Home > Durarara!!, Episode Reviews > Durarara!! Episode 20 – When We Escape

Durarara!! Episode 20 – When We Escape

There’s an element of escapism to any popular entertainment. The point of a story, after all, is to temporarily replace the reality we live in with one suited to the story. It can be for many different reasons: to educate, to advise, to frighten, to titillate, but most of the stories that are widely distributed—stories that people are willing to pay money for—are designed to entertain.

When people read, they want things that are enjoyable to them. That’s why popular novels about vampires or lawyers (or vampire lawyers) sell far better than literary works. Literary works can be entertaining—to the minority of the population that perversely enjoys such thing, anyway (disclaimer: I am one of them)—but their primary goal in creating realities is to create a world that mimics our own in some way, in order to reveal something the author thinks is important.

That’s not to say that artistic revelation is incompatible with entertainment. While I think the works that are the more incisive and revealing do tend to be less enjoyable to read, it’s perfectly possible—preferable, even—to create a work that is both enjoyable and formed in such a way as to highlight something meaningful. In fact, I’ve tried to argue that Durarara!! attempts exactly such a thing.

Walker and Erika explain what happened in the previous episode using figurines of popular anime characters. Kida is Horo from Spice and Wolf, The Blue Squares are Taiga from Toradora, and Izaya is the eponymous Shana of Shakugan no Shana. It should be pointed out that none of these characters are anything like who they're supposed to represent.

So, at the heart of popular entertainment is the intention to create a world distinct from our own for the purposes of being enjoyable to watch, or listen to, or read about. It can be a relatively mundane world, not very distinct from our own, except more interesting: dramatic, emotional events happen all the time, sometimes without even making sense. It can also be a world governed by fantasy, taking place in some far-off, exotic locale, where fantastic creatures lurk in the shadows and people have abilities and powers that far outstrip those of any mortal man.

This desire to escape has been a part of Durarara!! from the beginning. Being based off a young adult novel series, it is itself a piece of popular entertainment, escapism for otaku everywhere who are bored or frustrated with their lives. That’s why the series is written in such broad, ridiculous strokes, and why it is filled to the brim with supernatural beings, implausible action scenes and convoluted schemes.

The entire first half of this episode is a heated sushi shop discussion between Kida and Kyouhei's gang

But escapism itself has also been a main theme of the show. Mikado, tired of his dull rural life, created the Dollars as a way of vicariously living the crazy city life. Even after moving to Ikebukuro, he constantly is searching for anything to take himself beyond the mundane and everyday.

Izaya has hinted that this very impulse is what led him to become the person he is today, manipulating the city’s undercurrents to keep himself from becoming bored with his empty existence.

Anri lives vicariously through others, and loathes herself for it, but it’s the only way she can safely know love, without threatening to awaken the perverse bloodlust of Saika.

Walker and Erika, however, the two otaku characters, are the king and queen of escapism. Unable to deal with the trauma of their past lives, they turned to the fantasy world of moe anime fandom to complement the twisted brutality of Durarara’s reality. It’s not that they’ve got anything against the real world, Erika explains in the sushi bar conversation between their gang and Kida that occupies the first half of this episode, it’s just that they don’t see the 2D world as any more or less real than the 3D.

Erika: 'You can make a world out of nothing but moe, tsundere and boys' love!'

There’s more sinister under the surface, however. As far as they’re concerned, the Blue Squares—the gang they used to belong to which tortured Kida’s girlfriend to get him to give himself over to them—don’t exist. Anything in the past they didn’t like is erased, suppressed to the point of nonexistence.

And any attempt to remind them of the past, anything that would create that cognitive dissonance, leads to violent denial, or sometimes just denial. Walker threatens to stab Kida with a broken chopstick when he gets angry at their denial of Saki’s assault, and the whole gang is very clear that they’re going to oppose Kida’s crusade for vengeance for Saki with violence, if necessary.

Walker snaps when Kida gets angry about Saki being tortured

The thing is, Kida is also trying to replace his reality with more pleasing fantasies—they’re just a different kind. Rather than try to escape into a world of the trivial diversions of moe anime, however, he’s trying to bring the heroic action shows he saw as a child to life. According to Izaya, in his conversation with Kida that makes up the lion’s share of the second half of the episode, that’s the reason why he created the Yellow Bandanas in the first place: to be the hero. And when the moment finally came for him to do something heroic, to prove his worth, he froze up, he couldn’t go on.

Kida’s problem is that he tried to do the impossible: to live out the life of a hero in a world that is too dark, too flawed to let heroes exist. And the memory of that failure continues to haunt him, to the point that he’s willing to start a gang war against his best friend in order to prevent the same thing from happening again.

When things get too heated, the owner of the sushi shop throws a knife to tell them to shut up

Two conversations, one earnest and heartfelt, yet delusional, and one deceptive, yet piercing and authoritative. Izaya explains patiently to Kida the “truth”: Mikado is the head of Dollars, but still seems happy-go-lucky and enthusiastic despite the dire situation he’s in, and despite the dire straits Kida is in. It must be because Mikado doesn’t really care about Kida.

It’s a stupid argument, but Kida is distraught enough and used to believing everything Izaya says, so he takes it at face value. The cold attitude he takes subsequently takes toward Mikado shows that the battle between the two gangs is likely to get worse.

Even if that wasn’t the case, the Yellow Bandanas are growing increasingly out of Kida’s control. Angry at being embarrassed by Celty and Anri, they start to lash out at the Dollars, leading to the brutal beating of one of the Dollars members from the first half of the season at the end of the episode.

Simon tries to calm things down by doing his best Freddie Mercury impression

Because, at some point, any escape from reality breaks down. Mikado’s attempt to stave off boredom is starting to have dire consequences for its members; Walker, Erika, and the rest are once again about to be thrust into a gang war and Kida is in yet another situation where he needs to be a hero, needs to be a leader, needs to be strong and in control, and he has absolutely no clue what to do.

This episode can be viewed, for free, here.

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  1. June 14, 2010 at 11:16 pm
  2. October 10, 2011 at 12:01 am

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