once. Erika I just like because she’s Erika! Hey, we all like our otaku girls. Interestingly, people kind of assign the “unicorn” status to female otakus, making her kind of interesting in this little world of humans and occasional supernatural beings. A subtle touch from this writer! And what’s up with that Russian sushi bar? They do a great job with these guys. Their stiff Japanese and interludes of Russian are funny. Varona gets thrown into the mix late, and adds a little humanness to Shizuo, which is interesting. Seiji and the women surrounding him are kind of funny. Haruna and her yandere eyes. The yakuza gangs that get involved add a lot of confusion in the characters and story, but Mizuki Akabayashi (I believe this does literally mean Red Demon, as he is occasionally referred to in the series) is a nice character.
I could go on and on. This series would get a 10 for characters except for the fact that there’s so many, it naturally takes its toll on development. As mentioned, they still manage this pretty well, but it nonetheless is hard on some characters (Anri, Seiji, Shinra Kishitani the underground doctor). Nonetheless, all these characters have something memorable about them.
An interesting visual work is Durarara!! The palette is rather on the gray side, somewhat unsaturated. I cannot think of a particular reason for this, other than to add mystery and a slight shadow over the strange events and supernatural elements in this tale. But I know I like it. The faces are all quite pale, and you’ll almost never see shadowing on any face. It’s used in surroundings and backgrounds, but rarely on faces. I like how this works, making the faces quite prominent when you’re watching. Detail is not minimal, but never overdoing it either. If I had to react to the artwork in any one specific way, I’d say that while this isn’t the most visually interesting anime, the art serves the story very well. And that’s primarily what you want from art beyond beauty and interest. When art does that well for a story, it takes on a new kind of beauty, and that’s definitely how I’d describe this art. Its beauty comes from the force it adds to this tale.
Well that’s a really difficult question actually. Categorically, stories will suffer when you have a gazillion characters. And this does. Through the first season plus some, the story winds around and comes to a head with Mikado’s grandiose revelation as the leader of the Dollars. This is a fun and engaging ending to first season, cementing Mikado’s status as a key figure in the series. But after that, the story loses its way. However, while it becomes confusing and unfocused, it does allow the characters to be themselves. By that I mean that the characters’ decisions and personalities drive each episode forward. In that sense, the story is the one they create purely on how they react. I like this, and here’s why.
Do characters create a story or do stories create characters? It’s an interesting question. And certainly one that would be of great interest to one of our friends from this series, Izaya Orihara. As the story becomes weak and confusing, it becomes so in great part because of the characters themselves. Yeah Mikado makes some strange decisions about the Dollars. Yeah Masaomi runs away and gets a girlfriend (really pretty by the way) and causes a lot of trouble. Yeah the plotline surrounding Celty’s lost head becomes weird. But through it all, the characters don’t break character. They fit into the story no matter what happens, and usually outright serve to create the story. I think Izaya would laugh heartily.
This anime becomes so sprawling that it loses something in the process. Yes, I have been most glowing in my praises to this point. But when everything loses a little bit along the way, and there are lots of different elements making up that everything, then the whole ultimately suffers. Durarara!! has that happen to it. If I had to sum it up, I’d say it goes on too long. Sometimes you gotta know when enough is enough, and let your characters and story and creation be.
But let me return to the glowing praise, now that I’ve explained the 7 rating. As I mentioned, this was one of the first anime I ever watched. To this day I remember the characters and their personalities and roles. I fondly remembered much of this as I rewatched some of the series recently, but I had not forgotten any of it. That is what great anime is about, being forever memorable. This one doesn’t miss that mark. It will always hold a special place in my love for anime.