Durarara’s second season makes a triumphant return, and now more racier than ever with unfortunate amounts of fan-service not to be found in the original. But the original (and better) season is the topic of this short reflection.
I haven’t watched a lot of Anime, but I usually avoid anything longer than twenty five episodes in length, because my main objective in watching media of any kind is not the entertainment, but the very real benefits I might pull away. I think this is an advantageous mindset to have, for entertainment is a natural side effect of good media anyway, so why should it be an end? Now, Durarara might not be that appealing. It is slow, sluggish, and at times incoherent, exacerbating its audience, confused for not knowing what happened in the episode, and also not knowing what questions to ask so as to unravel the confounding tapestry of a plot. But this is the style of Durarara, an anime (if anime can be loosely defined as cartoons with a distinct art style) which refuses to follow any convention.
The story follows a host of characters, lacking any clear main character in Tolstoian fashion. Every face appearing on the screen may become an important figure (an easy thing to keep track of because background characters are drawn as dull, grey outlines), or could even have an episode dedicated to his/her honour. This erratic nature of the presentation is not to be taken as a failure in storytelling; the reason being Durarara seems not to have a conventional story at all. By the end of the first season, one is left asking what had actually taken place; what had changed? Thus in its most poignant moment, Durarara asserts nothing had changed, and that life moves on, as it should. The twists and turns of the plot are satisfying. Yet despite it all, the anime is the story of its characters. It is one big mirror that reflects – in its absurd and fantastical way – the vicissitudes, and the hidden connectedness of human society.
The first episode begins with the innocent Mikado arriving at Ikebukuro, a city very much alive, very much its eccentric people as it is its dark alleys, glowing skyscrapers, color gangs, street fights, Russian Sushi, and urban legends. We soon find these urban legends becoming part of normality; thus the fantastical – represented by a Dullahan doubling as a vigilante searching for her lost head – creeps into the everyday; and what we thought innocent and unconnected, turns out to be the centre of a multifarious collection of events that throw the city into chaos – only to return it to normality once more. This theme of apparent chaos, only to be exposed as a certain twisted harmony, is why Durarara holds a special place in my heart. Its most striking theme is purpose: unintelligible in the moment, but clear when one takes only a different view of things. This theme is present in nearly every episode, opening with a flurry of seemingly random, irrelevant events taking place across the entire length of the city. But by the end, we’ve uncovered the the whole story and most importantly, the personal stories and motivations of all involved. What at first thought seemed nonsensical chaos had reasons behind it all. Small pieces played their own role in assembling the bigger, beautiful puzzle. This message is apparent from the beginning.
When we are first plunged into Ikebukuro, with its myths, dangers, uncertainties and vastness, it presents itself a lonely, unconnected place where people live their lives in vacuums, as so often is the case with city life today. Our characters are one dimensional beings, very much like us – worried about making new friends, battling their own demons, coming to terms with their pasts, or hopelessly lost in their own fantasies. All are moving along, independent of each other.
But if there is anything to learn from the spirit of Durarara, it is that the apparent is never reality, for we see the shady informant cross paths with the innocent schoolboy, the headless rider cross paths with a certain Shizuo – a man dressed in a tuxedo who has anger management issues -, the supernatural girl with a sword up her arm chatting cheerfully with a Russian black man, and the underground doctor falling in love with the headless dullahan from Ireland.
The power of Durarara, is not the sheer eccentricity of its plot, but its depiction of the hidden harmony in human societies, held together by an unknown power originating in accidental human relationships. It additionally uncovers for us, the web: that intangible, ubiquitous, voracious, invisible web that sucks all of humanity – and even non-humanity – into its clutches, connecting them in ways they could never have imagined; so as some of us seek to tear away from this web, cutting our ties, it seems to pull us back in a ceaseless, inevitable cycle as if to say ‘You cannot get away because you are human. And human beings need each other’.
That to me is a valuable lesson.