Friday, May 14, 2010

Durarara!! and Me

My relationship with Durarara!! is a complicated one. In the middle of our weekly, sweet, passionate love-makin' the name Baccano! is accidentally hurled out and is naturally followed by an agonizing awkward silence before she bolts upright and storms out the door. And I feel this has happened 17 consecutive times.

Fact of the matter is, there was a time where I couldn’t help but feel that not only was Durarara!! the spiritual successor to Baccano!, but by virtue of its unoriginality when compared to Baccano!, it shouldn't have been allowed anywhere near the former's blood-soaked legacy. Baccano!'s unconventional storytelling mechanism was nothing short of pure genius, its action was dismemberingly visceral and the Mafia/Great Depression backdrop added an incredible amount of personality to the plot. Even if it was penned by the same author, how could Durarara!!, a series set in present day Japan with a strictly linear plot progression and subdued violence, ever turn out to be more than just a lame pretender?

As much as I hate to admit it, Durarara!! is poised to pass Baccano! or at the very least crank out a photo finish during the pivotal final stretch of this race.

You see, while Durarara!! is not as energetic or innovative as Baccano!, it takes the coarse, crude formula that made Baccano! successful and refines the whole shebang, giving it an elegant makeover while leaving the core integrity intact. Whereas Baccano! was a kid thrashing about wildly in a sandbox with no rhyme or reason, Durarara!! is like a kid erecting a full-fledged sandcastle.

I'm not here to thoroughly analyze Durarara!! No, I just want to give an idea of what I think it does better than Baccano! and why it deserves equally as much love and maybe more if the upcoming finale can deliver something earth-shattering and memorable.

For one, the setting of Ikebukero is well-defined, compelling, and familiar whereas in Baccano!, there is no central location to act as an infinite fount of supernatural shenanigans. Ikebukero is lively, organic, and atmospheric, thanks to the fact that paranormal elements such as headless Dullahans on motorbikes and hive-mind sword sisters are constantly ping-ponging off each other like free radicals. As a central hub overflowing with ominous weirdness while also maintaining the appearance of a tidy, unassuming cosmopolis, Ikebukero serves its purpose to the story almost too well.

For two, the characters receive much more focus here and are thus more interesting and easier to get behind. Don't get me wrong; Baccano!'s eclectic characters were a lot of fun, but, barring the incomparable Isaac and Miria, I'd love to kick back and chill with some of the mainstays of Durarara!! before any of Baccano!'s ensemble cast.

Celty is Badass Adorable; friendly and approachable while also alluringly shrouded in both black mist and mystery. And she's a tsundere. Shinra is also someone I'd like to chat with; maybe we could swoon over Celty while I watch him get flogged by shadowy tendrils for leaking too much private information.

Then there's Izaya, who is an earmark of author Ryohgo Narita in that he's cheerfully loopy and LOVES ALL OF HUMANITY while secretly seeking to pull the earth out from underneath the entire city. Not only is Izaya like the kind of troll that's so good at what he does that it's impossible not to like him, but he actually is a troll in the show as he poses as a girl in online chatrooms, flaunting his whimsical flippancy for all of cyber-Ikebukero to see. Oh, and he trolls Shizuo by balancing soda cans on his shoulder when he's not looking.

Speaking of Shizuo, he's my favorite character in the entire show. I fell in love with him after that absurd episode focusing on his upbringing and there's just something about the way he sidles through life casually chucking vending machines every which way while asserting that he is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, a peaceful person that's ridiculously charming in that tongue-in-cheek sort of way. It also helps that his verbal tics are hilariously quirky (Kill it, kill it, kill it...) and his one-track mind focused on the death of Izaya makes him someone I'd love to tag along with everywhere. Not to mention the fact that said one-track mind is so simple and his demeanor so nonchalant that he's the only one who is free from Izaya's sweeping, manipulative grip, making him one sharply-dressed, disrobing-punch flinging, GAR-ly spanner in the works.

Most significantly of all, Durarara!! has mastered the idea of a spectacle show. If Baccano! is like a rollercoaster ride through gangster-riddled New York, Durarara!! is akin to hopping on the bus for a guided tour of Ikebukero. Yes, the pacing is not as frantic, but I think giving the pot of supernatural oddities time to marinate while passing all the mind-bending aberrations at a reasonable pace gives ample time for the eerie mood to set in, jaws to sufficiently slacken, and crazy theories to be spun. Watching the mystery of Celty's head, the origin of the Dollars gang, the birth of the daughters of Saika, and the maturation of Izaya's malevolent plan unfurl at a carefully measured rate was far more rewarding than blowing by all the major plot revelations and occult craziness at breakneck speed.

Granted, as of this writing, I'm only 17 episodes into the series, but the show has already blown my mind. I've already gotten over my tsundere attitude towards the show and fully acknowledge that it has the potential to outshine Baccano! if it takes advantage of its enormous strengths for the final third. Here's hoping the now-trifurcated Ikebukero can rally together to put an end to Izaya's scheme once and for all.

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