Sunday, March 11, 2012

Durarara!!, Vol. 1 by Ryohgo Narita, Suzuhito Yasuda, and Akiyo Satorigi

To continue the theme of this week, here's one last review of a manga volume. But, unlike the Confuse-o-vision posts earlier in the week, I started Durarara!! with the first volume, so it shouldn't be confusing at all.

Japan is the homeland of transmedia, or at least looks that way from my end of the Pacific. Every media property that makes it to the US from Japan has already been in at least three formats in its homeland: maybe an anime, manga, and live-action movie; or possibly a TV show, light novel series, and line of soft toys; or even an animated movie, radio show, and adult toys. [1] And so Durarara!! began as a single light novel -- similar to a normal novel, but with fewer calories -- and turned into a series of them when it was popular, and expanded into manga, anime, and even a radio show before hitting US shores semi-simultaneously in print and animated TV forms.

Your first question is: what does the title mean? I can't tell you. It's not a person, or a place, or a thing. It could be a verb, I suppose, but the book itself provides no clues as what "to durarara" might mean. Perhaps it's a contentless interjection, like "Yahoo!" I'll assume that for the moment.

Your second question is: who is the main character? There isn't one. This first volume seems to center on Mikado Ryuumagine, who has seemingly been crafted by high-powered implements to be the quintessential manga hero: he's starting at a high school in a strange place (Tokyo's Ikebukuro district), where he knows almost no one, he's a "ordinary boy," he knows very little so other people can explain everything to him, he's incredibly tentative when it comes to just about everything, and he's short and dark-haired and open-faced. But the official word is that Durarara!! is an ensemble piece; all of the characters will have a share of the spotlight -- well, probably not the one who gets killed off about forty pages in, but who knows!

Durarara!! has the ingredients of a crime story -- a secretive gang, a creepy brother and sister and the sister's secret society, and a list of people that Mikado is warned not to cross, who mostly seem to be low-level criminals of one sort or another. Oh, and I can't forget the marquee character: a black-clad motorcycle rider who, legendarily, is headless underneath a featureless helmet, and acts as a courier for a hermit unlicensed experimental doctor. This first volume is primarily for introduction and atmosphere: we meet all of these people (the wraparound cover helpfully shows all of them, though a version where they're all labeled would be even better) and get a sense of how they relate to each other and an even vaguer sense of what kind of place Ikebukuro is. Presumably, all of the various events in this volume will start to add up to something as the story moves forward, but, in this book, they're just separate moments, concerning separate people. Some of them are shocking; some of them are light-hearted; all of them are presented on the same level.

So Durarara!! left me cold: it's trying very hard to hook me as a reader, but the blizzard of hooks made me less interested in it. There may be a there there -- unlike Gertrude Stein's Oakland -- but I haven't seen it yet.

[1] I have no specific examples in mind for these; if there are properties that slot precisely into those categories, though, I'd love to know about them.

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