Review: Durarara!! (Vol 1)

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Ikebukuro, Tokyo is abuzz with energy–a town unlike anywhere else where weird and wonderful people gather. Mikado Ryuugamine has moved to the big city for high school thanks to the urging of his best friend, hoping to have a more exciting life. When he glimpses the resident mystery–the Black Rider–he realizes Ikebukuro is even more crazy than he ever imagined!!

Durarara!! is probably Ryohgo Narita’s most well-known work. The series is completed at 13 volumes in Japan, but has inspired several spin-offs, as well as existing within Narita’s larger world (which also includes Baccano!). Yen Press released this first book in English in 2015. Like his other works, it’s hard to pin down a singular protagonist when so many characters and plots intermingle to create the larger story of Durarara!!, and the sheer scope and mystery of the story means your attention is caught early and stays engaged up until the last page.

Being set in modern-day Tokyo, the series feels more grounded than Baccano! even though both have intrinsic supernatural elements in an otherwise real-world setting. There’s an obvious reliance on online presence for all of our characters within the book–the difference between our real life and internet personas is both a relevant and relatable theme, and works well as a narrative device for the book. Private chatrooms are a central meeting place for all of our characters, even if many don’t realize who they’re talking to.

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Mikado is a pretty typical teenage boy–bored with his life and hoping for something new and exciting to distract him. Prompted by his best friend Masaomi Kida to move to Ikebukuro from the small country town he’s always lived in, he seizes it as an opportunity for change. He’s mild-mannered and excruciatingly normal–seemingly the complete opposite to his best friend with his dyed hair and myriad of piercings. He fits the bill for a pretty typical light novel protagonist, and this book does mainly focus on his experiences as a fish-out-of-water kid struggling to find his place in a town that never stops.

The true protagonist of the Durarara!!-verse is Celty though–a Dullahan who drives the streets of Tokyo on her trusty steed (motorcycle) as she searches the city for her missing head. Living with underground doctor Shinra who is madly in love with her, she spends most of her days as a transporter hiding in the shadows and cleaning up the streets. Despite being the only fully supernatural character within Durarara, she’s much more normal and relatable than anyone else in the book. She’s a dangerous avenger fighting for justice and herself with shadowy powers, but she’s also a fan of ghost television specials and cheesy game shows. All of this makes her easier to support and sympathetic, even when she slips into her monstrous nature. When rumors start circling about a girl with major neck scars running around the streets with Celty’s face, her search seems to be coming to a close–but nothing is ever that easy.

Alongside this, a growing gang is filling the streets of Ikebukuro–one with invisible, silent members–calling themselves the Dollars. They have no claimed aim, and it’s impossible to recognize them, but their influence continues to grow. Founded in a private chatroom, no one knows the leader or even their other members, but the secrecy and novelty is hard to ignore. It’s a straightforward representation of how we connect online, the safety of anonymity and being part of a silent majority, and it’s interesting seeing the culmination of these themes by the end.

It would be disingenuous to skip over any of the other major and minor characters introduced this book, but like Baccano! (even more so, actually), every character has an important role to play and it would be impossible to cover everything–there are too many points of incidental detail and foreshadowing outside of the main plot of this book. Other characters fans will definitely recognize are the ever-popular Shizuo and Izaya–a irritable superman and his nemesis the scheming information broker. Izaya in particular functions as a catalyst for many of the relationships and actions throughout the book, with definite hints of large plans for the future. We also have Anri Sunohara, Mikado’s buxom wallflower classmate whose best friend has disappeared; Simon, the giant Russian who keeps the peace; the Yagiri siblings, who have an uncomfortably close relationship; and Kadota and his gang of super-otaku. There’s a rich history between all of these characters, and their relationships function in response to this with how they interact. I have to commend Narita in particular for this, as the setting feels lived in and pre-existing thanks to this, rather than revolving and responding directly to the characters.

Which brings up another important point of Narita’s setting writing–where Ikebukuro functions as a character itself. The town feels alive with a constant energy, and after having personally experienced the real Ikebukuro, I feel Durarara!! certainly captures the atmosphere of the people and places. It’s a spot you can believe may be hiding anything–both supernatural and human–and everything is possible.

The first novel in the Durarara!! series is an interesting start to a story that is obviously larger than the 180 pages of this book. It introduces a solid chunk of our main characters and features a plot with enough crazy and creepy to keep almost anyone reading. There are a couple rough patches, but that’s understandable enough for the debut of a new series with so many characters to establish. If you’re looking for crazy fun with a twist of uncomfortable, Durarara!! is one not to miss!

Gee’s rating: Very good

You can purchase this book online via sites like Amazon (available in paperback or as an ebook) and Book Depository (which offers free worldwide shipping). These are affiliate links, so a small percentage of sales goes toward this site.

3 responses to “Review: Durarara!! (Vol 1)

  1. Great review. I have one complaint tough… “She’s a dangerous avenger fighting for justice and herself with shadowy powers” > this is not Celty at all… she works for the mob quite often and is always hoping that the job isn’t too dark… she’s sometimes afraid of even considering what she is carrying, hoping it’s not some dead body. AND she’s constantly running away from the police :D So, most definitely not a “dangerous avenger fighting for justice”! She prefers not to get involved in a lot of stuff, no way is she cleaning up the streets.
    If anything, all of the above make Celty a supernatural character with humane concerns and therefore more relatable. That and the constant abuse Shinra gets… poor guy!

    • I do agree that she isn’t going out of her way to become some sort of vigilante, and is often wary of the work she does, but she is inherently dangerous thanks to her inherent powers (able to cut the top off of cars with her shadows etc)–and her morality means she’s likely to help people she sees are in danger.

      She’s definitely a far cry from Batman, apologies if that wasn’t clear enough in the review.

      • Hi Gee :) it’s not a problem at all, just healthy debate. The way your review read made Celty sound a bit like a generic all powerful super nice heroic character. IMHO she is much more interesting than that :)

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