Durarara!! Part 1 (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, January 21, 2011
Release Date: Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The world of Ikebukuro unfolds of newly arrived Ryugamine and we discover a city who is interconnected in fascinating ways.
 

What They Say
Ikebukuro, Tokyo. Mikado Ryugamine is a young man who yearns for the city like no other. At the invitation of his childhood friend, Masaomi Kida, he leaves his hometown and enters Raira Academy in Ikebukuro. Masaomi warns Mikado about the mysterious organization of unknown origin known as the "Dollars" and some dangerous people in Ikebukuro to watch out for. In particular: the brawling champion Shizuo Heiwajima and hobbyist information broker Izaya Orihara.

On his first day out in the city, Mikado, remembering another of Masaomi's stories, sees a jet-black motorcycle being driven by the fabled "Headless Rider." From then on, a series of random attacks and events begins to occur on the streets of Ikebukuro, and a group known as the Yellow Scarves arises as Ikebukuro begins to crumble!

Contains episodes 1-9 on two discs plus a set of exclusive post cards!

The Review!

Audio:
The audio for this release is a bilingual presentation from Aniplex with both the Japanese and English tracks encoded in stereo at 192kbps. With the opening song being one of the strongest ones I've heard in the last couple of years, the mix comes across realy well here and there's a definitely sense of space and depth applied to it. The show has a lot of dialogue to it and a fair amount of quiet moments but the incidental music and sound effects all come across really well both in placement and level. It's a pretty rich mix in how it uses the soundstage and both tracks are solid. The English language track manages to work rather with the cast feeling like they blend into the world really well. The shift between internal monologue and spoken dialogue has a slight but noticeable level difference to it that I think is a bit harder to notice in the Japanese side and that helps to give it a little richer of a feeling.
 
Video:
Originally airing in 2010, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The first nine episodes are in this set spread across two volumes with five on the first and four on the second. The animation by Brain's Base has a distinct style about it here with lots of shark edges both in the characters designs, such as hair and faces, but also in their clothes. The world of Ikebukuro is very much a character in this show and the amount of detail given to it is shown really well here, especially as a lot of it takes place at night or in dark areas. It's a rich and lively city that's given a life here and the transfer captures it. Colors are rich when appropriate, especially with a lot of the backgrounds in the city, but also with the online aspect with the chat rooms that use bold colors. Cross coloration is nonexistent but there are a few moments of some line noise during a panning sequence or two which is rather negligible overall. It's obviously leaps and bounds above the simulcasts I watched but it has a very strong look on our setup at seventy inches.
 
Packaging:
The packaging for this release is a digipak with a clear slipcover over it that helps to tie it all together thematically. The front of the slipcover is clear except for a pair of keep out bands across it that looks good against the digipak artwork. The back does the same though it goes across it a bit more and there's a insert between the digipak and the slipcover itself. It's here that we get the standard back breakdown with several shots from the show against a straight black background. The left side has a breakdown of the episode titles and numbers with what's on which disc and a rundown of the production credits. There's no plot concept or summary provided here so it has to sell itself entirely on pre-existing knowledge or just the appeal of the artwork itself, which is definitely good.
 
Inside the slipcover we get the digipak itself which has some really good design and character elements to it. It's a dark cover overall with the cityscape filling up the background with the lights and the shadows of the buildings while the foreground of the front of it has the primary trio of characters together in their usual outfits of school uniforms. The back of it adds a little more color with the moon showing off Celty while the trio of older men line the bottom of it. There's a bit more light to the buildings in the background here which gives it a very distinctive feeling. The reverse side of the digipak has clear hubs on it and behind it we see the same backgrounds as the front of it but without any of the character artwork which further cements how much of a character Ikebukuro is to the series. Also inside here is a set of postcards that shows off a five different pairings of characters against a variety of colors. They all look really good and are definitely frame worthy.
 
Menu:
The menu design for this is really quite fun as it uses some of the basic but good character artwork images of the main trio of characters done to a bit of a blue filter while having the various keep out strips across it, one of which has the navigation itself. What makes it more than just a basic looking menu though is that they've layered the images so it has a good sense of depth and the whole thing is bouncing around lightly to some very good music that sets the tone just right for it. The navigation strip is straightforward and very easy to use with quick load times and the submenus are nicely laid out as well. The discs read our players' language presets which was a welcome change of pace to how many releases are.
 
Extras:
The extras section on the first disc is made up of just the credits, which has the top level translation credits for the Japanese production and separate pages for the voice casts so we get a full English and Japanese list. I do like going all the way to the end though to see that nightjar was the company that did the authoring. The second disc replicates the credits section and only adds a trailers section with promos for the two Gurren Lagann movies and the R.O.D. Blu-ray set.
 
