Durarara!!

Part 1

 

Durarara!!: Part 1

Based on a series of novelettes by Ryohgo Narita

Character Design: Suzuhito Yasuda

Screenplay by Noboru Takagi

Music: Makoto Yoshimori

Directed by Takahiro Omori

2010


Cast:

Mikado Ryūgamine:

Toshiyuki Toyonaga / Darrel Guilbeau

Celty Sturluson:

Miyuki Sawashiro / Kali Wahlgren

Masaomi Kida:

Mamoru Miyano / Bryce Papenbrook

Shizuo Heiwajima:

Daisuke Ono / Crispin Freeman

Izaya Orihara:
Hiroshi Kamiya / Johnny Yong Bosch

Anri Sonohara:

Kana Hanazawa / Michelle Ruff

Shinri Kishitani:

Jun Fukuyama / Yuri Lowenthal


Production:

Television: Brains Base

Video: Aniplex (in association w/ Bang Zoom!)


Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Resolution: 480i

Codec: MPEG-2

Disc Size: DVD-9

Avg. Bit Rate: 7.6 Mbps

Runtime: 220 minutes

Episodes: 12


Audio:

Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0

English Dolby Digital 2.0


Subtitles: English


Extras:

4 post cards

• Cast & Production Credits

3 Aniplex Trailers (incl one for the complete 29-episode 5-disc Blu-ray box for “R.O.D the TV”)


Presentation:

Blu-ray Case w/ flip-pages: DVD x 2

Street Date: January 25, 2011



Introduction:

Let me make clear up front that I do not consider myself an anime aficionado.  There are reviewers and bloggers out there who watch far more material in this medium and are that much more savvy about its history and current trends.  And for one such take on this series you would do well to read Theron Martin’s excellent ad detailed accounting of DURARARA!!, reprinted in the infinitely useful  animenewsnetwork.


     


I do enjoy anime - and here I do not mean the more fluid stylings of a Hayao Miyasaki, but the more comic book in motion of a Kenji Kamiyama or Satoshi Kon.  I tend to prefer TV series to feature films, first because I don’t think the medium lends itself to lengthy uninterrupted sittings and because a series has the potential of a more highly evolved storyline and character development. My taste has some range, but I’ve never been particularly drawn to robot-driven slice and dice anime.  My favorites include some classics and a few off the beaten path: COWBOY BEBOP, of course; also LAST EXILE, R.O.D. the TV (which Aniplex has just released on Blu-ray!), BLEACH, GHOST IN THE SHELL S.A.C., PARANOIA AGENT; and I have a certain respect for such artsy projects as TEXHNOLYZE and MUSHI-SHI.


     


My starting point is to consider anime in something like the same way as I do film -  as a similar art form yet keeping in mind how it is different from film - and DVD and Blu-ray as a means to bring that art into our homes.  I should add that my experience of anime is not by way of a computer.  I do not stream, neither do I limit the size of my image to computer displays or large flat panel TVs.  I watch everything on a 104-inch screen by way of a JVC DILA HD projector, which means that I insist that anime pass the minimum requirements for home theatre viewing, even if that was not its original intention.  Unfair, perhaps, but there it is. 


I rely on my OPPO BDP-83 to upscale 480 content to 1080p and consider the results as part of my evaluation, but I also look at the disc via my computer so as to get closer to the source before any major reconstruction is applied, so to speak.  The screencaps including in this review are my own, not supplied by the studio or distributor, and are derived using VLC and formatted and resized (only) with Photoshop.


     


Series: Part 1: 7

24 episodes, thus far.  Part 1 (the present 2-DVD set) contains 9.


The action takes place more or less today in an imagined Tokyo in the Ikebukuro district (currently about 120,000 inhabitants and a popular tourist, commercial and entertainment district of Tokyo.)  The characters are teens from age 15 and up and young adults in their twenties.  There are also a few denizens that are not exactly human, though in most respects they look human.  The nine episodes of Part 1 is barely enough space to introduce what we assume are the major characters, each one featured in each of the episodes; and it is not until we are well into this group of episodes that we think we know which ones will drive the narrative.


