Monday, January 24, 2011

Anime time: DURARARA! debuts -- the hit TV series gets a DVD release from Aniplex

I don't watch Japanese anime all that often (which is probably just as well). When I do, however, I am charmed all over again with its odd combination of relatively simple figures and faces -- looking much alike, with just a few facial strokes, together with hair color and costume, to differentiate the leading characters -- and stories that are rich in childlike fantasy but also replete with darker themes and concerns that you'd rarely find in a show kids were watching on this side of the Pacific. So it is with DURARARA! -- but don't ask me what that title means. The press was given only five episodes (on a single disc) of Part I of this series -- which has in total three parts, each containing 8 or 9 episodes (That's the box cover art and part of the sleeve, shown above.) Perhaps the meaning of the title will come into play later on in the series.

Those first five episode were enough to have me wanting more. Had I received the remaining ones, I certainly would have continued watching. The story -- which keeps expanding ever outward, as well as circling in on itself -- has to do with a group of high school kids in an area of Tokyo who becomes fast friends through a series of very odd encounters.

These include everything from a suicide attempt (in episode two, I believe, and shown above), which proves the strongest, deepest section and includes some worthwhile philosophy and ideas about personal responsibility toward ones self, as well as how to better understand and view one's parents. This section is one that I believe most teenagers might benefit from viewing.

There's a mysterious "headless" motorcyclist -- above, left -- whom we learn a lot more about in the course of the episodes, and who has a small satellite of subsidiary figures circling round (such as the blond, above, right).

There's a sympathetic doctor, carrying a torch for his "roommate," a very odd and alternately menacing/friendly Russian immigrant (above), hawking for a nearby Sushi restaurant, who can, when necessary, fight (below).

And so much more. The plot was still expanding outwards ( and maybe inwards) when I came to the end of episode five (each one is around 21-22 minutes long). Last Saturday morning, when I stuck the disc into my machine, I was going to watch only a single episode before getting back to work. As if.  Some hundred-odd minutes later, I got up from the sofa to finally pour my second cup of coffee.
One of the particularly weird things about anime (for us Americans, at least) is how it combines kid's cartoon fun with barely pubescent young ladies showing off very curvy boobs and lots of leg. (The girls' uniforms are uniformly small and tight.)  Myth and legend make their appearances, too, along with lots of action -- car chases, martial arts fighting -- and loads of love, loss and betrayal. There's literally something for everyone, but I admit that it will -- for newcomers to anime -- seem more than a bit unusual to have it packaged together in this manner. 

All this makes for quite the heady (some might call it loony) mix of themes both adult and childlike, serious and comedic, fantastical and all too real.  I wouldn't want to see this sort of thing that often, but every once in awhile, there's nothing like a good anime. And Durarara! -- episodes 1-5, at least -- is very good anime.

The three-part series comes to us via Aniplex of AmericaYou can order all three parts of the series now from The Store or Right Stuf. Part One will ship this week, Part Two in March, and Part Three in May. I would hope Durarara! will be available for rental, too, but as of today, I could not find it listed with either Netflix or Blockbuster

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