cowboy bebop defined itself as “the work that itself becomes a new genre”, which could mean that it would inspire the works that follow it to echo its storytelling, or that nothing else could compare. Thinking back to popular anime of the past two decades, Durarara!! looks like something so indefinite, and not a single other show looks like it.
Durarara started as a light novel written by Ryohgo Narita in 2004, the same spirit behind baccano and more recent tales like Fate/Strange False. The story was first adapted to animation in 2010 by studio Brain’s Base before getting a three-part sequel that aired from 2015 to 2016, this time animated by studio Shuka. The story begins with the arrival of Mikado Ryuugamine in Ikebukuro, a small district of Tokyo, as he is engulfed in a sea of rumors, legends, gangs, specters, and other assorted revelry. In the first season alone, an absurd number of characters are in the spotlight as everyone’s stories collide and coalesce in unexpected ways.
The world is small
There are plenty of anime with dramatically intertwining plot threads, but few with so many characters to work with and fewer that intersect so many plot lines with such ease. And as often as this show’s tension builds to a crescendo to punctuate these clashing stories, it deserves praise for the flippant and cool way the stories weave together to these points.
Gen Z anime fans may remember falling in love with the series as youngsters in middle school and high school, a ripe place to fall in love with. Durarara like any other. There was so much to grab so quickly there was something for everyone and between the visuals and the dreamlike music of Makoto Yoshimori, it felt like an urban fantasy as appealing as any world of magic offered. by the most popular shonen.
And he did all that so well by setting it up in a real place and a rather small and compact neighborhood in Toshima City, Tokyo. It’s a neighborhood with a lot of commercial history, and this size contributes to the large character of the setting. It’s a small town, and so of course there are so many characters, because in such a small place with so many big personalities, they’re bound to intersect.
There is no protagonist
There aren’t really any main characters, and while Mikado or one of the more prominent posters might be worthy candidates, in the grand reckoning of story themes, no character should be more prominent. Everyone is a protagonist, because Durarara is not a story but an aggregate of stories.
Granted, there are characters whose own stories are more thematically tied to the thesis behind this aggregate, and so antagonists like Izaya take center stage. Izaya is the schemer behind the story, pulling people’s strings and unleashing calamities to bring the city to the brink of destruction.
In this way Shizuo may be the true protagonist, given that they are Izaya’s direct rival and a contradiction to their way of life. However, viewers are more likely to call Mikado or maybe the Headless Horseman Celty the main character based on their goals and journeys and how they intersect with Izaya. Plus, few characters are as iconic as Celty with his black biker suit and yellow motorcycle helmet.
Either way, the show makes every character named someone very important who could justifiably be anyone’s favorite character. After the long hiatus between seasons 1 and 2, the prospect of new characters was tantalizing, and the sequel wasted no time introducing new residents of Ikebukuro with compelling stories.
A discreet masterpiece
The legacy of Durarara is additionally impressive in that it’s remembered so fondly though it’s not always the loudest, prettiest, or most conventional by any stretch of the imagination. As the series continued, it was not sakuga rich and sometimes the budget seemed to run out.
However, few viewers of the show would feel seriously compelled to point it out, let alone notice it in the first place. By the nature of the story she had to tell, Durarara succeeded because it was a ridiculously well-written drama with striking and instantly recognizable artwork, a stellar voice cast, and a unique and memorable soundtrack.
This is thanks to the work of the creative heads who have remained mostly consistent throughout the change of studios, namely director Takahiro Omori and composer Makoto Yoshimori. A story this complex needs a good hand to guide it and a world this cool needs a soundtrack to make it sing.
Durarara may very well be “a work that becomes a new genre in itself” in the same way as Bebop. In this case, Durarara is a 21st century modern urban Rashomon, where the occult, the criminal, the mad and the romantic collide. It’s to the generation that has become obsessed with what the likes of be bop was to previous generations.
Durarara!! is available to stream via Funimation.
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