Durarara!!, Vol. 10

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

I had assumed that this would be another of those “all the plot guns fire off at once” volumes, but I was wrong. Indeed, Narita suggests he’s saving everything for the endgame, which is coming up soon. That is not to say that what’s in this volume is without interest. For one thing, we’re introduced to a new Big Bad, who not only lets all the Yodogiri Jinnais (yes, multiple) get crushed, but also gets to crush Izaya as well, something that always pleases me. What’s more, she seems to have a Saika’s power. This makes THREE independently running Saikas who can control people, as we have Anri, Haruna Niekawa (whose absence from her family life is a large plot point here as well), and now Kujiragi, the cliched “secretary secretly running everything behind the scenes”, who is also apparently older than she seems. She also has a fondness for cat puns. She’s a cool new character.

Thought Erika and Walker are hamming it up, Kadota’s presence on the cover is no accident, though it’s his absence that drives most of the plot. What’s been happening in Ikebukuro lately has been like a grenade about to go off, and the two things that stop it going off are Shizuo (because of sheer physical strength) and Kadota (because he’s the Only Sane Man in this entire series). So when Kadota is hospitalized by a passing mystery car, and Shizuo is arrested by cops for… well, they’ll think of some crime or another… all hell is ready to break loose. That said, it’s made clear in their scenes together that Erika is on a more even keel whenever she’s with Anri. She may be a fangirl of Anri’s supernatural powers, but she also knows that Anri needs a big sister, and when she fulfills that role she can avoid running around town threatening everyone with a car and a motive, the way Walker and Togusa do.

It’s been a while since we checked in on the three ‘main’ cast members (though, as always, Narita insists the star of Durarara!! is Celty). Mikado continues his downward slide, though at least we see he hasn’t gone full villain when he gets totally terrified on meeting Akabayashi. It’s hard to sympathize with Mikado, and I get the feeling that if he admits that he’s doing this so that he can feel excitement and be “special”, he’ll have lost. So he blunders on, not really caring that Aoba is just using him. Masaomi seems to be thinking that the best way to get through to Mikado is to kick the crap out of him till he’s a sweet boy again, and has mobilized the Yellow Squares to do this. As for Anri, all she wants is for things to go back to where they were so the three of them can have their talk. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen, and I suspect the presence of two other Saikas will goad her into more definitive action next time.

So the pot is still simmering, but the stew inside it is smelling even more delicious. DRRR!! proper ends with the 13th book (please don’t ask about SH yet, I beg of you), so we’ll see how much more setup can be forced in before Narita simply has to serve it all up.

Durarara!!, Vol. 9

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

I may have mentioned in previous books that I don’t like Orihara Izaya, who is as close as DRRR!! gets to a main antagonist. At this point, I should be writing “Admittedly, he’s not meant to be likeable”, but this is the 9th DRRR!! novel, the first anime had already aired, and Narita is well aware that his fanbase consists of a whooooooooole lot of Shizaya fans. As such, this book is an attempt to give Izaya the closest thing he can get to a sympathetic backstory, as well as flesh out his relationship with Shinra. It’s more successful in the second than the first, in my opinion. Izaya at one point thinks of himself as Shinra as complete opposites, and I can see why. Izaya proclaims he loves all humanity (except Shizuo), but this all-encompassing love does not extend itself to individual humans per se. As for Shinra, he only loves one non-human, and has no use for anyone else. If you like deeply broken twisted viewpoints, Narita is here for you.

The cover features a heaping help of Oriharas, as we also see Izaya’s twin sisters, who provide fanservice for the cover (well, Kururi does), and also have the largest role they’ve had in the books since their debut. We get their origin, so to speak, which (unsurprisingly) turns out to be related to Izaya making a cruel and nasty comment. That said, I was far more amused seeing the two of them flirt with Aoba. Aoba’s function in the story so far has been to sort of be an Izaya-lite, leading Mikado into a path towards darkness. But, as he finds, he’s rather crap at being Izaya (who he dislikes anyway), and Mikado is able to walk the dark path without any help from him. As such, it’s much more fun seeing him as an average high school freshman dealing with two girls coming on far too strong for him. He’s living every teenage boy’s dream, but somehow is more unnerved than anything else.

