Trying to drum up some interest in their upcoming release of Durarara!!, Aniplex of America sent out press screeners containing the first five episodes of the show. The entire show has already been streamed on Crunchyroll (you can read Chris Beveridge's reviews of the show here), but the new release sports an English dub, which also happens to be the only track on the screener. So, let us take a look at it. Considering the nature of this show and one particular vocal peculiarity, unusually, I am going to review it episode by episode. Cast credits are from what is officially noted on the internet, as well as occasional guessing by myself, since not all roles are officially credited yet.
The very first episode introduces us to Mikado Ryuugamine, a 15-year-old boy from the countryside who is moving to Tokyo for high school, specifically to Ikebukuro, an area fairly well known to anime and manga fans, as it has been the setting for other series (as well as being a common reference point for female fans of a certain kind). Mikado provides the opening narration to the episode as well, so our first impression of the show is highly dependent upon the first words we hear. Unfortunately, the opening narration and voicing of Ryuugamine is done somewhat stiffly and awkwardly by Darrel Guilbeau. I was similarly unimpressed the last time I heard him, as Ichitaka Seto in I"s/I"s Pure. It is a somewhat awkward start, but fortunately, Mr. Guilbeau seems to settle into the role more as the episode progresses. Things pick up slightly when Mikado joins his old friend from elementary school Masaomi Kida, with whom he will now be going to high school. Masaomi is played by Bryce Papenbrook with a somewhat grating and smarmy edge to his voice, but this is very much in keeping with the character as we come to learn about him from how he speaks and what he chooses to say. In terms of being 15-year-olds, the voices are passable, and at least they do not sound too much like men trying to sound like teenage boys. During the course of the two boys' walk through Ikebukuro, we meet a variety of people, including some friends of Masaomi's, as well as some of the local characters who populate the area, with special attention given to a giant of a man from Russia who hands out flyers for a Russian sushi restaurant: Simon. Simon is given a cartoonish Russian accent by Patrick Seitz, straight out of the "let us chase after Moose and Skwural" school of Slavic accents. Boris Badenov would be proud.
There is another story involved in this episode, focusing on a young girl who meets up with some unsavory types. I will speak more of them in the second episode as they take center stage.
The second episode switches up things considerably, as the focus shifts away from Mikado and Masaomi, moving over to one of their classmates, named Rio Kamichika. Of course, that is not the name we first meet her using. When she first appeared, crossing paths with the two young boys as they walked around Ikebukuro West Gate Park (I believe), she met up with a rather suspicious-looking man (voiced with a certain deviousness by Liam O'Brien, I am fairly certain, but cannot state beyond a doubt, since no credits are provided anywhere on the disc) and gave her name as "Ms. Mazenda." That was the online moniker she took while forming a relationship with a man who called himself "Mr. Nakura." The middle-aged man she met called himself Nakura, but as we learn from this second episode, where we hear in voiceover the beginnings of their relationship, Nakura is someone else (voiced by Johnny Yong Bosch). What might be potentially confusing to everyone is that the voiceover narrator for this episode (a different character does the narration for each episode), is not the voice for any of the characters we have heard speaking so far, though Kari Wahlgren, the narrator, gives us a beautiful example of her more adult range, which is woefully underused in anime considering how good it is. So, Ms. Wahlgren tells us all about Kamichika and the others, but Kamichika herself is voiced by someone else, probably Stephanie Sheh (again, lack of credits makes me reliant upon memory). Ms. Sheh, if it is her, does a very good job with Kamichika, giving her the right mixture of naive stupidity combined with teenage angst and sadness, as Kamichika is a young girl driven by family problems to plan on suicide. By the end of the episode, we learn that "Nakura," the "real" Nakura, is actually Izaya Orihara, one of the people whom Masaomi has warned Mikado to never get on the wrong side of. Mr. Bosch gives Izaya a very sinister and menacing edge, very appropriate to his character.
In the third episode, the narrator's duties shift to Simon, though fortunately, the decision was made to have Mr. Seitz do the voiceover in his normal voice, without the silly accent. The silly accent is still there, and he even gets to trot out an attempt at speaking Russian, when Simon is approached by two young Russian female tourists, asking for directions. A note to the fine folks at Aniplex or whoever it was that they had prepare the screener: while it was quite smart of you to have the subtitles for the song in the opening of Episode 2 sit up high, away from the omnipresent warning on the bottom of the screen about this screener not to be copied, etc., did you think for a moment that it might have helped to either remove the warning or else move the subtitles when you had the Russian tourists and Simon speak in Russian, subtitled? Fortunately for me, it was not hard to guess what they were basically saying (even if their Russian, all three of them, had heavy American accents). It is appropriate that this episode, with Simon doing the narration, also gives him the best line of the episode, of the whole show so far, as he tries to entice potential customers into his boss' restaurant:
Simon: "You no puke, I promise. Just try it once and you'll see it's true. Once time not enough to kill you."
I think I will go to another sushi place.
