Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Review: DURARARA!!

Imagine, if  you can, a scene from a recent major anime con...

YEN PRESS REPS: We licenced Durarara!!


YPR: ...the manga!




...yes, today for the 12 Reviews of Christmas we look at this adaptation of the popular series...just not the version some people were hoping for.

DURARARA!!, adapted from the light novels by Ryohgo Narita, drawn by Suzuhito Yasuda, with character designs by Akiyo Satorigi.  First published in 2009, and first published in North America in 2012.

PLOT: Mikado Ryuugamine is an ordinary kid who is heading off to attend high school in Tokyo.  He's overwhelmed by the big city atmosphere of Ikebukuro, but luckily he's got his best friend Masaomi Kida to fill him in on who's who and what's what.  After all, there are a lot of strange things to be found in the neighborhood, ranging from secret gangs to Yakuza informants to a mysterious motorcycle rider dressed in black who drives silently through the streets.

STORY: As suggested by my little skit above, this manga had a lot of expectations built around it, being not only an adaptation of an acclaimed light novel series, but also connected to a popular anime.  Because of that, some might wonder if there is any reason to check out yet another take on Durarara.  Does this series bring anything new to the table for fans of the series?  And alternately, does it serve as a good introduction for those unfamiliar with the series?  Happily, the answer to both questions is yes, although it's not always an unconditional one.

The plot should feel disjointed, as the first volume covers at least four different storylines and promises even more.  Luckily, Narita has a particular talent for interweaving multiple storylines in a way that feels natural and is never confusing, and that element has translated well to the manga.  Of course, there's only one slight problem with that: the main storyline, the one the others are all anchored to, is dull as dishwater.

Mikado is supposed to be the audience stand-in, the everyman upon which to contrast all that is strange and wonderful within Ikebukuro.  Too bad they presumed that "audience stand-in" should mean "boring as hell and completely passive."  Even Masaomi, with his outgoing and slightly grating personality, is more interesting than Mikado, and once we branch off into another storyline it's easy to forget about him.  Thankfully, the other storylines and characters are much more interesting, and while some are noticeably altered (such as Izaya's) or somewhat condensed (such as Celty's), the purpose and meaning behind them remains much the same.  Celty, as always, is the highlight of the volume, as her backstory is fascinating and her very concept is an inspired touch; a European spectre who has come to Japan in search of her missing head and (hopefully) with it she can regain much of her missing memories and identity.

Being that this is an introduction to a sizeable cast and a lot of stories, we don't spend too much time with any one person and thus don't learn too much about anyone.  Honestly though, that's OK, because what we do learn and see is intriguing, and it leaves the reader wanting more in the very best sense of that phrase.

ART:  Sadly, this is one place where the manga does suffer in comparison to the anime.  While no one has been drasticallyh altered visually, there's just something off about them.  All the characters look a little too rounded and a little too simplified, like some dollar-store knock-off of the Durarara cast.  It's a bit sad that the splash page from the guest artist (a fold out piece of Izaya and Shizuo drawn by Yana Toboso of Black Butler fame) looks better and more recognizeable than the rest of the artwork between the covers.

The page presentation is pretty straightforward.  It's easy to follow, but rarely gets flashy.  It mostly involves a lot of talking heads and online chat sessions, save for the brief moments where Celty gets to show off her powers.  Too bad these moments are sometimes spoiled by placing them on 2-page splash panels that have to be turned on their side to be viewed properly.  Maybe the action scenes will get more interesting (or at least more frequent) once Shizuo is introduced, but alas you will have to wait for another volume for that.

While the story for Durarara!! was carried over nicely from the source material, there's something that seems to have been lost in translation as far as the art is concerned.  It feels like it's missing an edge and missing some action, and without it the manga as a whole feels a bit diluted.

PRESENTATION:  As mentioned previously, there is a bit of color artwork in the front from the guest artist, and the back features notes from the creative staff and translation notes.

The Durarara!! manga is not necessarily a bad adaptation, but it is a bit spiritless and slightly off-model one, and some fans may find more value in saving their pennies for those DVDs.

This series is published in the USA by Yen Press.  All 4 volumes of the first arc have been released and are currently in print, and the second arc will be released in 2013.

You can purchase this volume and many more like it through RightStuf.com!

Want a chance to win Volume 1 of this and 5 other series?  Leave a comment to enter the 12 Reviews of Christmas Giveaway here!

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