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Worlds Without End Blog

Contemporary Fantasy Manga 101: Durarara!! Posted at 9:01 AM by Glenn Hough


Durarara01bIt sounds just like the setup for an old joke. A high school gang leader, the information broker, and a Dullahan all meet up at the Russian sushi place… which is considered neutral territory because nobody messed with Simon. You know, Simon, he’s a 6’4” black Russian who brooks no arguments. Russian mafia connections? Probably, but at least he thinks conflict is not good for the digestion.

It’s got to be a joke, right? Nope. This could actually happen in the wonderfully self-contained world that is Ikebukuro, our stage for Durarara!!

This is what Yen Press says about volume one:

At the invitation of an old school friend, introverted high school student Mikado Ryuugamine, yearning for a life less ordinary, makes his way to Tokyo. His destination: Ikebukuro, a hotbed of madmen living most unusual lives. On his first day there, Mikado encounters a cast of characters so colorful, the rich hues of his rural hometown pale in comparison! And as if the naive stalker chick, the high school senior obsessed with the rather creepy object of his affections, the hikikomori genius doctor, the hedonistic information dealer, the strongest man in all of Ikebukuro weren’t enough…Mikado also chances upon a sight that leaves him rubbing his eyes and scratching his head — the Black Biker, who is black as night from bodysuit to license plate, soundlessly weaving through the streets like a figure out of an urban legend. Who is this “Headless Rider” on the jet-black metal steed!? And why does it seem like Mikado’s already gotten himself neck-deep in the insanity that is the norm in his new home!?

And what a first day it was.

Durarara13bWhen you look up the word Dullahan, you find that it refers to an Irish mythological creature, a headless rider, who acts much like it’s mythic cousin, the Banshee, as an omen of death. Yep. Bingo. The headless rider of Ikebukuro is a Dullahan, one Celty Sturluson. Now what a Dullahan is doing in Japan is a rather interesting story involving a stolen head, Celty’s, but I’ll get to that later…

If all the world’s a stage, then on the Ikebukuro set, we have an interesting East meets West collision with fantasy genre qualifiers. Which is very cosmopolitan, very global, very hip, very now.

High-schooler Anri Sonohara, who will come to know Mikado and Celty, has an ancient demon katana living in her flesh. Anri, through a bizarre set of circumstances, can control the thing which resides in her. Saika only wants to love, but to a demon blade that means cutting people. Saika doesn’t cut that often now, only when danger threatens Anri, which I’ll get into later…

Durarara25bHopefully you’re getting a general taste. Durarara!! is an ensemble piece. You have at least 8 main characters, all running their various plot lines, which bounce off each other in most surprising ways, creating even more bizarre situations and consequences. That’s complicated by at least 11 supporting characters which just adds to the general insanity.

And all of it is told with a hipster back-beat of the modern era. From cellphones, through chat rooms, and online color gang recruiting, crank the volume on that J-Pop. It’s a requirement for this series.

Where does one start when trying to untangle this web of people, purposes, and relationships? Where ever one starts, Durarara!! is complicated. It’s even more complicated than most people’s real life.

Take Masaomi Kida for instance. He’s the old friend that got Mikado to come to Ikebukuro. He and Mikado are both in the same class with Anri. He hits on all the girls, understands Mikado likes Anri too, so only plays at having an interest in her. Durarara29bOh yeah, he was the leader of a color gang, the Yellow Scarfs. They had this really big rumble with their rival color gang, the Blue Squares, over territory. Masaomi’s girlfriend got really messed up bad in that business. Masaomi is still trying to process the trauma of not saving her, of not being physically able to go to her aid. It’s like he froze in place and couldn’t move. Nasty business. And when I talk about color gangs, I’m not talking crips or bloods, here. It’s more like Jets and Sharks from West Side Story. If a real Yakuza member showed up, these gang banger wannabes would run in the opposite direction just as fast as they could go.

Masaomi has no idea Mikado started a gang, The Dollars, on-line, with a chat-room and web-site. Mikado doesn’t know anything about Masaomi’s gang past. And neither of them know a thing about Anri’s little secret.

Durarara22bThere’s a slasher running loose in Ikebukuro at the moment, and his creation goes back to Anri. All whom Saika slash become her children, inhabited by offshoots of the demon blade, and they just want to love too. They want to slash more and more. Anri, as an uneasy mother to this unruly brood, must put a stop to it. It’s already out of hand and threatening to get worse. Anri likes both Misaomi and Mikado (but time will lean in Mikado’s direction). She has no idea about their gang past and is a member of The Dollars herself, just like so many other people. Imagine that, a color gang with no color, no rules, no hierarchy, and will take anyone. It’s not a wonder it’s grown so fast.

And what about Celty, our Dullahan? When she’s not working as a transporter, a girl has to live, she’s looking for her head. It’s somewhere in the city. She happens to know a little bit more about Anri, Masaomi, and Mikado than most, but then, they become friends so it’s no big deal. Even she is a Dollars member. Celty is also developing a love for Shinra Kishitani.

Durarara28bShinra, of course, adores the headless Celty. From a young age he has been trained as an unlicensed underground doctor, for those people in certain circles who need that sort of thing. Shinra met Celty when he was still a child and has pined over his first love ever since. Celty, being what she is, doesn’t exactly age on a time frame a human could relate to, so they’re ages are roughly the same, at the moment.

Well that’s five of our main characters and a taste of who they are. This is the core of Durarara!!, fascinating characters and how they interact with each other as they go about the very mundane business of their lives. Only in Ikebukuro can their lives be considered mundane, which is the great fun of the series.

Durarara21bAnd if you found just those five members of the cast hard to keep up with, imagine how it is with the rest of the characters and all of their back stories and how they all interact with each other. It’s a zoo. You’d think that keeping it all straight while staying abreast of the latest developments might be impossible but I found it relatively straightforward. Once you understand who Izaya Orihara is, our information broker with a god complex, you’d never mistake him for Simon (our afro-Russian sushi salesman) or Shizuo Heiwajima, who is the strongest man in Ikebukuro.

Durarara!! is an exposition in character building and character interaction. It’s a clinic, which also has a surprise, a laugh, or an unbelievable moment around every corner. It’s not to be missed.

Durarara20bThis minor masterpiece is brought to the states by our friends over at Yen Press. It’s very much in print and widely available at wherever one chooses to get your manga fix. Durarara!! is multi-media with books and anime as well. Yen Press will also be translating the books and the anime is still in production, one arc at a time. If you happen to need a free copy or just have to read ahead of the official translation and become concurrent with the Japanese release schedule, you can check out,, or

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