Mikado and Masaomi come back into the frame with this episode, and fortunately Mr. Guilbeau seems much more comfortable in the role, losing the stiffness that marred his performance at the very beginning. Mr. Papenbrook continues to make Masaomi annoying, as he should be. From the class, we now get to learn a little more about a shy, busty girl with glasses named Anri Sonohara (Michelle Ruff), who becomes the Class Representative. Ms. Ruff voices her with a great deal of reticence and restraint.
Later on, we also get the first significant dialogue from another heavy hitter among Ikebukuro's residents: Shizuo Heiwajima, played by Crispin Freeman. It is his usual growling voice, but he does it well. The episode pretty much ends with a violent confrontation between Mr. Bosch's Izaya and Mr. Freeman's Shizuo. This is fitting, as both characters are manic, but in slightly different ways. Izaya is unhinged and lacking morals, not immoral, but amoral. His craziness stems from that, and Mr. Bosch gets that confused craziness across well in the scene where he smashes a girl's cellphone. Mr. Freeman, on the other hand, is unhinged by anger, he is violence personified, and his performance brings that out with his primal grunting and snarls of rage.
In the fourth episode, the narrator's role is taken over by Shinra Kishitani (Yuri Lowenthal), a young doctor sometimes involved in shady doings, but who hides an even greater secret: he also happens to be the man who has under his roof the Headless Rider of Ikebukuro, an urban legend made real. Her name is Celty Sturluson, and she is finally given a name to match a voice we have already heard, the narrator of Episode 2 (we have seen her character from Episode 1, but she has not spoken at all before this, as far as we were aware). So, this episode is largely spent giving us Celty's backstory, where we learn that she is a Dullahan, a headless fairy of Irish legend who is somewhat akin to a Grim Reaper, claiming the souls of those about to die. However, this particular Dullahan has lost her head, and therefore traveled to Japan, where she thinks her head has made its way on its own. Ms. Wahlgren's character does not actually speak, since, well, she does not have a head, but Ms. Wahlgren speaks the lines which Celty writes on her smartphone or on her laptop. As I mentioned before, it is Ms. Wahlgren using her more mature range, which is great to hear again after not hearing it from some time. Mr. Lowenthal uses his fairly normal tone, which works well for a young man. His performance is good as Shinra, giving him a very even tone even if it is clear that Shinra is quite weird.
In the final episode of the screener, we see things through the mind of Masaomi, as he takes over the narrator's spot, while the various threads of the plot start to weave together slowly, even as a new strand is introduced in the person of The Slasher, a dark and weird young girl who goes around slashing people with a sword. But the focus is more on Masaomi and his, uh, unique perspective on the world. Which, of course, revolves around him. Of course, he is not alone, being with Mikado and Anri. Ms. Ruff, with more lines, seems very restrained and what is more, constrained, as if she is trying very hard to bottle up a load of feelings inside that want to burst out. From the character and her actions, that appears to be a good choice. In the talk between Masaomi, Mikado and Anri about Mika Harima, their missing classmate (and Anri's friend), all three do good work, sounding like teenagers awkwardly feeling their way around the world.
Further on, as we follow Masaomi around (with interludes featuring others talking about the famous denizens of Ikebukuro), we finally get to hear a little bit more from some of his friends who have appeared only briefly so far. They are Erika Karisawa (Mela Lee), Walker Yumasaki (Brian Beacock), Kyohei Kadota (Steve Blum) and Saburou Togusa (uncredited). Ms. Lee is fairly cute, Mr. Beacock is rather ebullient, reminding me of his Rivalz from Code Geass in some ways, while Mr. Blum is recognizable, but light in tone and timber, fitting well with playing a somewhat younger character than he often has. Saburou has not spoken much, so I cannot offer any opinion yet.
As a final note, there is a recurring appearance of three disembodied voices in an internet chat room who provide commentary on events, named Kanra, Setton, and Taro Tanaka (aliases, obviously). The performances (I have some guesses as to who they are, but will abstain from guessing because I am not 100% for all three) are fitting for their roles. There are also quite a few other recognizable voices floating around in minor and incidental roles, and it remains to be seen (or heard) if they might grace larger parts later in this series.
BangZoom! Entertainment has put together a fairly good dub to what appears to be a rather intriguing show. The start was a little slow and stiff, but over the course of these five episodes, the dub warms up quite considerably so that by the end, all of the actors seem to have settled into their characters and found their voices for them. In general, the line reads become more natural as the series progresses, and deliveries come to fit the action and dialogue well. Many performances are solid straight from the get go, including Kari Wahlgren's Celty, and Yuri Lowenthal's Shinra, while others, such as Darrel Guilbeau's Mikado, take a little time to find their groove. If this dub is representative of what Aniplex of America has planned when they do not just give up and throw a $400 export edition at us, choosing instead to provide a bilingual release at a comprehensible price, then it is a good start to what we can all hope will be a stable and steady source anime goodness to come.
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