You know those stories, whether in anime or any other medium, where people are moved and softened, even reformed, by the power of love. Stories where even the archvillain has some pet-the-dog moments, stories where the human capacity to love is portrayed as this great and amazing thing – we’ve all seen them. It’s a popular trope that can be excellent when done well.
But we’re not discussing one of those stories. We are discussing Durarara which is definitely not one of those stories. In fact, this anime likes to take those tropes and unceremoniously chuck them out the window. Does this mean that Durarara is full of unfeeling psychopaths who torture puppies for fun? Hardly. It has an extensive and varied cast, most of whom defy the dichotomy of good and evil. No, the thing isn’t that the characters of Durarara are incapable of love or devotion. What’s notable is how their love and devotion affects them.
In Durarara, loving someone doesn’t soften or redeem. In Durarara, loving someone is going to royally fuck you up in the head. No exceptions.
Well now that the dramatic intro is over, let’s move on to the fun stuff.
Warning: Heavy Spoilers and Subjective Interpretation
The Student Trio
Mikado and Masaomi are childhood friends and Anri is the girl they attend high school with on whom Mikado quickly develops a crush. Between stuttering greetings, awkward silences and comments on Anri’s ample bust, the three of them form a deep and unshakeable friendship.
But clearly, communication is an optional part of relationships these days because all three harbor life-changing secrets that they are reluctant to share for understandable reasons. Predictably, it’s all revealed eventually and the three end up in one hot mess of a situation. Rather than seem like a heartwarming bond between three rather screwed up youngsters, their friendship comes across as the obsessive clinging to a connection that all three has elevated to a position of sanctity, assigning to it an innocence that none of them possess any longer. As a result, they not only end postponing and further complicating problems that they could have resolved easily but also manage to considerably exacerbate each of their personal issues.
Mikado, driven by a vicious thirst for excitement, finds in their broken friendship the perfect excuse to drench himself in the darkness Ikebukuro. That leads to a life of violence and criminal acts that shock all of those who presumed to know him. Masaomi, in an attempt to prevent a repeat of his past mistakes, becomes a little too overzealous in protecting his friends and ends up alienating himself from them. It’s interesting how Mikado and Masaomi’s rekindled friendship and drive to preserve that friendship at all costs that drives a wedge between them. Anri, on the other hand, seems to benefit most from it all, maybe because her situation prior to meeting the boys was terrible enough that pretty much anything would be an improvement. She is also the only one of them who manages to reach out and bond with other people, and ultimately attain a measure of self-acceptance. Yes, the girl who thinks of herself as a parasite incapable of emotions is more mentally stable by the end of the show than both of her relatively ‘normal’ friends. That should tell you everything you need to know about these three.
The Yandere Love Quadrangle
Love polygons of all shapes and numbers are nothing new in anime. Every other show has the childhood friend vs new boy/girl conflict and harem shows often take this even further. Personally, I find most such scenarios irritating but Durarara’s unique version of it quickly won me over.
Mika loves Seiji so much that she’s made stalking into an art. Seiji’s sister Namie loves him over anything, even herself or the world. And Seiji loves… a decapitated head. Celty’s head to be precise but neither of them are aware of that. It doesn’t end there either. Seiji attempts– and almost succeeds – to kill Mika for accidentally seeing the head. Namie uses plastic surgery to give Mika the same appearance as the head, party out of jealousy and partly to make Seiji happy. The ploy falls apart eventually but Seiji keeps a relationship going with Mika because she’s the closest thing there is to the head. Oh and Mika plans to eat the head if she ever finds it and Seiji says he’ll kill her before she can do that. And at some point, Namie kisses Mika in an attempt to get an indirect kiss from Seiji which is followed by Seiji himself pecking Namie as revenge.
My head hurts after typing all that. I swear it makes perfect sense in the anime, provided that you keep in mind that all of the parties involved should be locked in a mental hospital. Except the head.
