Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Anime Review: Durarara!! x2 SHOU

This was a bit of an odd show to be air. As I think I talked about in my Yuri Kuma Arashi review, studio Brains Base is hardly worth mentioning these days and Durarara!! was their best selling show ever, I think Natsume and the Book of Friends was a close second but DRRR!! sold like gangbusters and everyone expected a sequel to be announced in a year or so. Come five years later and a lot of the core creative staff has moved onto an entirely different studio to produce this show and it makes me wonder what was going on behind the scenes for that to happen. We'll likely never know (short of getting someone important drunk which is always a possibility!) and even odder is a recent episode of the podcast ANNCast with "Aniplex Guy" who says that the US support for the show helped get this second part made. There have been cases before where an American company has helped fund a sequel (like with Big O) and Aniplex of America is special since it's a branch of the Japanese production company but this would be almost the first time simple support for a show has helped make it possible. Plus, I had always heard that DRRR!! DIDN'T do as well as they expected, they even switched over to their more premium releases afterwards so that change in marketing always seemed to support the rumor. So I guess you can say that the story surrounding the show is more confusing than the show itself, although given that this show tends to explain itself fairly well after a point maybe that's the least surprising point.

Durarara!! x2 SHOU

Ikebukuro, Tokyo, continues as it always has where the mundane and the supernatural intersect in slapdash ways and sometimes without the involved parties ever being aware of it. Celty the dullahan continues to make deliveries around the city and meet terrifying people, bored teenagers are still in gangs that seethe beneath the surface, and there are always new groups intruding in the form of more yakuza and Russian mafia. Every day has the potential to be utterly boring or raucous depending on who you know and there are some new students at Raira Academy who are already very interested in this seedy underworld their senpais are involved in...

Part of the reason this is an odd sequel is because DRRR!! doesn't quite fit into the anime and light novel world anymore, or at least these early parts don't. Watching this first arc made me realize that Ryohgo Narita, the original author, included quite a few earlier stereotypes and parodies of them which would have felt funny and prophetic if we had had the show even three years ago but now feel dull since light novel adaptations and their cliches are so much more common now. The jabs at the Japanese entertainment industry felt too over the top to work since we've seen examples of that in real life and yet another "I had a depressing, empty childhood and now I'm a killer searching for meaning" character elicited the most sarcastic eye rolls I could muster. Other new characters were similarity cliched and the big, returning storyline from the first season (involving the tensions between various color gangs and the constant outside manipulation to try and draw them into "war") was easily my least favorite part of the show. Even five years ago the tension over what Mikado should do about this entity he's created that he's neither in control of yet a semi-figurehead seemed clear: you can shut it down. Yes not completely but you can distance yourself from it, the show is playing into this mentality that I've dubbed "submissive high schooler thinking" where it's only the people who break the rules who have power, something I've been seeing in my own real life and thinking about for a while (possible post on tumblr later this week). It's frustrating to watch a story where a character doesn't even seriously consider what I think is obviously the best and simplest solution. So at this point, is there any point in me returning for the second and third parts of the show this summer and next winter?

I still can't answer that question for myself since there were moments in this season when I remembered just why I loved the first installment (or at least, the first two-thirds of it) so much. Celty is sill a fun central character to focus on, the one who expresses the viewers feelings of "Ehhhh? WHAT just happened?!" and who is never tripped up too seriously by the various machinations by Izaya et al (which is important since it's easier to like a character if you're not constantly worried that they might be kidnapped or such) and simply has a really nice personality. Plus there were some moments when Narita's talent of slapping together too many story lines together at once into a satisfying bang would come together and it was fun to see how little details from different lives would snowball into one big impact. But I know that this gang war is going to continue to be a major focus for the rest of the story* and even those moments with Celty and the "van gang" wasn't enough to make up for it in installment (I also hadn't realized how much I liked Shizuo's surprisingly no-nonsense kind of character but he was also very refreshing here). Maybe I'll simply marathon each season later on so that my completion-ist self will feel happy or maybe I'll just read reviews to capture that same feeling. Either way it's clear that the story isn't making the choices that I would (storytelling or "if I was this character" wise) and is failing to convince me why these are "good" choices which means I have a hard time recommending it. I think that your own feelings on the end of the first season are your best guidance here, if you want more then watch (Aniplex also has this season in the usual places) but if your unsure then tread carefully.

*I still remember quite a few details from the fan translation I read four or five years ago, enough to start swearing as soon as a particular character appeared on screen and to go "pen, wait there was a pen scene in this wasn't there? AHHHH, YEAH, REMEMBERING THAT NOW"