The thing is, DRRR is definitely starting to click for me, but the funny thing is I can’t say exactly why. It’s almost impossible for me to look at my positive reactions after an episode and my indifferent ones and point to any specific reasons why they are that way – the episodes themselves seem objectively almost indistinguishable. Is it simply a matter of a lag time in getting my mind back into this universe, and that occurrence being more critical with Durarara than with most series taking long hiatuses? Or is the show really getting better?
Judging by the disc sales, it seems I’m not the only one who’s been finding DRRR less engaging this time around – Volume 1 is off by a huge amount from the first series (sub-6K Week 1 – and that’s with an event ticket – vs. 30K total for Vol 1 in 2010, and an 18K average). This continues to fascinate me more than the series itself, because DRRR is so much a harbinger of what was to follow in anime – LN adaptations with self-aware snark and lots of cute characters (though DRRR is more equal-opportunity gender-wise than most of its imitators). There was no hiatus for Narita Ryohgo’s light novels, but it still seems as if we’re looking at a case of “you can’t go home again”. I suspect that anime has simply upped the ante so much on the hooks that Durarara is built on – albeit generally with less grace and cleverness – that today’s audiences are jaded to the point where DRRR now looks kind of tame and old-fashioned.
What’s interesting is that, as I said, it’s only now that “X2” is really starting to click for me. I liked this episode a lot – it gave me some of the same breathless energy that some of the first series did, and I found myself genuinely engaged emotionally with what was happening. The quirk with DRRR, I think, is that you want it to be silly – but not so silly that you don’t give a damn about what happens next. And you want it to be dizzying hard-to-follow – but no so indecipherable that you have no idea what’s going on. And for me at least, it’s finally starting to settle into the sweet spot – though whether it’s changing or I am I have no idea.
It’s pretty obvious to me that one reason why it’s working better now is that the focus is on core characters and themes. And with DRRR you don’t get any more core than Izaya messing with Shizuo, Mikado caught in the middle and freaking out, and Celty trying to hold it together. And of course, rather than simply laying out a bunch of seemingly random plot twists we’re at the stage now where Narita and Omori-sensei are bringing them together, and that’s when both men are at their most artful. That could hardly have been better illustrated than by Vorona’s reaction when she realized that all three of her targets – from three different clients – had come together on the black rider’s mysterious chariot. That moment was Durarara in a nutshell.
What we have now is a giant tempest roiling in Ikubukuro, mostly thanks to Izaya’s meddling – and that, too, is DRRR in a nutshell. Not only are what’s left of the Dollars and Toramaru in full hostilities, but Awakazu’s yakuza and the Russian mob are at loggerheads over Akane’s kidnapping – and that marvelous conflagration at the end saw those two feuds brought together, too. Shizuo is thoroughly in the middle of all this, but Shiki at least is smart enough to understand that Shizuo being responsible for the death of his men and Akane’s kidnapping makes no sense. Of course, Izaya knew full well that the yakuza would lamp to that soon enough, and it’s all part of his machinations.
Meanwhile, Mikado seems to be dealing with own little mini-Izaya in Aoba. I don’t know if Aoba is working directly as Izaya’s proxy but he’s certainly using his playbook, and we know that Izaya loves messing with Mikado almost as much as Shizuo. Aoba is a clever little bastard – he’s using Anri to try and force Mikdao to agree to be the “big boss” of the Blue Squares. Getting Mikado, Anri, Celty and Akane together seems like a very positive move for the narrative – I like Celty best when she’s in this
white black knight mode, acting in defense of the kids, rather than obsessively being pimped out for her more qualities as the main character of an arc. This is really the first time I’ve been pumped after an episode of Durarara since “X2” started, really anxious to see what happens next – and it’s a great feeling, nostalgic in a good way.