Durarara!!, Vol. 5

By Ryohgo Narita and Suzuhito Yasuda. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Stephen Paul.

Lately these days when I’m reading light novels I come at it from a different perspective than most North American readers, in that I really am reading it in this format first. I haven’t seen the anime for, say, The Irregular at Magic High School or Strike the Blood, so my opinions tend not to be swayed in advance beyond shamelessly spoiling myself on TV Tropes. But DRRR!! is different – I’ve seen the anime multiple times, and also read Yen’s manga (though the novels have finally passed the manga series timeline-wise), and therefore know where the books are going to go, even if I may be surprised by a narrative quirk or inner monologue. This also allows me to enthuse about characters I love finally showing up, even if it is somewhat baffling as to why I love them.

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Case in point: Vorona, one of the two Russians who arrive in this book as professional goons-for-hire. I love Vorona. She’s in my top 5 favorite DRRR!! characters. That said, you’d be hard pressed to see why here, as she’s merely a quirky villain. She speaks in a clipped, soundbite way that not only works very well for a Russian who’s learned Japanese, but also contrasts with all the other Russians speaking Japanese around her, who speak it much more fluently. She’s a repository of useless information, which she doles out to her goofy and somewhat dim partner Slon – be it why cows eating grass makes them fat or why the number 13 is unlucky. And, like the rest of the cast in this series, she’s a little bit broken on the inside, finding her thrills in killing and finding progressively stronger people to fight against. She thinks she’s found someone interesting in this volume with Celty, who is seemingly easily killed only to show up later. Book 6 onward will show more of why I love her.

Knowing the anime can also be a drawback as well, of course. Mikado is written here to be a hopelessly naive dupe, in over his head and trusting Izaya of all people, even thinking to himself that he’s “really a nice guy”, which is so untrue you wonder how on earth Mikado can even survive day-to-day. But as the astute fan knows there’s far more going on in Mikado than just naivete. Aoba can sense it, I think – he sees Mikado grinning as he’s being blackmailed towards the end of the book – but he pretty much thinks he can use Mikado as the public face for his own machinations. This is definitely the first book in a two-book arc, and we’ll learn later on it’s not as simple as that.

As ever with a Narita volume, there’s too much going on here to talk about everything in a review. I didn’t mention Shizuo’s subplot, as Izaya seems determined to irritate him as much as possible, be it sending a young yakuza princess to kill him or framing him for murder. It’s a great plot, and gives us the best interstitial art of the entire series, as Shizuo tries to convince Akane he’s not a bad guy by winking and sticking his tongue out. And Anri’s involved as well, as she also falls under Vorona’s large category of ‘strong monsters that I can try to kill’. And there’s Chikage, the gang leader lothario who’s determined to destroy all the men in the Dollars gang – but don’t hurt the women or you’ll be in trouble. The big downside is, of course, this is all setup. It’s those early episodes of the season that no one liked as they were all preparation for a payoff. Stay tuned for the payoff in Vol. 6.

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