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the light novels by Ryohogo Narita, who has gained some stateside fame recently with Baccano! being released from FUNimation, Durarara!! is a twenty-four episode series being produced by Brain Base, which also did the work on Baccano!. Durarara! has six light novels as of this airing so there’s certainly material to work with and this collection sets up the stage well while leaving a whole slew of questions. After watching the series in simulcast form, seeing nine episodes in a row certainly does alter the view of it, as well as having seen all of it and knowing some of the key answers.
 
Similar to Baccano, Durarara is the kind of series which has a whole lot going on with a number of layered and interconnected stories. The series has as its true central character that of Ikebukuro itself where all the characters reside. The human cast is pretty varied and different ones take on the narration depending on the episode of the time with what the story is about. Ostensibly, you could say that the main leads of the series are the main trio that makes up a lot of the advertising. The show opens with the introduction of Ryugamine, a first year high school student who has gotten into his school of choice in Ikebukuro. He's come largely because his friend who moved here several years ago goes there named Kida. The two are very good friends that have a great on screen relationship where Ryugamine is fascinated by the city and Kida does his best to make sure he doesn't get abused by it. Though she has less of a role in this set, Anri is a the third principal character as a fellow student and class rep that who harbors her own dark secrets that are only lightly touched on here.
 
What Durarara deals in is a variety of stories wherein these characters are the observing players for now. Ryugamine is introduced to the complexities of it through Kida where he explains how a year ago there were a number of gang wars as several of them existed by colors, such as the Blue Squares and Yellow Scarves. Events turned to have those broken up and there now only seems to exist some formless group called the Dollars, though more people seem to pretend that they're in it than actually are. With that as the backdrop, Kida shows him some of the more colorful people in the city. Simon's a black Russian who works for a Russian sushi shop that has very unusual tastes, an underground doctor named Shinra and an interesting bartender named Shizuo who doesn't seem to have to sense much pain and is incredibly strong. His main focus in life is to deal with a man named Izaya who works as an information broker and manipulator in the city.
 
The most unusual character in the city is known as the masked rider, a headless woman who rides a motorcycle through the city as a transporter. Celty's actually far more than that as she's an at least century old Dullahan, a creature of legend from Ireland. She woke up several years ago uncertain of who she was or why she has no head, just puffs of black smoke coming from her neck, but was drawn to Japan in search of her missing head. Celty's method of communication is priceless in the modern age as she uses a cell phone to type out messages for people. While the general population is just generally in awe of her as something mystical when they see her, if they even believe it since she wears a cat-themed helmet, she has a good relationship with others, especially Shizuo whom she hangs out with and Shinra, whom she has known for twenty years and lives with. Their past is explored over one episode that really highlights her origins in a way that makes her truly fascinating. The way she brings something supernatural to the show but ties it with technology so that it has a really natural feel to it.
 
Durarara is a series where it's hard to really talk about what's going on because it works with so many smaller stories that are layered to it. The first two episodes play out a number of events with Ryugamine's arrival from different points of view, where a kidnapping seems like it's one thing but it has larger meaning when we get to the second episode and see it from that perspective. The gangs are a part of it as we start to understand their history in the last couple of years and there's something about a mysterious Slasher as well that's touched upon. Add in the kidnappings, Izaya's manipulations and all that's involved with Celty and the search for her head, which actually becomes relevant in this collection, and watching all the threads of the story weave together is beyond intriguing. There are so many points of views and connections here that repeat viewings are definitely warranted, especially after you've seen the whole thing as you see the connections in new light.
 
This series is one that as detailed and complex as the story is, it's made all the more engaging because of its animation. The designs for it, particularly with backgrounds, really grabs you and draws you in. Ikebukuro is so richly detailed here with some great colors to it that it feels like an incredibly living place with people all over and movement throughout it. The character designs are just as good, though they do tend to stick to same outfits most of the time, but it largely makes sense for most of them. Celty's certainly unique here but she also gets some past designs shown with her form in Ireland and the suit of armor she gets to wear. There's a lot to take in with this series and it excels at the challenge. I particularly applaud them for the way they handled the technology, from Celty's texting to the chat room sessions which increase in importance as the show progresses.
 
In Summary:
Durarara was one of the simulcasts that ran in 2010 that I found to be hugely exciting right from the opening sequence. The first set here introduces us to the sizable cast with all their quirks and lifestyles that exist within Ikebukuro. The stories are layered on top of each other and as each new wedge is explored, new meanings are revealed and what we see of past events changes along with it. There's a lot going on here with all these life stories being told within this one slice of time, but it also spends time going through various pasts in order to give it all context as well. Durarara is one of those shows that has a lot of replay value to it because of what it offers and Aniplex has put together a fantastic looking release here. Fans of the original cast and the English cast will love what's here as the performances are strong across the board as well. It's very easy to be enthusiastic about this show and this release shows why.
 
Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles

Review Equipment 
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
 



Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Aniplex USA
MSRP: 49.98
Running time: 225
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Durarara!!