How Durarara!!x2 Restored My Faith in Anime
My relationship with anime has always been more defined by the time I spent away from it. Growing up, I used to think I was the biggest anime fan in the world. It’s a reasonable claim to make, especially if you were the only person in class who actually watched the stuff. Even more so if you didn't have a big group of friends to compare notes with. If you’d asked kids in the early 2000’s about their idea of cool, anime certainly wouldn't be on the top of the list.
Of course, mainstream series seemed to always get a pass. Stuff like Slam Dunk, Dragonball Z, and Yu Yu Hakusho seemed to transcend the medium, which meant that kids who watched these shows could escape the dreaded ‘nerd’ term. Nobody wanted to be slapped with a nickname like ‘nerd’ in school, especially if the word ‘weirdo’ was going to come right after that.
But that’s growing up for you. Kids are supposed to like cartoons, while the adults are supposed to outgrow them and find the more serious things. Anime always seemed to float on the periphery, so obviously a cartoon (yes it is, don’t @ me), yet still a level lower than its Western counterparts. Cartoons were always meant to be for the kids, but with anime, the hate was somehow always something else. It was okay to say you liked Cartoon Network. What wasn't okay was admitting you liked watching Japanese cartoons.
There are many reasons that explain this line of thinking. You could blame it on the cultural and language divide. Maybe it was the wild wardrobe and hairstyle choices that turned people off. Or is it safe to assume that it’s because of those creepy, basement-dwelling fans?
In the end, I let go of anime. Even if I got introduced to shows that would become my life-long favorites – Rurouni Kenshin, Slam Dunk, Bleach – I eventually had to give it up. I wish I could say it was because I grew up and figured out cartoons weren't my thing, but really, it was because I’d grown sick of the new stuff that was coming out.
Understand this: I had limited means to watch my anime back then. Because everything coming out of the TV was dubbed, bootleg DVDs were the only way I could get my regular quality fix. Using the internet wasn’t even a thing before – unless you wanted to ban everyone in the house from using the phone first.
Giving up on anime did not come quickly. It was a steady process that saw some brief gasps of refreshing air with stuff like Sakamichi no Apollon, Psycho Pass, Cowboy Bebop, and the first Shingeki no Kyojin season. In my quest to find mature series that would justify my first TV love, I stumbled upon a few gems. Even then, none of them were enough to draw me back in completely.
Maybe I made up the excuse of having no time to binge on series – even if that was exactly what I did with Sakamichi no Apollon.
Maybe I deluded myself into thinking that good shows were the exception to the rule – much like the way I explained my approval for Psycho Pass and Cowboy Bebop.
Maybe I believed that I didn't have the resources to watch the newer shows – even if I watched the Shingeki no Kyojin series online.
Or maybe – just maybe – I hadn't found The One just yet.
A Return to the Familiar
It was my love for Baccano! that led me to Durarara!!, and even if the former title was the more superior of the two, it was the latter that really stuck with me and became a favorite. I always seem to like the more unpopular stuff in an artist’s repertoire anyway, kind of like the way I enjoyed Reservoir Dogs more than Pulp Fiction, or the way I consider The Voyage of the Dawn Treader my favorite Narnia book.
You can blame my love for Durarara!! on the city. The city’s always held a special point of interest for me, so the more urban a setting is, the better. Anything with a district that’s got so much personality, that it stands out as its own character – that’s a surefire way to get my interest and my attention.
It’s the key ingredient that makes Durarara!! so special for me. More than its cast of characters, the city of Ikebukuro – especially at night – feels so alive and so limitless. Of course, that’s the very thing the series chose to commemorate and deconstruct, but I’ll get into that later.
Hitting the streets of Ikebukuro felt a lot like coming back home again. I was still in my Gotta Watch ‘Em All stage of anime viewing when I watched the first season six or seven years ago. Seeing the sequel in 2017 was a nice little retreat back to something familiar. Getting myself re-acquainted with the characters didn't come immediately, but it didn't take me a long time to get comfortable either.
A city relies on its residents as much as they have to rely on it. Without the other, neither would really have much of a story to tell. That’s how it is with Ikebukuro and the massive cast of Durarara!! Watching this show is a real commitment. Because the story jumps from one character to the next without much warning, your attention’s got to be at its peak if you want to keep up. Do that and you’ll find the experience extremely rewarding.