Mikado is actually absent from this book for the most part, though the ending suggests that this will change for Book 10. The main plot is Izaya supposedly getting kidnapped and worked over by an underground gambling ring led by a sadistic woman named Earthworm. If you read that sentence and thought “yeah right, like Izaya would be kidnapped and worked over”, you’re wrong and yet correct, in that he proves to be in total control the entire time. His hot pot partygoers have also turned into his own personal goon squad, either beating people with martial arts, breaking their digits with hammers, or just using Saika to take possession of them – no, not Anri, but another Saika user we’ve seen before. Add in a group fronting illegal drugs, and you’ve got the usual recipe for DRRR!! chaos.

That said, for all that Izaya fans will love this, this volume felt like one of those that is marking time. This is not at all uncommon with DRRR!!, and frustrated anime fans as well, as it can sometimes take a while for all the plot hammers to fire. Still, I’m sure we’re introduced to some nice payoffs down the road here. As for me? It was a good book, but needed less Izaya being Izaya.

Durarara!!, Vol. 8

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

At the start of the Baccano! anime, Carol is sorting through the various events and people that she and her boss are reporting on, and is asked who she thinks “the main character” is. She responds by picking Firo, saying he looks “Main character-ish”. The -ish being intentional. And so it is with Durarara!!, a series that may be beloved by its fandom for the hot sexual tension between Izaya and Shizuo (something pretty much absent from the actual novels), and whose ‘iconic’ character is probably Celty. That said, if I was to say who I thought the ‘main characters’ of the series were, it would be the trio of Mikado, Anri and Masaomi and their tortured relationship with each other. They’ve been separated for several books now, and give every appearance of reuniting in this book. But, while I think they’re being idiots in avoiding it, I do agree now is not the time, if only as I want to see more of the author making Mikado a semi-villain.

The Dollars have been Mikado’s pride and obsession with Book 1, and here we see him take the philosophy of “By Any Means Necessary” to heart, using the Blue Squares to viciously purge from the ranks of the “gang” any muggers or other lowlifes. Theoretically, he’s being manipulated by Aoba, but honestly, Aoba just seems to be sitting back and staring at Mikado more than anything else, as the boy is clearly descending into a sort of madness. Anri is worried sick, but unfortunately Celty regards Mikado’s secrets as more important and decides not to tell her what’s going on. (Celty is probably correct, to be fair.) Speaking of Anri, it was amazing to me to see the short scenes from Mika’s perspective this volume, especially following after the insanity-fest from last time. Here she shows genuine concern and worry for Anri, and it’s pointed out that Seiji is not everything to her, but merely the highest thing on her list. It almost feels like seeing canon change mid-page.

There are other things going on here, of course. Ruri Hirijibe returns, with her new boyfriend (Shizuo’s brother) trying to save her from a psychotic stalker. We see the stalker’s POV several times, and it once again reminds you how good Narita is at writing the truly cruel and hateful person. As for Ruri herself, it was interesting to me to see how much the book avoided using the word “vampire” unless it absolutely had to, and it’s still not clear how much of one Ruri is – though her grandmother seems to qualify. (An unlicensed Narita series, Vamp!, may be useful here, though as yet we can only speculate). And the message board explodes with new characters, as everyone seems to invite some new person to join in. So we see Saki (using her own name), Kid (Akabayashi, whose use of (lol) may be the funniest part of the book), and Chrome, whose identity is unsurprising but gives us a wonderful callback to previous books as we start the Hot Pot Party Of Evil!.

And then there’s Masaomi, who I left out of my talk earlier, who ran away from his problems 5 books ago and has returned to find they’ve gotten much worse. Can he really do anything to make amends and help his friends? In the meantime, this is another ‘setup for future books’ volume, meaning it’s low on action but still worth a read.