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.

Durarara!!, Vol. 7

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

Sooner or later in the life of every light novels, you get the volume that consists of short stories, usually because the author is still figuring out where to take the series next. And so it is with DRRR!!, which gives us 4 stories here surrounded by Izaya recuperating from his stab wound he got last time in the hospital, where he runs into a girl that literally everyone has forgotten, including him (and the creators of the anime, who were unhappy to see this, I imagine). The ‘theme’ of these stories seems to be Ikebukuro on holiday, and indeed, Narita has discussed the idea of the city as a character in the volume before. And of course there’s also some setup and moving of chess pieces for future books, most obviously in the story with Shizuo and Tom, which gives them a new co-worker.

First, though, we have to deal with the story nobody wanted. I think if you were to ask Western fans in particular which DRRR!! characters they never want to see or hear from again, the insane triangle of Namie, Seiji and Mika would likely top the list. And what’s worse, Narita has them in your face here, never letting you forget how much Namie wants to screw her little brother, or that Mika is seriously looking to EAT CELTY’S HEAD so that she can get closer to Seiji, or that Seiji… well, no, Seiji continues to be a nonentity. He gets some depth here, of a sort, but his main theme still seems to be “what do these two see in him?”. It’s not the most pointless story in the book, but it is the most disturbing. We then get a look at the backstory and current life of Akabayashi, the yakuza with a sweet cane and missing an eye we’ve seen in the previous book. He deals with the fallout from Akane’s kidnapping, stops some drug dealing on his turf, and escapes an attempt on his life with ease. He’s here to be incredibly cool, and succeeds. He also has a surprising tie to Anri, which is good as the “main” trio of teenagers otherwise make very minor to no appearances in this volume.

The best story in the collection, even if you don’t love her (which I do) is the third one, in which Vorona is cooling her heels at Russian Sushi and wondering what to do with her life now that she’s been beaten and humiliated. The answer? Join Shizuo and Tom in shaking down local deadbeats who rent porn and then never pay for it or other such offenses. Tom is rather startled at how good Vorona is at beating others up, and impressed at her wikipedia brain. Shizuo (who does not recognize her as the woman who kidnapped Akane, as she was wearing her motorcycle helmet) is just happy to be able to mentor someone. And Vorona is watching Shizuo closely, seeing how he manages to be stronger than everything else, and deciding that he’s her “prey”… much to the displeasure of Akane, who has decided that she needs to take out Shizuo as well, despite the fact that she really likes him. (It is implied that getting kidnapped on top of the family revelations kind of broke Akane, but that’s Narita for you.) This story is filled with humor and unnecessary violence, and the book is worth getting for just this one.

We end with a cute, if completely pointless, date between Shinra and Celty, who have gone off to the mountains to get closer but keep getting interrupted by the rest of the cast calling Shinra for one reason or another. This mostly serves to remind us that, eccentric as they are, these two are the least screwed up couple in the series. The book overall is marking time, but it’s still worth reading, provided you don’t mind the author occasionally reminding you that he loves to read horrible people being horrible at each other.