Well, that settles it. I don't get on with Ryogo Narita. I've watched both this and Baccano and I disliked both of them. Admittedly they're both very successful and my reaction is unusual, but they leave me cold and I'd better just steer clear of his work in future.
Imagine a writer who likes early Guy Ritchie films and decided to do something similar, but with a few supernatural touches. The dates line up:
- Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
- Snatch (2000)
- Baccano! light novels (21 volumes so far): 2003 and still going
- Durarara!! light novels (13 volumes): 2004-2014
Baccano! and Durarara!! both have non-linear storylines, sprawling casts full of lowlife criminals and not much reason to care. People often have hidden secrets that you won't learn for quite a while. They're also often off-putting. Narita's standard method of characterisation seems to be the crossing of moral horizons and/or revealing someone to be not what you thought (usually in a bad way). The main differences between the shows are that Baccano! was set in 1930s gangland America and has lots of immortals and killing, whereas Durarara!! is set in contemporary (but by now a bit dated, e.g. the mobile phones) Ikebukuro, Tokyo, and has much less death than it seems to be leading you to think.
In fairness, the latter is a significant plus. There's no Durarara!! equivalent of Czeslaw Meyer, for instance, in which I think we're supposed to care about a small boy who was trying to murder an entire train's worth of people for no reason. Once upon a time, he spent a long time being tortured. Good.
However Durarara!! teaches us an important lesson, which is that it's not enough just not to be evil. As it happens, Durarara!!'s cast are often quite nice, underneath. There are also gloating evil bastards, of course, while even the "quite nice" ones might also be thugs, gangsters, super-strong bartenders with explosive tempers, etc. However Narita just can't tear himself away from gangsters... and they're really, really boring. They start fights. Then they start more fights. None of it means anything. It's not even really worth watching for the sake of cool fights, because the show tends to cut away from the actual violence. You'll see three men walking towards their victim with crowbars, then maybe you'll hear a few sound effects and we'll be watching the next scene.
Well, unless they were attacking Shizuo, in which case we'll probably see him throwing something absurd at them, e.g. signpost, vending machine, truck.
The plot's split into two halves, being essentially two seasons that were broadcast back-to-back. The first half has lots of confusing things happening, which might be either evil or just violent idiots being stupid. There's one likeable character (Celty). After that, the second half is based around a motif of communications failure and friends not being able to tell each other what's really important... which in practice means street gangs doing pointless, violent things that had been utterly avoidable. Our heroes are all blaming themselves in ep.24. I was agreeing. Yes, you morons, this was indeed all your fault. It's a shame more of you didn't get hospitalised. I can understand why they didn't spill their terrifyingly big secrets, but it still means that a twelve-episode storyline is based on stupidity that we all saw coming a mile off.
In fairness, Baccano! had two of the all-time greatest anime characters in Isaac and Miria. This is mostly due to their voice actors (Masaya Onosaka and Sayaka Aoki), but they're still so off-the-scale brilliant that I'm glad I watched that show. I heard they were in Durarara!! and immediately bought the DVDs... only to discover that it's just a "blink and you'll miss it" cameo. Learn from my mistake. Don't be fooled.
Similarly, Durarara!! has one character I liked. She's a Dullahan, i.e. the headless death rider of Irish mythology. She's also unexpectedly timid and nice. Apart from her... well, the kids are sort of passable. Masaomi I could take or leave, but I wouldn't push Mikado and Anri off a cliff or anything. They're even quite sweet in ep.25. Shizuo turns out to be less empty and pointless than you'd think. Beyond that, I didn't personally see much reason to watch the other characters.
The series spends a fair amount of time on the hidden redeeming features in a person or organisation that you'd been assuming was just plain bad. Street gangs turn out to have noble motivations. Monsters and villains are actually quite nice once you've got to know them. This is theoretically good, but in practice I often didn't care after the reveal either.
Not to be confused with Toradora!.
I dropped this show for a few weeks around ep.15. I drifted away to something more interesting and it took willpower to drive myself back. It's not even as expensive-looking as Baccano!, having a rather sketchy art style instead of that luscious 1930s period recreation. The first opening theme song is cool, though. Obviously I dislike this show, but not only did it do very well in this 26-episode run, it then got revived five years later under a different studio for an additional 39 episodes. That's a lot these days. Given that, you might well disagree with me if you give this show a chance. Be warned also that Narita likes jumbling up his narrative order, although personally I don't think that's a problem except for possibly contributing to audience distancing because he's deliberately giving his characters fractured introductions and probably making you dislike them. It's cool. It's often violent and messed up. I spent quite a lot of its running time wondering whether or not to abandon this show and put my DVDs in the bin.