I think I’m over Ryogho Narita’s style of storytelling. It was fun back when the “no main protagonist” schtick was fresh and I was a naive college student who ate up magical girl shows because they were dark and edgy, but I’ve seen so many pieces of fiction that have used that sort of style since and Narita ain’t exactly Sion Sono when it comes to using that large cast gimmick. And yes, that style has always been a gimmick, but whilst Why Don’t You Play In Hell? made the smart move of crafting an engaging narrative in order to push its wacky cast of gangsters, cops, and students forward, Durarara (and Baccano for that matter) made the incredibly dumb move of trying to use that gimmick to create substance and it gets old really quickly. Especially when everybody is a badass and you have to sacrifice time spent on moving the plot forward in order to focus on personal hijinks that don’t develop them in the least.
Mind you, I’m not really sure why the fans would be impressed with this long-awaited sequel to one of 2010’s biggest hits. In fact, I’d hesitate to call it a sequel. It has “intermission” stamped all over it moreso than Dragon Age II and a bunch of the characters introduced feel like last-minute DLC that somehow made it into the final cut. Also, despite the five-year long wait, it looks like it was rushed out into development with animation that looks worse than horse manure and editing that Ed Wood would bullshit on. Or to put it more succinctly in case you aren’t getting what I’m saying, this new Durarara is an incompetent go-nowhere pile of boring.
Whilst the first season of Durarara was no stranger to setting things up and not giving a good payoff in the end, it at least it had a sense of mystery and intrigue related to the city of Ikebukuro to the point that you could say it was a lesser version of Mad Men. This new installment, on the other hand, casts that intrigue out the window in order to focus solely on introducing more characters and making them do absolutely nothing to the point that it takes away the main reason anybody would ever watch Mad Men to begin with. So not only does the show not deliver a satisfying finale that’s worth the buildup, but the buildup itself isn’t even interesting to sit through. It’s the Iron Man 2 to, well, Iron Man 1.
The show starts off by reintroducing you to all the characters from the first season whilst introducing some new ones through Celty getting a bounty put on her head along with Kasuka (that emotionless actor who’s also Shizuo’s brother) having a romantic tryst with a serial killer named Hollywood, who is actually a famous actress that cameo’d in the first season. Considering the payoff is that the characters go on a wild car chase culminating in a fight against bikers, you’d think this would be interesting by default, but Durarara just doesn’t follow the rules. On top of the fact that the setup to get to that point involves a lot of talking heads and irritating fourth wall-breaking narration that focus too much on the characters and not enough on the plot, the actual climax has zero tension due to the main characters being too overpowered compared to the competition along with the action choreography looking like crap. Worst yet, nothing really comes out of it other than setup for the next arc, something that Izaya says himself with assured smugness.
But if you think the next arc will deliver on said setup, prepare for a letdown, because it’s as much of a dragged-out mess as the Yellow Scarves arc. They try to distract from that fact by switching between all the different characters, but it doesn’t work when none of them are given any sort of narrative propulsion whatsoever and the direction is about as troubled and uninspired as a drugged-out rockstar. Without spoiling too much, the main takeaway from the arc is that our “supposed main hero” Mikado is finally thrown into the middle of things, Izaya is not as all-powerful as the show makes him out to be, Shizuo is strong, Celty just moves plot points along without really affecting them, Masaomi does fuck all, and Chikage loves the ladies. There is very little character or situation change as is, but the eight episodes devoted to building up to it isn’t fun either.
The cast is so large and the show wants to devote time to giving them all moments and involving them in the final conflict that it causes the pacing to suffer massively. At one point, just as Anri is attacked by a mysterious intruder, the story grinds to a halt in order to devote half an episode into explaining the intruder’s background despite the fact that she has little to do with what’s going on. And it didn’t even have the courtesy to follow-up on that cliffhanger in a satisfying way. A couple of badly animated fight moves and then everyone escapes to live hunky-dorry with knowledge of each other. Yawn. And trust me, you don’t even want to get me started on how anticlimactic the actual payoff where everyone meets with each other is. There’s one cool scene where Shizuo takes on a giant truck, but that’s about it. The best scenes come in the last three minutes of follow-up (the other follow-up scenes are a Return of the Kings-style snorefest) but at that point, it’s too little too late.
And before people pull that “it’s only the first cour” bullshit on me, let me remind you guys that no matter what label you slap on it, thirteen episodes is a lot to sit through. Hell, it’s twice as long as your average movie, and if you can’t deliver where other products have with far less time, than something is very wrong with you. I don’t care if movies have much larger budgets or whatever. No matter what the format, you’re supposed to start the story at the very beginning and only end it at the very end. This first third of the new Durarara had two distinct arcs and despite all the events that went on, the fact of the matter is that there was zero story progression whatsoever. I don’t enjoy watching setup for the sake of setup. It wasn’t fun in Shin Sekai Yori and it sure as hell ain’t fun here.
Not going to say the show doesn’t have its moments. The part where Shizuo smiles for the first time in his life cracks me up. But whilst I plan on watching the next installment – if only because I have no life and thus have a lot of time on my hands – I recommend anyone who finishes this show, whether they like it or not, to watch Why Don’t You Play In Hell? right afterwards. That movie is everything Durarara wanted to be, it pulled it off way better, and it did more in two hours than this series has done in thirty-six episodes. Thirty-eight if you include the bonus ones.
PS: Man, this series really isn’t as popular as it used to be, is it? Time has changed the anisphere quite a bit.