The situation involving these three – and the head, never forget the head – was a major part of the first season’s initial half. They all took on smaller roles afterwards but season 2 has a few episodes where the spotlight is back on them, particularly Namie and Mika and their extreme versions of love. Seiji with his undying devotion to a freaking head is the most well-adjusted of the three. Namie, though snarky and composed normally, has a tendency to turn violent and disturbing when her brother is involved. But it’s Mika who truly shines by being utterly terrifying. She initially appears harmless save for her stalker side but it’s later revealed that she’s willing to do quite a lot of crazy shit just so that she can keep Seiji, including eat the head he’s in love with and build an information network vast enough to cover the activities of all the major characters in the series. Never underestimate a yandere stalker.
Heiwajima Shizuo and Orihara Izaya
It was easier than I expected to find a picture that wasn’t shippy.
Shizuo and Izaya are two of the most notorious characters of Durarara and their longstanding enmity is just as infamous. Shizuo, a debt-collector with inhuman strength and severe temper problems, is actually one of the nicer and simpler characters in the show. He wants to live a life without violence and is altogether a straightforward guy. Unfortunately, he gets pissed off easily and when he does, heavy objects are sent flying, often towards human targets. In short, while Shizuo is a rather nice guy under that bartender suit, his fits of rage combined with his strength make him immensely dangerous.
Izaya, on the other hand, is an information broker with a demented love for humanity that makes you wonder what hell would be unleashed if he were to fall in love with a single person. His wholescale love is bad enough as it tends to manifest in ‘social experiments’ like suicide pacts and extensive manipulation. He is in many ways insufferable but also has an odd charm. Izaya is neither good nor evil and instead takes on a more neutral presence as an involved observer of humans, operating only by his own unique set of rules.
These two couldn’t be more different but I lumped them together for a reason other than lessening the post-length. Durarara takes great care to set them up as polar opposites who act as each other’s foil. Their first interaction struck me as humorous and I actually thought they were frenemies of the mutually vitriolic variety. It didn’t take long for that to change as it became clear that the two obsessively loathed each other, and have done so since first sight. This is curious as neither Izaya nor Shizuo are people predisposed to such blind hatred. Izaya, as he himself says multiple times, loves humanity to an insane degree and that includes the darkest parts of human nature. Shizuo, despite his anger issues, seems to be the kind to beat someone up and forget about it rather than hold a grudge. That’s why it’s interesting to see the way they bring out the worst in each other. Their final confrontation in Durarara Ketsu, where we see them both try their absolute best to kill each other, has to be one of the best scenes in this anime.
The Dullahan and her Shady Doctor
In both of my Durarara reviews, I’ve mentioned that Celty is the sanest of the lot and that her relationship with Shinra, an underground doctor who’s known her since he was four, is the healthiest in the show. But given the general insanity of this anime’s characters, that’s not really saying much. Celty still manages to be the only sane woman but Shinra fits right in with the rest of them. Granted, he was brought up by a father who allowed him to participate in a dissection (of Celty actually) at the age of four, so it’s impressive that Shinra is as put together as he is.
As the introduction of this post says, Durarara’s characters tend to take love a little too far and Shinra is no exception to this despite the fact that he has yet to do anything too extreme. By his own admission, he doesn’t care about anyone or anything – not his friends, not the world, not all of humanity – as long as he can be together with Celty for the all his life. It’s something he decided upon when young and has never budged from. He’s willing to even overlook Celty’s wishes if it means that he can stay by her side. That kind of devotion is creepy but somehow, the two of them manage to make it work and altogether, their affair come across as less disturbing than it should be.
These guys aren’t the only ones. A fair amount of side characters count as well, particularly Niekawa Haruna who’s so yandere for her sleazy ex-teacher slash ex-lover that she manages to suppress the influence of a mind-controlling sentient sword. Other include Aoba with his interest in Mikado that’s directly proportional to the growth of Mikado’s dark side, the Orihara twins whose affection for each other blurs the line between incest and selfcest, Vorona whose crush on Shizuo manifests as a desire to kill him and so on.
I love them all and the primary purpose of this post was to rave about them. I feel so fulfilled now.
Can anyone count how many TV Tropes names I’ve used in this post?