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.

Durarara!!, Vol. 6

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

When you write a book that creates a series of events that spiral into chaos, as Narita specialized in, particularly in this series, it can be many things to many people. For every character that’s involved in wacky hijinks, there’s another who’s undergoing a traumatic life-changing event. The skill is to keep those balls up in the air, and more importantly, to make everyone distinctive and memorable. As the books go on, we introduce more and more new cast members, and you need to be able to care about everyone without consulting the wiki to remember who they are (A Certain Magical Index suffers from this quite a bit). Luckily, Narita is quite good at this, so we can empathize not only with our heroes, but even the passing villains who get curbstomped by yakuza, and said yakuza, who are finding all of these gangs and Russian assassins simply exasperating. It’s all things to all people.

And so Durarara!! can be a comedy. There’s lots of great humor here, even if some of it is pretty twisted. Shinra’s diary of Celty fetish outfits, and her reaction to same. Chikage’s absolutely ridiculous chivalry, with equal measures of “knight in shining armor” and dumb sexism. Speaking of sexism, Erika gets to play the depraved bisexual in this one, groping Anri for no reason other than she wants to and to give the illustrator some fanservice to draw. Not OK, Erika. There’s also her and Walker namechecking Index and Shana in the middle of a pitched fight. And Mairu and Kururi’s chatroom gabbling is always worth a smile.

But Durarara!! is also ridiculously heartwarming. The fact that Shizuo has grown and changed as a person is a literal plot point here, as that very growth is what spoils Izaya’s plans. I loved the way that he bonded with Akane at the end, after saving her from Vorona and Slon. Celty might be weirded out by all the talk of Akane killing him, but it’s sweet in a Ryohgo Narita way. Anri may not be able to admit how close Mikado is to her, but her attempts to protect him are wonderful to see, as are Mikado’s absolutely pathetic attempts to protect her and also stop the Dollars gang from kidnapping Rio and her friends. For all that I like to say that Durarara!! is about terrible, twisted people, a lot of them have a good heart. Oh yes, and who doesn’t get a warm feeling in their heart when they see Izaya get what he deserved at the end of the book? I know I smiled. Well, cackled, really.

But I’m avoiding the elephant in the room, and that’s the fact that Durarara!! Book 6 is also a tragedy. We see a bit of it in miniature with Akane, a genuinely sweet little girl who is broken by events (and helped along by Izaya) to the point where both Celty and Shiki are disturbed by her but can’t quite put their finger on why. Vorona is shown that she’s nowhere near strong enough to take on Ikebukuro (don’t worry, she’ll be back). And then there’s Mikado, who is being used as a pawn by both Izaya and Aoba, and who finally makes a decision to go to a very dark place. Several times in the book we see people seemingly know Mikado better than he knows himself, and he’s given several opportunities to back off, to do the right thing, to become a good person. And he absolutely rejects all of them, agreeing to become the Blue Squares leader so that he can “fix” the Dollars. The most chilling moment in the book isn’t when he stabs Aoba in the hand with a ballpoint pen (though that is the most famous moment). As Aoba also realizes, it’s right after, when he switches back to innocent, kindhearted Mikado like flipping a switch. Mikado has chosen to embrace the darkness, and I appreciate that the narrative shows us how much of a terrible tragedy that truly is.

So we’re at the end of another arc, and that means next time we’ll see a lot of wandering around and setting up future plotlines. Still, books like that are what lead us to books like this, which is a highlight of the series.

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.