Review for Durarara!! Season 1
They say that the third time is the charm. Will it be third time lucky for Durarara!!? It’s my third time reviewing the show, following my review for the Australian DVDs that I originally imported, and last year’s Limited Edition Blu-ray release from All the Anime. It’s also the third release of this title in the UK, following the initial Beez subtitle only release, and last year’s Blu-ray. This is the Standard Edition Blu-ray from All the Anime, and you may wonder what the difference is. After all, most anime standard editions are just the collector’s edition discs in plain packaging. Not this time though.
I was never quite happy with Siren’s DVD release, which had problems with its subtitling, and suffered from edge enhancement, so last year’s Collector’s Edition Blu-ray was a high definition upgrade that I was eager for. All the Anime sourced the masters from Siren Visual in Australia, eschewing the expensive Aniplex Japanese import version. Alas all wasn’t good with Siren Visual’s effort. Just like the Aniplex release, it lacked a signs only track to go with the English dub, practically a necessity in a show as rich with screen text as Durarara!!, while it stripped out the Japanese subtitles and reduced the disc count from five to four. The latter wouldn’t be a problem, as the image quality and audio quality certainly stood up to scrutiny. The real problem was with the English subtitles for the Japanese dialogue. They were flawed to say the least. Occasional subtitles would flash on screen for just a frame, some would be corrupted with random text, some subtitles would be mistimed, half an episode had them out of sync by a quarter of a second, and some subtitles were missing altogether. It was bad enough for me to create a list. And navigating one of the discs crashed my Blu-ray player.
For a show as good as Durarara!!, that just wasn’t good enough, and that’s what All the Anime thought as well. They cancelled the subsequent DVD release, and decided to put in the considerable expense to re-author the Blu-rays from scratch. This Durarara!! is all brand new, and it’s the only Western Blu-ray release at this time to offer a songs and signs only track to go with the English audio. The long delayed DVDs that will be released on the same day are mastered using the same subtitle assets as these new Blu-rays. And yes, Simon Brezhnev’s Russian dialogue is captioned for English dub viewers. Note that this isn’t the wall of text signs captions that you might have expected if the Crunchyroll streams were all that you’d seen of this show. All the Anime have taken the decision to not bother translating screen text that is spoken out loud anyway, so most of the chatroom scenes have only the user handles translated, and Celty’s phone never needs translating once her inner voice kicks in. All the Anime announced a disc replacement scheme for anyone who bought the Limited Edition, so you should be catered for. What’s more, Siren Visual look to be intending the same for their Blu-ray release using All the Anime’s new masters. I really do hope that it is third time lucky for Durarara!!, that I’ll be able to get through the discs without hitting a landmine of a subtitle flub. Here goes...
How do you even begin to describe a show like Durarara!!? Various lives collide in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro, and all kinds of bizarre stuff happens. That isn’t exactly the most clear of series descriptions, but Durarara!! isn't a show which predicates clarity. It’s a complex interweaving of narrative, various characters’ lives are explored, often presenting visions of events from different perspectives with different meanings. The stories mix, intermingle, switch back on themselves, and jump all over the place. And in Durarara!! this is a good thing.
We meet Mikado Ryugamine, naive newcomer to Ikebukuro, a country boy attending a big city high school, where he’s reunited with his best friend. Initially intimidated by the city, he develops an unhealthy fascination with the local gang culture, particularly the Dollars gang, who have replaced the Yellow Scarves as top dogs. His best friend is Masaomi Kida, who’s quick to fill him in on Ikebukuro, who’s friendly, and more importantly who to avoid. He’s a happy go lucky guy, but one with a dark past. A sort of love triangle develops, a rivalry between the two friends over class rep Anri Sonohara. Anri’s in Ikebukuro looking for her friend Mika Harima who has vanished, and avoiding the attentions of a rather creepy teacher. Another schoolgirl, Rio Kamichika gets stressed by her home life, wanders into the wrong part of town at the wrong time of night, gets kidnapped, rescued, and then runs into Izaya Orihara.
Izaya is one of the guys that Mikado’s supposed to avoid, something of a sociopath, master manipulator, who likes to poke people just to see how they react. The only guy capable of keeping him vaguely in check is Shizuo Heiwajima, the other guy who Mikado is supposed to avoid. Shizuo is insanely strong, and insanely violent, prone to throwing street furniture at Izaya at every opportunity. The only guy capable of keeping Shizuo in check is the Russian sushi vendor, Simon, but he’s a nice guy (the only reason to avoid him is some rather weird sushi). Seiji Yagiri turned up to school on the first day only to drop out. He’d much rather find and be with his girlfriend, a mute girl with a scar around her neck, and whose head doesn’t match her body. Seiji’s sister runs the family pharmaceutical company, and keeps a girl’s head floating in a jar...
And with all this going on, rumours start to fly around Ikebukuro. The social networks are buzzing with gossip. There are teenage girls being abducted to be used in human experimentation. There’s a slasher around stalking helpless victims. There’s a headless motorbike rider who’s going around looking for her missing head. And the Dollars are behind it all. Some of the rumours are even true. The headless biker is called Celty, works as a courier, she shares an apartment with a Yakuza doctor named Shinra Kishitani, and she likes watching the X Files.
26 episodes of Durarara!! including the 2 bonus episodes are presented across 4 Blu-ray discs as follows.
