Durarara!!, Vol. 1

By Ryohgo Narita, Suzuhito Yasuda, and Akiyo Satorigi. Released in Japan by Square Enix, serialization ongoing in the magazine GFantasy. Released in North America by Yen Press.

Unlike my fellow reviewers on Manga Bookshelf, who have already come at this volume from the perspective of one who is unfamiliar with the franchise, this is my third go-round with this material. I had seen the anime based on the light novels, and following that I had read a translation of the first book. It’s quite similar to the trajectory I followed with the Suzumiya Haruhi series, and I must admit that my primary worry was that the manga version of DRRR!! would be as uninspiring as the Haruhi manga has (mostly) turned out to be. Fortunately, my fears were quelled – this is a quite decent adaptation, and I think folks coming at it for the first time will have a lot of fun, even if they may get a bit confused as well.

As you may have noticed from the cover, the DRRR!! series is known for its impressive cast size. The wraparound cover is actually impressively designed, and catches the eye quite nicely. It’s an ensemble piece overall, with no cast member supposedly standing out as the “star”, but if I had to pick the lead characters, they would indeed be the five people on the front cover and the leather-clad figure on the spine. Other successful parts of the adaptation include the chatroom conversations, which are a large part of the original novels. It can be hard to make such things interesting in a manga medium, but showing the hands typing manages to keep us guessing while still giving clues as to the actual identity of the participants.

The manga rearranges some plot beats to make it flow better, particularly the scenes with Seiji and his stalker. You actually manage to feel a little sympathy for him, however brief that is, before his ill-thought-out actions. Though honestly, in this manga it can be hard to find sympathetic characters. Minako certainly qualifies as one, at least in these first few books. Most of the cast, however, just have that “off” feel to them, and you come to realize that you’re dealing with a bunch of weirdos and freaks here – many by design. The best example of this is the chapter dealing with Izaya, who is the closest the series gets to a villain. Certainly he’s absolutely horrible in Chapter 4, but notably he doesn’t actually go through what what is implied – there’s a certain sense that he’s acting the villain for fun, rather than out of malice. Which is why, even if he drops those suitcases off the highrise, they are invariably empty.

As you would guess with a spinoff manga, while this is written with the neophyte in mind, a lot of the book gains extra depth after you’ve read it through once, or if you already know the source material. Erika’s line about “just a few books for us to use tonight” goes from confusing to chilling, a morbid punchline to the typical otaku (buy three copies of everything) habit. Instead of trying to guess the plot, you end up surprised by how much of the plot is woven seamlessly into the early sections – Masaomi’s reaction to the color gangs, for example, or Celty’s horrible flashback to Shingen and a young Shinra. The sign of a good tie-in is that it can pander to its base without sacrificing new fans, and I think DRRR!! does that here.

It’s not necessarily perfect – the art seems to be a lot more “moe” and cutesy than the original character designs for the novels were. Mikado and Shinra especially suffer because of this. It also meanders a lot, but then so did the original. I think a series like this will benefit from having a few more volumes out to better digest everything. Looking forward to April, when we’ll get Vol. 2. Will it have a special guest artist to raw in the fans the way this volume does with Black Butler’s Yana Toboso?

And yeah, I have no idea why the chapters are variations on Wa. But then the title Durarara!! is itself meant to be based on nonsense syllables.

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