Durarara!!, Vol. 2

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.

In this second volume of Durarara!!, I was reminded once more of how mentally unbalanced the entire cast is. In Volume one we had Izaya and his ‘I will pretend to murder wannabe suicidal teens’ schtick, but here we manage to get our cover boy Shizuo, who seems to have a bit of a rage problem; Erika and Walker, who turn out to not just be crazy otaku but *really* crazy otaku; and the creepy incestual text (to call it subtext would be wrong; the bathing sequence speaks for itself) between Namie and Seiji. It’s enough so that when you see the supposedly three normal teenagers in the cast, your first reaction is to say “I wonder how warped we’ll find they really are?” rather than assuming they’re there as relief.

I’m also impressed with the way this series handles metatext. The characters aren’t necessarily aware that there is a fourth wall – there’s no talking to the reader or anything – but you can see the artist and writer playing around a bit with the medium. Walker’s monologue about how he and Erika are simply insane naturally, and that it has nothing whatsoever to do with all the anime and manga they consume, is a clever stab at Japanese moral guardians (even as the scene itself can be deeply disturbing – if you dislike implied eye torture, you may want to be warmed, even though it doesn’t actually happen). Likewise, Anri’s description of Mika’s past activities are done as a cute 4-koma, helping to show the dissonance between Mika’s looks and personality and her creepy stalker reality.

Celty gets the first chapter to herself, but otherwise takes a back seat until the cliffhanger. The main plotlines we seem to be following now are a) Celty and her head, and b) the Dollars gang that everyone seems to either be interested in or a part of. Kadota suspects the gang is Izaya’s doing, and you can certainly see why – it’s exactly the sort of thing he *would* do. But isn’t it a bit too obvious? Then we also have Mikado and the high schoolers, who, while interacting with the others, don’t seem to be getting drawn into their plots just yet, aside from Minako’s continued curiosity about Dollars. I quite liked Mikado during his meal with Anri – we see him reject the blunt, vicious reply he’d like to say, but when Anri shows she’s aware of her own flaws (and her own tendencies to use others), he doesn’t hesitate to be direct. They’re good kids.

Someone once told me that Durarara!! is a superhero comic where there aren’t any actual heroes, only supervillains going about their daily life. The word ‘villain’ might perhaps be a bit too strong, but not by much. These eccentrics are not your wacky moe harem cast, and the cliffhanger, which implies that the missing Mika Harima has been put to a very, very bad use shows us that things may only go downhill from here. Despite all this, however, Durarara!! remains a fun, breezy ride. It’s just a ride filled with sociopaths.

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.