Durarara!!, Vol. 1

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

As you may have noticed from the ugly 2 at the end of the URL, I’ve reviewed a DRRR!! Vol. 1 before, when the manga first came out in 2012. And now we have the novels, something I was not expecting. Those familiar with the anime and manga won’t find any major changes to what they already know, though there was a character building scene that was deleted from the anime (which actually came back to bite them recently when a girl from said character building scene showed up again). For the most part, though, reading this novel if you’ve already seen the anime or manga gives you greater depth of characterization, as we get inner monologues and narrations that help to flesh out Mikado, Celty, Izaya, and the rest of the cast.


I will warn you in advance: don’t buy this novel for the illustrations. Yasuda-san has improved in the ten years since this was released, as readers of Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon? can see. But this first volume of DRRR features some very ugly characters with flat, dead faces staring at you from the front cover. The cover, however, does illustrate one of the main draws of this series (and Narita’s series in general): there is a huge cast of characters, all of whom play some part in the narrative and there is no one ‘main character’, though in this first book I’d argue Mikado comes close. Mikado benefits most from the light novel perspective, as you realize just from watching and listening to him just how much he desperately wants excitement in his life, and what he is willing to go through to achieve it.

As for the rest of the cast who have large roles in this first book, DRRR!! is also known for having no ‘normal’ people in its cast, as everyone ranges from mildly eccentric to flat-out crazy. This is best illustrated by our antagonist for this book, Namie Yagiri, her brother Seiji, and Seiji’s stalker Mika. The three compete to see who can be more messed up and make you want to put the book down in disgust. Namie is incestually attracted to her brother, her brother is in love with a severed head, and Mika wants to eat said severed head so that she can then gain Seiji’s attention. They truly deserve each other, as Mikado says, and give the book a nice frisson of creepy.

Compared to them, folks like Celty, who may be a supernatural headless Dullahan but is possibly the nicest, most normal person in the series, or Izaya, who tries to be a villain but mostly ends up just being an asshole, are more relaxing and easier to take in. It actually may surprise folks how much of the cast don’t get much focus in this first book – Shizuo barely shows up, Anri mostly functions in terms of her relationship with Mika, and Masaomi turns out to be mostly irrelevant except to contrast with Mikado. Of course, this will change – despite Narita hoping the book goes beyond one volume, I’m fairly sure this was commissioned as a 3-volume series to start, and the next book will definitely be focusing on Anri.

Fans of the DRRR!! anime and manga will definitely want to check this out. If you watched it for the Shizaya, there’s a nice fight here for you. If you avoided it because of the Shizaya, they barely interact except for that fight. Something for everyone! Stephen Paul’s translation is also smooth and non-obtrusive, with the narrative being wordy as Narita usually is but lacking that ‘light novel’ feel some other series have had (hi, Index). And the art will improve in a few books time. And it’s out digitally as well, for folks who’ve watched me hammer on about that on Twitter!

Oh yes, sorry, Baccano! fans, Isaac and Miria’s cameo was anime-only. You will see the Nebula Corporation here, though.

Durarara!! Yellow Scarves Arc, 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.

You’ll note in my header that I said ‘serialization ongoing’, even though this particular arc has ended in Japan. Square Enix and the author have decided to sell this series in self-contained arcs, each one taking in one of the light novels it’s adapting, rather that putting it all under one umbrella of volumes. Technically this is the 8th volume of Durarara!!, and it’s time to sit back and take stock of where we are. The first arc served to introduce one of our teen protagonists, Mikado, and show why he wasn’t quite what he seemed. The Saika arc did the same for Anri, and now here’s Masaomi on the cover of the Yellow Scarves arc, so it must be his turn.


In some ways, Masaomi’s past is the least surprising of the three kids. He’s always seemed like his over the top happy, perverse guy side has been a front for something, and here we see what it is. The Yellow Scarves are his gang, and though he may not have had intentions of it becoming what it is today, what matters is that his people were hurt by the slasher. As such, he’s pulled back in in order to give the gang a figurehead and leader, and to get revenge. The irony here being that in the end, the person he may need to seek revenge on is also the girl he’s been hitting on this entire time.

Naturally his past is also tied up in Izaya’s, who appears here not just in his monomaniacal ranting phase of the present day, but also as a manipulative bastard in Masaomi’s past. I will say this for DRRR!!, it is not afraid to paint Izaya as an utter asshole. He confidently manipulates those he knows into doing what he wants; he spouts cod-philosophy that even makes Namie, a girl who has justified murder and her own incestual feelings, retch; and if it happens that someone who is equally broken latches onto Izaya and treats him almost like a savior, well, that’s fine too. Everyone in Ikebukuro is a game piece to Izaya, and since he mashes games together at will, the more pieces the better the chaos.

This leads me to Saki, who is introduced here. I had been spoiled a bit on who she was and the internet backdraft she was hit with when the anime came out. She is Masaomi’s old girlfriend, who suffered a crippling injury that has kept her hospitalized for an extended period, and she’s also utterly devoted to Izaya. Thus we have fans who hate her for being manipulative towards Masaomi (which she would be the first to admit, I suspect – I’m not pretending she’s a nice, innocent girl) and those who hate her for pairing reasons. Frequently I find myself drawn to characters who get this sort of backlash, and I find myself liking Saki, and wanting to see more of what makes her tick. Does she really love Masaomi? Is she merely a sleeper agent of Izaya’s? Both?

I suspect that this arc will lead up to a confrontation between the three kids – the cliffhanger here, showing Masaomi almost catching Anri spying on the gang, suggests it. This is a good thing. You can only sustain a buildup so much, sooner or later you have to have a payoff. We’ve had two smaller ones in the first two arcs, and I want a big one here. It should also be a lot of fun.

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.