Review for Durarara!! X2 Sho Collector's Edition
I love Durarara!! I was kind of obsessed over it for a while. I first encountered creator Ryohgo Narita’s work when I saw his Baccano! adapted to anime form, and its prohibition era, mish-mash of storylines and fractured narrative was utterly compelling, and when it came to Durarara!! adapting his contemporary light novels, unlike my normal, binge watching practice, I watched the anime as it was simulcast on a weekly basis, and then I went back and watched it again! It too had that mish-mash of storylines, the fractured narrative that kept it energised and fascinating to watch. It also had a whole lot of pop-culture references and great characters thanks to its contemporary Ikebukuro setting. I got excited when the DVD was announced, disappointed at the delays, and then eagerly spent more money than I spend on equivalent Blu-rays importing the dub and sub DVDs from Australia. And then when the Blu-ray was announced, and released in the UK, I was front and centre to review the Blu-ray release, and I wound up QC-ing it as well. Which is why when a corrected version was released a few months later, I reviewed that too. I am still not bored with that first series of Durarara!!
I’ll let you imagine the happy dance I did when the second series was announced, after all, there are plenty of Durarara!! light novels that have yet to be adapted to anime. Once again, I was front and centre for its simulcast streaming, only this time I’ve only got as far as the middle of the second of its three arcs (it’s a 36-episode series) at the time of writing. But I get ahead of myself. One annoyance I can put at the head of the review is that we’re a little short-changed with it comes to the UK release of Durarara!! x2. As so often happens with the really good series, Aniplex of America have the rights for this show, and they like to release things in certain ways that don’t appeal to the wallets of the average UK fan. Each arc is split into two, 3 episodes per disc, across 2 discs per set, with extras. In those extras are the 3 OVA episodes (you might remember two of them slotting into the first season). That’s fine if you want to pay $100 RRP per set, six in total, but that release strategy is hard to sell in the UK. Anime Limited have negotiated the more attractive strategy of releasing Durarara!! x2 in its 3 arc form, but they’ve had to ditch the extras, including the OVA episodes. Colour me disgruntled. Hopefully they’ll be able to release the OVAs separately at a later date.
“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.”
That’s how I described the first season of Durarara!!, and it’s just as applicable to Durarara!! x2, as it catches up with events six months after the end of the first season. I’ll point you to my review of Season 1, to get a rough idea of what Durarara!! is about, as recapping that here, and offering a synopsis of Season 2 Part 1 will probably result in a wall of text.
Ikebukuro seems to have quieted down, following the mayhem that erupted around Saika/Dollars/Yellow Scarves six months previously. Mikado Ryugamine and Anri Sonohara are back at school, while Masaomi Kida is on an extended sabbatical. Shizuo Heiwajima still wants to pummel Izaya Orihara, and Izaya still revels in needling Shizuo. And the headless rider Celty Sturluson has become something of a celebrity around town, with even a reward posted for her true identity. But things are about to get hectic again. A new school year has started, and Izaya’s twin sisters Mairu and Kururi are starting high school, and they seem to share their big brother’s playful insanity, if not his Machiavellian traits. A new kid called Aoba Kuronuma desperately wants to be Mikado’s best friend, and he wants in to the Dollars as well. A little girl called Akane Awakusu wants to kill Shizuo Heiwajima, and she’s in the middle of a gang war as well. There’s a serial killer named Hollywood in town who falls into movie star Yuhei Hanejima’s (Shizuo Heiwajima’s younger brother) lap. There are a couple of Russian assassins mixing things up too. Ikebukuro is going to get crazy again!
The first twelve episodes of Durarara!! x 2, comprising its first arc are presented across 2 discs from All the Anime.
1. A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
2. Harmony is the Greatest of Virtues
3. Adding Insult to Injury
4. When in Rome, Do As the Romans Do
5. No One Knows What the Future Holds
6. A Crow in the Dark Night
7. Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears
8. The Ladies Man Has Neither Money Nor Power
9. The Day is Short, The Work is Long
10. The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree
11. No Use Crying Over Spilt Milk
12. Adversity Makes a Man Wise
Durarara!! x2 Part 1 gets a fine transfer from All the Anime. It’s not the Aniplex release (fewer discs, no OVA), but the image quality is excellent, the 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer coming across without incident. There’s no compression, no banding, at least to my eye, just a faithful presentation of the original source material. The problem is with the source material. For the second season of Durarara!!, anime production switched from Studio Brains Base to Studio Shuka and it does tell in the overall quality of the animation. The character designs are nigh on identical to the first season as you would expect, but the richness in the backgrounds is comparatively lacking. On top of that, the animation standards are quite variable, with some excellent action sequences to be sure, but also sequences where the quality just drops off a cliff. Episode 7 is one example, much complained about when it was first simulcast, and with people hoping that its animation would be corrected for the home video release, as so often happens these days. I don’t know if it was corrected or not, but the Russian sequences still don’t look up to snuff, as if they were animated by the work experience guys.
The images in this review were kindly supplied by All the Anime.
You have the choice between PCM 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. This time I stuck with the Japanese throughout, although my experience with the first series, and given that there is a continuity of voice cast here, suggests that the English will be a strong offering again. The dialogue was clear throughout, the show’s action represented well, and despite shifting studios, the show’s quirky music soundtrack returns. As per usual for new seasons, you get new theme songs as well, and while the opening theme is as Durarara as you can get, the vocoder mess of an end theme has me reaching for the skip button each time. One thing I noticed in this season, no-one, neither Japanese nor English, can pronounce ‘kabbadi’ correctly. The subtitles are timed accurately and are free of typos.