It takes a while for things to set up and start rolling, but once the pieces start falling into place one by one, you’ll find that all the tangled threads smoothen out in the most satisfying manner.
The setting of Durarara!! is what gives the show life, but ultimately, it’s the characters who keep it moving. You don’t have to like all the characters to like a story. For example, I still don’t get the hype for Izaya, and I still get a little queasy when it comes to Celty and Shinra’s bizarro relationship. The trick is to get invested in enough of them, so that when they run against each other and let the sparks fly, the end result is something memorable.
Conflict’s the stuff that makes a series tick – which is exactly what Durarara!! excels at, ticking until things grind to the split-second halt that comes before every major explosion.
A Story on Every Block and AvenueI guess a lot of the appeal the city holds for me lies in the variety of stories you’re bound to encounter here. In the city, everyone is going through something, but you’ll be lucky to hear even a portion of that life story. Durarara!! offers just the treat, thanks to all the story snippets that get revealed to the audience.
This is not a conventional series. It’s got a start and an end, but it stands out because of its incredibly complex middle. It’s got the vibe of a shonen series, where a young hero sets out on his own to become something bigger, but look a little closer and you’ll find that the show jams to its own beat entirely. Instead of having the plot dictate how the characters will behave, it’s the characters and their relationships that drive the story forward.
Durarara!! is a show that relies heavily on the way its characters will react to situations that – you guessed it – were created after another separate set of reactions. Even if the progression of events might become too convoluted for its own good, and even if some characters drop out of the story completely, it’s a series that’s still worth following. The more plot threads there are, the more alive the city feels. It’s a neat little thing that clearly works in the series’ favor.
A Different Kind of Moral for the KiddiesTypical, Durarara!! is not. It might be a shonen and it could be an adventure-type urban fantasy, but it hits the sweet spot that makes it go beyond simple genres. It definitely isn't a seinen series, but it’s got a mature way of looking at life and the way of the world.
The show’s running theme is that it’s okay to be ordinary – even when you find yourself in the midst of Russian gangsters, street gangs, serial killers, and headless bikers, there’s no immediate pressure to stand out just because you want to belong. Case in point: your hero, Mikado Ryuugamine. A walking contradiction, Mikado is a painfully-ordinary student who only has a tricked-out name to his, well… name. He’s your usual country boy with big dreams of making it in the city. But the city’s huge and full of secrets, so of course he isn't going to come of age completely unscathed.
Hence, the unconventional moral lesson for something that looks like your average adventure series. As the show’s characters cross paths and interact, you have Mikado silently plugging away in the background and slowly trudging along at his own pace. Before you know it, he’s turned into someone completely different and it’s a change that’s more than unnerving. Eventually, Mikado gets burned out when he tries to be something he’s not. When everything spirals out of control, it’s no longer Mikado’s fault – but the whole mess is his responsibility all the same.
It's also something that happens a lot in real life, especially when you start things you can't finish.
The resolution: dream big, but dream within your means. Other anime series will tell you you’re special or that you might be meant to save the world in your own way. In Durarara!! there isn't any world to save, nor is there some grand quest you must overcome. Instead, you’re told to take life as it is and to stay true to you.
Don’t be afraid to be ordinary.
What was the last time a cartoon told you to do that?
A Restoration of Faith and A Triumphant ReturnWatching Durarara!!x2 opened my eyes to a whole new reality: that anime could be mature and grown-up without resorting to excessive violence or sex. Take the return to something familiar, add it with the experience of seeing something totally unique and new, and you have yourself a regular prodigal son making his way back to the fold.
Am I exaggerating? Obviously.
I’ll be the first to admit that Durarara!! isn't the best series out there. It’s got its own set of flaws that are hard to overlook, even when you get into the groove of things. But consider the long break I took from anime, because I’d believed that it all became boobs and loli and voice actresses high on helium. Then imagine the relief and restoration of faith I had after seeing the animated equivalent of some kind of special epiphany.
I could have fun with anime again.
That much should be obvious: in 2016, I thought I swore off anime completely. In 2017, I've been doing nothing but catch up with everything I missed whenever I got the time. As the year comes to an end, I look forward to watching more shows in 2018 and beyond. If nothing else, I've got Durarara!!x2 to thank for getting me excited for new anime again.
Just don’t ask me to explain anime-only relationships like this one and we’re good.
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