In a world full of isekai stuff, one might forget that THIS WORLD EXISTS TOO. That’s when we turn back to the start of the 21st Century, before the isekai boom. Back in the good ol’ days, we didn’t have “i-SUCK-ais”, we had QUALITY like that there Monogatari series, or better yet, Durarara!!, finally published to completion in English by Yen Press.
It all starts when Mikado Ryugamine moves to Ikebukuro in the hopes of finding excitement (and boy does it pay off in dividends). He meets his friends, Masaomi Kida and Anri Sonohara, and… well, crazy things happen. From fights between gangs like the Dollars and Yellow Scarves, to a creepy sword called Saika that turns the people it cuts into its slaves, to a dullahan that wants to find its head, which has fallen into the hands of a teenage boy who has fallen in love with it in spite of his yandere of an older sister. Told you crazy things happen.
Despite this downright bonkers plot, Durarara!! is a character driven story, so there really isn’t much in the way of an overarching narrative. But not much doesn’t mean not at all. Durarara!! has a ton of different stories going on at once, such as the conflicts revolving around the aforementioned gangs and dullahan, plus a whole slew of other things. All of these different stories happen separately, but always manage to converge in a Seinfeld-level amount of absurd coincidences. You will have to suspend your disbelief for this one (as if the presence of a creature from European mythology wasn’t enough of a sign) in order to be able to enjoy it.
There are two things that are vital to make an episodic, character driven story work. One is great writing skill, and the author, Ryohgo Narita, has it to spare. His nonchalant and satiric writing makes Ikebukuro, Durarara!!‘s setting, seem like a strange and otherworldly place (don’t worry; it’s in the real world. Remember that). He also drives the emotions and motivations of characters home really well. The series is also really good at buildup. Consequently, this makes for some slower volumes; Volumes 10 and 11 don’t really have much in terms of character development or plot progression because they merely establish the final arc. But when that final arc begins… HOOOOOO BOOOY it is amazing!
The other important thing you need to make this type of story work is a great cast. Durarara!! has an amazing cast… depending on who you ask. I find this series easily comparable to NISIOISIN’s Monogatari series, which is also an episodic character driven story. Durarara!! has the antithesis of Monogatari‘s nuanced and deceptively complex characters; Durarara!!‘s cast is 1D and open like a book. There are only a couple of times where characters catch you off guard, but most of those scenes towards the beginning.
So depending on your definition of good character writing, these guys are either amazing or insufferable. I prefer bombastic characters, so I naturally love Durarara!!‘s cast. I can’t go over the main characters- Mikado, Masaomi, and Anri- because of spoilers for volumes 1-3, but Celty Sturluson, the aforementioned dullahan, is the Best Girl. She is just a designated “nonhuman thing that learns how to be human”, but she’s a damn good one! Her relationship with Shinra Kishitani, a black market doctor, is always fun to read through (and makes me wish I was Shinra instead… RRGH).
Shizuo is the embodiment of the insanely powerful blockhead. His iconic bartender’s outfit makes it incredibly easy to insert him in scenes without using his name, and those scenes where he’s casually throwing vending machines and motorcycles with one hand never get old. His rival, Izaya, is the main antagonist, who wants to cause chaos because he is a literal yandere to all mankind. I love these boys as much as they hate each other!
For the art, the illustrator uses a minimalistic style that I’m not a fan of. It does a good job using extreme shaders, and it has a lot of sharp polygons (ripped straight out of a Persona game’s HUD) that help enforce the weirdness. It works for the series, but I wouldn’t want to read a manga drawn like this.
Final Verdict: 9.5/10
You can tell if you’ll love Durarara!! just by reading the first volume, so just borrow it from a friend and give it a read, then decide where you’ll go from there. Personally, I think it is one of the best light novel series out there, and now that it’s finally done, I can start Dead Mount Dea– wait, what’s Durarara!! SH?! A sequel?! Well, crap… Ikebukuro just never rests, does it?