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Review: “Durarara!! X2 Shou Blu-ray (UK Edition)”: A Sterling Example of Dollars

by on July 19, 2016
 

Durarara X2 Shou Box ArtIt’s been two years since I last stopped by Ikebukuro. I commented then that the release came ahead of a planned continuation of the story, and that time has arrived. Split into three arcs, Durarara!! X2 aims to complete the adaptation of the light novel series. That’s pretty significant considering there is no shortage of anime adaptations that promise but never deliver a continuation.

The first arc, “Shou,” picks up six months after the first season ended, but unlike other anime series (where executives often ensure follow-up series also serve as jumping on points for new fans), X2 paces itself as if no time has passed. This sequel maintains the pace it had established back in 2010 and trusts you to be au fait with that. The mild closure of the original season segues seamlessly into continuing the narrative, once again immersing us into this world of brilliant characters.

Immersed really is the best word as the criss-crossed lives of the cast of Durarara!! run deep and are a world unto themselves. In a way it’s easy to compare the depiction of Ikebukuro to the criminal hideaway of Roanapur in Black Lagoon, though Durarara!! isn’t quite as cynical. After the near gang war that occurred last time, life has continued for our varied players, with Mikado and Anri still attending school, Celty still serving as a transporter, Izaya still scheming and Shizuo still punting vending machines at people.

Things don’t stay calm for long between the unwanted infamy of Celty’s status as the Black Rider, a new transfer student who is eager to learn more about the Dollars gang, and a violent murderer dubbed Hollywood by the media. How well these subplots play out varies. One of the strengths of Durarara!! is its ability to have these various characters and plotlines entwine in a way that doesn’t make plot progress too obvious. There are major players one can easily suspect (the devilish Izaya primarily) but there’s a true to life nature in how things can happen without warning and yet still you can sense the pulse of the story. Celty’s role this time around is more comedic, with her desperate attempts to avoid the police, bounty hunters and journalists now hunting her since her existence became more than just a local urban legend. She’ll still often serve as something of a deus ex machina, showing up at just the right time to save other leads with her powers but just as much relies on them in a pinch. The loose army that near the entire cast form in the Dollars gang is actually Mikado’s central plotline.

Durarara X2 ShouThe first season showed us the Dollars’ capacity for good as an Anonymous-style social movement that integrated people from different walks of life, while later showing the trouble they could cause in a district already besieged with gang violence. I commented last time that I was less interested in said gang warfare story as opposed to the supernatural elements, so while I’m disappointed to see X2 partially retread the gang war plot element, the sequel series takes it in more interesting directions. The lack of structure and hierarchy within the Dollars becomes a liability, with less scrupulous individuals (some we’ve met before) claiming membership and sullying the name. Mikado attempts to take responsibility for this as the incognito founder but finds the illusion of power he wields online holds little sway in reality. He’s been cast as the straight man/audience avatar since the story’s beginning, so it’s fascinating to see how he responds to this threat and what it apparently reveals about his darker and pettier aspects. Masaomi is still sadly stuck in the mindset of dragging his feet on common sense which weighed him down in the first season but Mikado highlights why this continuation was justified.

The worst thing that new characters can do is divert attention from interesting existing ones but that’s a pitfall X2 avoids. My personal favourite is Varona, an educated Russian assassin with ties to the Russia Sushi restaurant. Russia Sushi was mostly a good-natured joke in the first season but we get a good look here at their involvement with their homeland. Varona serves primarily as an antagonist but there’s a charm to her measured restraint informed by being profusely well read. She’s positioned as something of a rival for Celty and what we learn about her backstory is intriguing. Indeed, while not as common as last time around, the strong soliloquy-focused episodes return to introduce new characters, with Varona and Hollywood both receiving one. Given the nature of Hollywood’s plot I won’t give too much away other than saying at this stage it feels like laying a foundation for later on. Durarara!! has always been good with that so I’ll hold judgement for now.

Slightly weaker are the return of Izaya’s younger twin sisters and addition of gang leading ladies man Chikage Rokujo. The twins receive consistent appearances for the first handful of episodes, with Izaya commenting their eccentric incestual bisexual shtick as artificial to attract attention. While not exactly offensive, there really isn’t much point to them at this stage. Likewise, I’d classify Chikage as cool, but in a show already full of cool badasses he doesn’t add much and his ladies man shtick feels pretty cliché.

Durarara X2 ShouAlthough the production has switched studios, original director Takahiro Omori is back at the helm along with many of the cast and crew. It’s particularly welcome to hear the original OST once again, as music was always used effectively in Durarara!! (how often do you hear Harold Ramis and Mel Blanc sampled in the same track?). The new OP is once again a rock piece which continues the trend of placing the ‘previously on’ segment halfway in, making the OP feel like part of the show rather than an awkward cutaway as can happen with other shows. The ED is okay though goes for the cliché visual of scrolling down through a chain of the cast. Obviously this matches the OP in mirroring the style of the ones of the first season but the OP highlighting each character as their lives cross and impact one another is a far more unique visual. Both pieces of animation are the sole on-disc extras.

My preference for cast is still to the dub. Like I said last time, the Japanese cast are no slouch but a show like this flows better for me in my native language and it’s welcome to hear the cast reunited and matching the overall production in sounding like they never left these roles. Once again the dub translation is slightly different compared to the subtitles, and while not unforgivable changes, there are times when the dub makes introspective dialogue closer to aimless waffle or adds subtext to a line, both translation pet peeves of mine. However, I’m still impressed with how effortlessly the English cast manage to rattle off clearly Japanese names of people, places and organizations. I think a good performance makes you believe the characters live and breathe this world even when we’re not watching and that’s certainly showcased here.

Although OP and ED are the only on-disc extras, the retail release includes an art book, SD character stickers and six art cards.

“Shou” is a good start for Durarara!! X2. Viewers are welcomed back without feeling like time is being wasted easing us in and the physical release itself speaks of Anime Limited’s continued commitment to consumer quality. You will need to have watched the original series to get much of anything out of this but that’s a good thing in my eyes. It’s an ideal chance for new viewers to pick up both and see what the hype is all about as we begin the end of something special.

Durarara!! X2 Shou is available on collector’s edition Blu-ray and standard edition DVD from Amazon UK.

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