The discs present their content with static menus. There is a translated English language credit scroll at the end of the first disc. The sole extras on disc 2 amount to the textless credit sequences. It should be reiterated at this point that the OVA episode is limited to the Aniplex US release only.
I also haven’t seen the packaging, the stickers, or the 36-page booklet to comment.
Is it the difficult second album syndrome? Is it the diminishing returns that inevitably come with any sequel? Or is it just familiarity breeding contempt? I’m not sure, but I just didn’t enjoy the first third of Durarara!! x2 the way I enjoyed the first series. I originally ascribed it to my erratic viewing schedule. I only watch episodes streaming when I can find the time, and that time is scarce indeed these days. I’m still only in the middle of the second arc at the time of writing, and indeed haven’t watched any anime streamed in close to a month now. That’s not the best way to watch a serialised show. But having now watched these episodes again, on a regular schedule of two episodes a night, I have to say that my opinion is little changed. This is a pale shadow of the original Durarara!!
Maybe some of it has to do with the nature of light novel adaptations to anime form. It’s usually the case that the best, or rather the most accessible stories are adapted first, and they serve as proof of concept in their first season to see just how fans appreciate them. If they succeed, then the creators can take a crack at the more obscure material, the stories that are harder to adapt to the half hour episodic form. That’s happened in the past with shows like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and I won’t be surprised if that happened again here.
That first season of Durarara was nigh on perfect for me, brilliant characters, great stories, perfectly paced, and utterly engaging. Maybe it’s the stories they chose to adapt, or maybe it’s the way that they told them, but I can’t find a single fault with it, I love every minute. Certainly, with its shorter 24 episode run, and the uncertainty of a follow on series, Durarara Season 1 may leave you wanting more, but it satisfies with what it gives, and the important thing is that the stories within its runtime are discrete, relatively complete, comparatively short and satisfying. You had Mikado Ryugamine’s tale, Anri Sonohara’s tale, and Masaomi Kida’s tale at the heart of the show, but with a dozen other character stories intertwining and bouncing off each other. Three distinct arcs, a bunch of random character stories, all seemingly doing their own thing, but all incrementally heading in the same direction, so the end of the season was an utterly satisfying surprise.
That isn’t the case with Season 2. This time it’s a sure thing. They’re in it for the long haul, and instead of short arcs, it feels as if it’s telling one story over the whole 36 episode stretch. There’s no sense of completion anywhere in these first twelve episodes. It really feels like it’s just laying groundwork for the story yet to come, and there’s no sense of satisfaction here either. On top of that, the character overload can be pretty overwhelming at times. Durarara!! had a pretty long cast list to begin with, but with the second season, it practically doubles with the new characters and new storylines that are pursued here. It’s a hectic story, and I’m not embarrassed to admit that at times I just couldn’t keep track of what was going on, especially with the gang rivalry storyline that centres on Akane Awakusu. New faces and new storylines just seem to be thrown into the mix at this point to keep adding flavour to the pot, but the danger is that the true flavour gets lost in the mix. In direct contrast to the first season, this first arc of the second season seems like a bunch of random character stories, all pulling in different directions, leaving things a jumble by the end of the collection.
But it is still Durarara!!, and it does have the same feel as the first season, it is in some ways like putting on a comfortable pair of slippers. There is a joy in seeing the familiar characters once more, and if there is a discernible story arc in this collection of episodes, it’s that of Mikado Ryugamine having his concept of the Dollars group that he created challenged. In Season 1 he created The Dollars almost as an anti-gang, a group with no colours, no affiliations, just random people coming together online, pledging to do the right thing. There were no leaders, no orders, just a group intent. Only at the start of this second season, it becomes clear that original, positive intention has fallen by the wayside, and the open nature of the Dollars group has let in the very people that it was created to oppose. Now they are behaving like any other gang, throwing their weight around, and causing more trouble. The show follows him on his way to his questionable decision to somehow take control of the Dollars group, made possible when at the start of the new school year, he meets first year Aoba Kuronuma, who appears to be a big Dollars fan, but who has an agenda all his own. The climax of that arc is when Ryugamine makes that decision, but the fallout will probably be revealed in the subsequent parts.
Of course there’s a lot more to this second season than just that. Izaya Orihara is machinating all the way through, albeit at something of a remove, Masaomi Kida is debating whether to return, Celty is having her usual hard time with maniac cops, and being the centre of attention, an idol turned serial killer gets involved with Shizuo Heiwajima’s brother, there are couple of Russian assassins in town raising havoc, the Dollars have picked a fight with a biker gang from Saitama, the daughter of a yakuza family has been persuaded to kill Shizuo Heiwajima, and so on and so on. There is a whole lot going on in Durarara!! x2 Part 1, and it’s a challenge trying to keep track of it all. But as I said, unlike the first season which gave you regular hits of narrative satisfaction, season 2 is playing the long game, and there’s not a lot of pay-off in this first collection of episodes. You’ll have to invest for the long run, and as yet, I don’t even know if it will reward in the end. Maybe I’ll find the time to get back to the Crunchyroll streams before Parts 2 and 3 are released.
The quality of the disc authoring is on a par with the first season (standard edition), but the change in studio means that the animation takes an occasional hit in quality. And there is that annoyance that we don’t get the OVA episode. Hopefully that can be remedied in the future. But fans of Durarara!! will be tentatively satisfied with the start of the second season.