     


In this respect, DURARARA!! is a little like the TV series LOST in that each episode features one character whose past history is fleshed out, along with how they might interface with some of the other characters.  The series also resembles COWBOY BEPOP in its use of music and that each episode has just about enough spine to stand on its own.  The art work is unusual, though not unique.  I especially like how the many unessential inhabitants are sidelined by rendering them in varying degrees of monochrome, kind of resembling ghosts.


By the end of the ninth episode, two narrative lines, the one that introduces the initial character, Mikado Ryūgamine, and the one about Celty, the headless rider, come together at the last moment - a real cliffhanger, and the first one of any power to that point.


     


Mikado is our entry point into the series, but by the third episode he is overshadowed by other characters that will take center stage for the greater part of Part 1.  Mikado is one of the younger characters in the story and one of its most naive.  He comes to Ikebukero from a small town to look up his best friend from grammar school, wide-eyed, but eager for adventure. His friend, Masaomi, projects himself as the first and last word to guide Mikado in his Ikebukuro adventure, how to hook up with girls, and who to trust and who to avoid.  We meet up with many of both types in the first 22-minute episode. 


The dialogue and action in DURARARA!! is rocket fueled - for the first few episodes, anyway - but slows down after that perhaps to give us time to breathe in its many characters.


     


Celty is the character most unlike anyone else and probably the one most viewers will find interesting, though there is little so far to identify with.  She is drawn always wearing black, except when taking a shower.  When she is public she wears a helmet with cat’s ears (amusing at first, but wears thin after a while), but when she takes off her helmet or has it sliced off for her, we see she has no head, only a formless wisp of black smoke that rise from her torso, as it does form her wrists from time to time.  Since she has no head, she cannot talk, so she communicates by text with her PDA.  Sometimes we hear her thoughts, sometimes we hear her her “voice” what she has written, sometimes not.  In any case her voiceover is for our ears only.  I found it disconcerting to have a character tap out text while voicing what she has written, especially since no one can hear her but us.  I can’t think of any good reason why she is written that way, since we can always ready what she has written.  Of course it’s in Japanese, so it needs to be subtitled.  So?


     


One of the main thrusts of the story is the question of what happened to Celty’s head.  We learn right off that she is a “Dullahan” and that she came from Ireland some twenty years ago in search of her stolen head.  What became of it we learn in Episode 9.  Why her head seems to be afraid of her will have to wait for Part 2 - unless you’re more intuitive about these things than I am, which is likely.


There are a number of other characters that vie for our attention, most intriguing are Izaya Orihara and Heiwajima Shizuo, two young men with superhuman strength  who, like Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine in Ridley Scott’s THE DUELLISTS, never waste an opportunity to fight each other to the death.  Izaya (pronounced much as “Elijah” but someone who couldn’t be farther from).  He’s pretty handy with his flick-blade, a fact which he delights in demonstrating to anyone who crosses him which, given how often he steps up to a fight, is often.  He seems to know what’s going on with most every character and enjoys pulling their strings, much as Linda Hunt does for Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver in THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY, but for entirely different reasons.


     


There are some seriously disturbed people in this drama: kidnappers who sell their victims to other folks who use their body parts for reasons better left to your discovery, a girl who decides to commit a double suicide with someone she meets on line (timely and insightful), and street gangs of various description.  And there are the curiously named “Dollars” the infamous Internet-based gang about whose creator nothing is known - yet.


DURARARA!! is not a series that gives up its secrets or its direction easily.  Not all the characters are equally interesting, yet my interest lagged in only one of the nine episodes.  We hope and trust that we will get to know how these characters cross paths and how they affect each others lives in future episodes and that the wait and the time spent will have been worth the effort.  As of the end of the Part 1, this is not entirely clear, but it is promising, nonetheless.


     


Image: 9/7

Aniplex has done a first rate job in their transfer of DURARARA!! to DVD.  The line art is beautifully rendered, unmarred by that insane bugaboo, edge enhancement, which has no place in anime (or anywhere else for that matter.)  Colors are saturated, yet pure.  Blacks are deep.  In animation there shouldn’t be any concern about shadow detail, because there really aren’t any shadows in the same way as exist in live action film.  That said, we still want as long a grayscale as possible and one that conveys the full range of light and dark as imagine is intended.  And so it is here.


