Before I began watching Durarara!!, I made a personal vow that even though this was from the same creator of one of my all-time favorite anime series, Baccano!, that I would enter on a clear slate without judging the quality of this series from the other. Well that could've gone smoothly, but man
did anime studio Brain's Base want to remind the viewers that this is from the dude who created Baccano! From the character designs, to the style of the opening credits, and even some blatant Baccano! clips and art on the buildings, Durarara!! is a creation built practically as a spiritual successor to everybody's favorite mafia/immortal work of greatness.
But even with the high standards of Baccano!, Durarara!! is still a superb series that, despite being flawed, is one of the finest anime series to come out in quite some time.
Oh Shizuo, how I wished I could've seen you throw more vending machines and actually beat Izaya to a bloody pulp...
The depth of Durarara!!'s story isn't necessarily so much about the plot as much as it is about a city and all the fascinating characters who live in it. Ryohgo Narita's fictional take on Ikebukuro has all sorts of unique characters, and it's hard to imagine anyone not liking at least one of them. You have characters like the abnormally strong Shizuo who can't help but have the anger to throw a few vending machines around, Izaya the information broker with a cold nature that you'll either love or despise, and the kindly black Russian, Simon, who can pack a punch despite having such pacifist nature. Durarara!! also has one of the most intriguing characters in anime history of Celty Sturluson, a mythological bike-rider with a fascinating past mixed with an endearing personality. It's hard to believe one of the most beloved female characters in an anime is a headless Dullahan, but there you go. I'm just scratching the surface on all the great characters you'll find and want to see more of.
If it wasn't for such great characters like Celty and Izaya, I probably wouldn't have watched enough to see the full potential of this series play out.
Though unfortunately, some people might not even want to see how far these characters will go with such an awkward beginning. Unlike Baccano! that began strongly right from the first few episodes, Durarara!! is basically a test of patience of when you'll see some superb storytelling. Though there were certainly good moments, the first eight or so episodes is such a flawed experience. All the time spent of Mikado's adjustment to life in Ikebukuro with Masaomi never once felt entertaining. It was almost painful in the first few episodes to see so many of the greater characters only get marginal screentime while Mikado had boring monologues mixed with Masaomi's intolerable smooth talk and Anri's unlikeable shyness. Plus I felt that Kadota's gang had far better moments in the second half of the series with some backstory and some disturbingly endearing life guideliness from his otaku friends. If it wasn't for the episodes that focused on Celty's and Shizuo's backstory I honestly would've just given up.
Celty Sturluson: Headless Dullahan, possible Valkyrie, badass biker with a scythe. Of course she's one of the greatest female anime characters ever.
Thankfully I didn't, and I don't feel alone when I say that the series reached its full potential starting on episodes 9 and above. All it really took was more focus away from the likes of Mikado, Masaomi, and Anri to see some real compelling stuff like a corrupt pharmacy and one of the most disturbing love triangles you'll ever see. And, yeah, once the incredible episode 12 came along where the city of Ikebukuro felt truly approachable did Durarara!! become something that I wanted to marathon-watch all the way. You'll see Izaya prove himself to be something worth fearing, Mikado, Masaomi, and Anri having their own responsibilities that made their characters become, at last, interesting, and even have a great romance between Celty and Shinra. It all leads to a conclusion that has some questions left unanswered and potentially great story-arc-starters left ignored, but still a finale that was far greater than how the series began. Needless to say, I really can't wait until that DVD-released Epilogue episode can be seen.
It takes a really great author like Ryohgo Narita to make such initially uncompelling characters like these into something completely worth rooting for by the end.
The presentation of the series is also something worth taking note. Ikebukuro wouldn't be nearly as compelling of a city if it wasn't for all the visual finesse that surrounds it, and thankfully Brain's Base has payed extra attention to the scenery and character's actions. Though the animation is top-notch, personally I thought the soundtrack was very hit-and-miss. You'll have a soundtrack that has some great musical numbers, but there are also several other moments where I felt that the mood was broken from the pretentious piano and accordion-laced tracks.
But even with all the flaws I found with Durarara!!, all the great moments felt like I watching the high standards already set for this new decade of anime. In the end, I felt that Durarara!! didn't reach the greatness of Baccano! mainly for being too long from filler and too short to answer all the questions. But as a great anime series in general? It's definitely something that can't be missed.