Durarara!! Episode 1-12 – We’re All in this Alone
Celty Sturlson is a Dullahan, a headless fairy spirit from Ireland who travel on horseback holding their heads. Except Celty has lost her head, and has travelled to Ikebukuro, Tokyo, Japan to find it. There she acts as a courier using her motorcycle, which is secretly a horse.
Celty lives with Shinra Kishitani, an unlicensed underground doctor who has been in love with Celty ever since he dissected her naked, immortal body at the age of 8, at the insistence of his father.
Shinra was friends in middle school with Shizuo Heiwajima, a man capable of superhuman feats of strength when angered. He works as a debt collector in Ikebukuro, always wearing sunglasses and the suit of a classy bartender, and he is frequently seen throwing vending machines.
Shizuo has been mortal enemies for years with Izaya Orihara. Now working as an information broker, Izaya is dedicated to exploring the mystery of Celty and her circumstances.
Simon Brezhnev is a Black Russian working at a Russian sushi shop. Despite his friendly and easy-going nature, his imposing stature and frightening strength means he often gets dragged into the fights between Shizuo and Izaya.
Kyohei Kadota is a friend of Simon’s. He is secretly a member of the anonymous Internet gang Dollars. But in the past, he was the leader of his own gang.
Walker Yumasaki and Erika Karisawa were, with Saburo Togusa, members of Kyohei’s gang. They’ve given him the cutesy nickname “Dotachin,” much to his constant annoyance. They’re also otaku, in the most enthusiastic, ironic and not-at-all-creepy way possible.
Masaomi Kida is friends with everyone from Kyohei’s gang. He was in a gang himself, the Yellow Scarves, although they disappeared around the same time the Dollars showed up.
Masaomi’s best friend is Mikado Ryugamine who, fed up with the boring life of rural Japan, founded the Dollars. He arrives in Ikebukuro at the prompting of Masaomi, looking for something to make his boring schoolboy life more exciting.
Mikado develops a huge crush on Anri Sonohara, the quiet and timid girl he and Masaomi befriend, but doesn’t have the courage to admit his feelings for her. Anri, for her part, doesn’t see Mikado as anything more than a friend, someone she can rely on to support her, even though she resents needing that support. She’s still looking for her missing best friend, Mika Harima, who was stalking Seiji Yagiri.
Seiji Yagiri is a young man in Mikado’s class obsessively in love with Celty’s head, which he saw when he was a child. He found a girl who appeared to have had her head replaced with Celty’s, but which was actually Mika Harima, who lost her memory and identity after nearly being beaten to death by Seiji because she broke into his house.
Mika was saved and given plastic surgery to appear more like Celty by Namie Yagiri, Seiji’s sister. Namie used Mika to make Seiji think that he was in possession of Celty’s head. In reality, Namie is its current owner, taking it with her for research after her former company, Yagiri Pharmaceuticals, was bought out by an American firm. She resents the power the head has over her brother, whom she is obsessively protective of. She currently works as Izaya’s assistant as he tries to learn more about Celty and her powers.
Durarara!! is a show about all of these people, and how their stories unfold and intertwine to create the sense of a living, breathing Ikebukuro that could not possibly exist. It’s a contrast of opposites—the quiet, realistic drama of Mikado and Masaomi’s school life versus the comic book bombast of Shizuo’s every waking moment, the everyday mundanity of Simon’s foreignness when compared with Celty’s otherworldly origin.
One of the strengths (or weaknesses, depending on your point of view) of anime is that it can juggle so many different genres and tones simultaneously. In the worst shows, it can produce a mindblowing mental whiplash, as your brain tries to resolve the massive dissonance of a serious exploration of the main characters’ relationship mere hours after being caught up in comic hijinks revolving around magic. In the best shows, it presents a new and unique perspective on life, or society or ourselves. Sometimes it takes the strange or alien to show you a different way of thinking.
That’s not a very ambitious goal, admittedly, but in a medium that features entire genres centered around girls doing and saying things no sentient being ever would in order to cater to the masturbatory fantasies of its audience, you have to take what you can get. TV anime is never going to be anything more than pop art, but every once in a while you get a show that accepts that, and just tries to be the best damn piece of pop art it can be. Durarara!! is just such a show.
Its characters are its biggest strength, but they’re in car chases, fist fights or engaged in devious plots as much as they’re talking to one another. And that’s because they’re damaged, messed-up people who can only find solace in conflict, power, the strange and bizarre or, if they’re lucky, each other. If you knew them in real life, they’d be the kind of people who were a lot of fun to hang out with, but you couldn’t do it everyday because they’re so exhaustingly over the top. And the way they’re written here, they feel like, despite their weird circumstances and backstories, they could be real people.
So they fight and argue and struggle with their own existential dilemmas. So they feel like they could be real people; both those describe a lot of good anime. Durarara!!’s brilliance is how it weaves each story together, how each person’s own internal struggle affects themselves and the other characters around them.
Celty and Mikado are the main characters, with the show mostly following them around, and the show spends the most time explaining their thoughts and pasts, but everyone else gets their moment in the sun, and everyone else has something equally important and personal making them who they are and driving them to do what they need to do.
We all rely and depend on each other to get by, but typically you need a sprawling, expansive scope to properly reflect that in art, with all the additional complexity that entails. Durarara!! has the storytelling chops to pull that off; to create believable, if strange, relationships between all of its strange characters. Everyone is related to everyone else, and everyone is a small part in a much wider world of characters with their own goals, problems and secret delights.
That’s probably Durarara!!’s biggest accomplishment: it feels like it takes place in an authentic, if impossible reality. There’s so much detail, interrelatedness and scope in this odd little community that you feel like it could actually exist somewhere, hidden beneath the everyday life we live in. There’s a reason every episode ends with the disclaimer that all the characters are entirely fictional and not based on any real people: because otherwise it’d be very easy to believe that.
And considering the show has such a deep and interrelated world, it does a magnificent job of drawing you in. The first episode depicts Mikado’s arrival to Ikebukuro, timidly stepping off the train and into the station teeming with life, life utterly disinterested in him. It’s a scene familiar to anyone who has stepped foot inside a city for the first time, especially if they’re arriving from a more sedate life outside. He bumps into a stranger and immediately apologizes, then is surprised when no one seems to notice or care. He wonders what he’s gotten himself into right as he comes face to face with Masaomi, who has come to greet him.
Masaomi then proceeds to give Mikado a tour of Ikebukuro, introducing us in succession to every character in the show. But it’s done with such an interesting perspective, showing us the character through the eyes of Mikado, with Masaomi’s narration, that it feels authentic, rather than the forced introduction it could have been. Every new character feels strange and wonderful, every scene a new discovery of some facet of this strange world.
And that’s how it’s continued for 12 episodes: a series of delights, each showing the world in a new light, or bringing some new depth to the characters and their relationships with each other. The first 12 episodes are essentially a contiguous whole—the series is based on a novel series, and those episodes made up the first book—so I’m going to cover the second half of the series like it was a new show. I just wanted to give you some introduction into this wonderful world, and encourage you to watch one of the best anime shows I’ve seen.
The show is available for free at anime streaming site Crunchy Roll. Just watch it; it’s totally worth it.