The image quality is really this DVD’s strong suit and I would like to give it corresponding space, but there really isn’t anything to criticize here.  The source elements are without blemish and artifacts are as much suppressed as anything I’ve encountered on DVD for line art, which by its very nature would reveal any problems.


     


Audio & Music: 7/7/8

My research did not turn up a surround mix for DURARARA!!, so Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is what we get for both the Japanese and the English dub, and except for how the two dialogue tracks are recorded and laid down, the effects and music on the two versions are identical.  This leaves us two issues: the voicing for the two versions and any subtle difference in the way they are recorded.


I generally opt for the original language track and give little credence to any dub, but in this case, I had a guest for part of the series and he has trouble with subtitles, especially ones that come and go as quickly as these, so I deferred and watched much of Part 1 in English.  From time to time, we would compare entire scenes in both versions to get a feel for how the voice characterizations communicate what we thought was the nature of the character as drawn and “acted.”


     


It came as some surprise to both of us that the Japanese did not always live up to expectations here, as one or two characters struck us sounding too mature for their characters.  The English actors are surprisingly good, though they, too, had voices other than what we thought were appropriate.  The main difficulty I observed was that, for the most part, the English actors seemed to be reading their script rather than acting it, which of course they are - but no more than other anime dubs I have experienced.  Less, I’d say.


There is a subtle difference in the way in which the voices are recorded, though not so much in their relative volume (the English slightly louder overall).  I found the Japanese to be more dynamically and tonally inflected, not only because of the way it is spoken but in regards the space in which they are expected to exist.  In other words, in the Japanese, there is more difference and that difference more correctly designed in the sound of the voice if the character is outdoors or indoors, to give one obvious example.  This is not a make or break issue, nor is the English dub any more lazy about this than on other buds, but on a good playback system the difference is perceptible and goes some way to make the Japanese more involving, even though we may not understand the language.  I particularly liked the sonic aura in the Japanese of the episodes that are narrated by some undefined character.


     


I’ve gotten quite used to high definition audio over the past coupe of years and do not generally take Dolby Digital (either on Blu-ray or DVD) very seriously.  That said I can’t really fault the audio here. It is stereo, not surround, though oftentimes 5.1 only makes the shortcomings of a compressed audio mix that much more apparent.  There is a nice balance of the music to the dialogue and effects when it is relatively quiet and in the background, but in those episodes where it gets jazzy and full of itself, it tends to vie for center stage.  I thought it a little loud, though perhaps I wouldn’t have if I thought more highly of the music, which struck me as a COWBOY BEBOP wannabe.  The opening closing credit music by Theatre Brook, Yūya Matsushita and ON/OFF is catchy, if generic.


     


Operations: 6

The case design is the bomb.  Absolutely.  English language subtitles, which are not simply a rendering of the dub, are displayed in readable, not too obtrusive, yellow font.  Latinized Japanese is burned in under the opening and closing credit music as is often the case in anime DVD.  I can’t say I cared much for the menu design.  It’s hard to make out where the indicator once you get to the Scenes.  And if you’re only going to have a maximum of five episodes per disc, is it really necessary to have two windows?  One last niggle: The menu denotes “Scenes” when it should read “Episodes.”


        


Extras: 1

The post cards are nice.  Really.  But there are no production features except for a listing of both the Japanese and English speaking casts.  From the previews, it was nice to learn that Aniplex has just released one of my favorite series on Blu-ray, R.O.D the TV.


Recommendation: 7

Fast paced and inventive, revealing an insightful understanding of the adolescent psyche, DURARARA!! is an intriguing idea for an anime series.  The characters are interesting, if not equally distinguished, though I haven’t quite got my mind wrapped around the idea of including a fairy creature.  I do find her triple life (fairy in search of her head, roommate to a doctor to underground types, transporter for hire) interesting.  Image quality is superb, audio is decent if not nearly on the same level as the image.  No extra features to speak of, but perhaps that’s coming on one of the next two installments.  Recommended.


     


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

February 3, 2011


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