1. Exit 1/First Words
2. Highly Unpredictable
3. Rampant Evil
4. Utterly Alone
5. False Advertising
6. Active Interest
7. Bad-ass Dude
8. Ephemeral Dream
9. Love and Cherish
10. Never Before Seen
11. Storm and Stress
12. Yin and Yang
12.5. Heaven’s Vengeance
13. Takes a Sudden Turn
14. Turmoil Reigns
15. Dumb Like a Fox
16. Mutual Love
17. Everything Changes
18. Out of Your Control
20. A New King Will Arise
21. Everything Covered in Fog
22. Declaration of Disbandment
23. Complicated and Confused
24. Selfless Devotion
25. World at Peace
Durarara!! gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer at the 1080p resolution. These may not be the Siren discs, having been authored afresh, but the image quality is on a par with the first release from All the Anime. The transfer is sublime. I couldn’t spot any compression, and digital banding too is non-existent. It’s a clear, sharp and colourful presentation of a gorgeous, contemporary set anime, and if I mention that one line of character art in episode 4 exhibited aliasing, or there’s a bit of shimmer on the fine lines in the second end sequence, that’s only to indicate the extreme level of nitpicking that you’ll have to do to find fault with this transfer. It goes without saying that those issues I had with edge-enhancement and shimmer in the DVD collection are long forgotten here.
The show’s fantastic animation and art design stand out to good effect. The character designs are very special in this show, while the style offers realism with a fantastic twist that really works well for the story. The Blu-ray presentation brings out the true richness of the colour palette, while in HD I realise that the show makes significant use of textures in its artwork, something I had missed on DVD. Things like fabrics, upholstery, carpets, school blackboards, architecture, all exhibit a rich, layered feel that only becomes apparent on Blu-ray. This is the definitive way to watch the show.
The images used in this review were kindly supplied by All the Anime.
You have the choice between PCM 2.0 English and Japanese stereo, both encoded at 1.5 Mb per second. You get optional translated subtitles for the Japanese audio, and you now get an optional songs and signs track for the English audio. This time the default setting for the discs is English with songs and signs. As you can guess with lossless audio, Durarara!! sounds fantastic. I love the Japanese track, as that’s the way I first saw the show. But the English dub is worthwhile too, as the translators know that they have a special property on their hands, and the actors do their characters full justice. Durarara!! is one show that you can happily watch in either language and get an equivalent experience with both. The show gets some very quirky incidental music, little off tempo riffs and whimsical melodies that counterpoint the drama, and heighten the show’s absurdity. The show also gets some absolutely ripping theme songs and you’ll never skip a credit sequence. I did still feel that on disc 3, the Japanese dialogue was a little low in the mix, but it was still audible throughout.
But the all important thing here is that the subtitles have been fixed. End of story, buy with confidence. To clarify, there are no longer subtitles corrupted with strange characters, no typos, no flashing subs, no missing subs, no mistimed subs. It all works as it is supposed to. Most important for dub viewers, there’s now a full songs and sign track for you, so you still see the all important on-screen text translated, and you do get subtitles for Simon’s Russian dialogue.
One thing you might notice is in episode 17, about 5 minutes in, the on screen text isn’t translated. It wasn’t translated in the previous collection either, but there was a whole lot of subliminal, background dialogue which was mostly translated. In this release only the dialogue which you can actually make out is translated, so it looks like there are fewer subtitles at that point. But the scene is a Saika, ‘stream of consciousness’ freak out, and while you get the intent of the scene, there’s nothing spoken which is actually essential to the plot.
Although I haven’t seen the packaging, I assume that with this being the Standard Edition, it will just be four discs in a Blu-ray Amaray. But surely newly authored discs will get new label art. They certainly get new menu screens, opting for a static white minimalist artwork as opposed to Siren’s nightlife vistas. Once again however, the music playing over the menus exhibits the 4% speed-up of a PAL source, and only the first disc has extra features, amounting to the textless credit sequences, both openings and both closings. At least this time they’re labelled correctly.
I didn’t realise how much of a difference just fixing the subtitles would make with this show. I effortlessly breezed through the show this time around, suffering no distractions, no errors, no outright clangers that threw me out of the experience. This time Durarara!! was as close to perfect as I have seen it, and I just loved this show, even though I did just watch it for what is now the sixth time. This re-release couldn’t have come at a more useful time too, as I’ve just recently started catching up with the second series on Crunchyroll, and was having a devil of a time re-engaging with the characters, finding my way back into this twisted fantasy Ikebukuro world. A few episodes of the first series were all I needed to find my feet with the second.
Incidentally, this is my fifth review of Durarara!! for the site, and rather than rehash and repeat what I said about this fantastic story once more, I’ll opt for the expedient of just linking to my previous review of the Limited Edition. Just ignore all that I said in that review about the subtitles, as it’s no longer relevant.
One thing that I did realise yet again with this viewing of the show is that the anime just gets better and better with each re-watch. There’s always something new about the story that you probably missed on the previous viewing, and the joy of the story is in the quality of the characterisations, and that’s never going to diminish. I’m coming to see Durarara!! as one of the best anime released in recent years, and it’s up there in my estimation alongside Cowboy Bebop, Evangelion, and Full Metal Alchemist as exemplars of the medium.
Once more, Durarara!! is brilliant, and in this release it is fixed. Everything works as it should. Ditch the Beez DVDs, ditch the Siren DVDs, keep the Limited Edition and apply for All the Anime’s disc replacement scheme, or just buy this Standard Edition on Blu-ray or on All the Anime’s new DVD collection. This is the definitive release of Durarara!!, and I’ve already seen comments on some US forums from fans ready to import this release for the songs and signs subtitles, and buy a multi-region Blu-ray player to play it on. I wouldn’t blame them. I could be nitpicky about the shimmer on the 2nd end credit sequence. I could niggle at the slightly lower dialogue volume on disc 3, but not even I’m that petty. I’ve finally got my hands on the Durarara!! I always wanted. You can have it too now.