Durarara!!x2 Shou (TV)

One of the biggest downsides to anime is the common absence of satisfying conclusions. After all, most anime are adaptations of ongoing manga or light novels, and if studios don't get the go ahead to come up with their own endings, the anime adaptations are often left on a sour note, with little resolved and many plot threads unaddressed. One studio somewhat infamous for this practice is Brain's Base, who despite putting out consistently high quality shows (Baccano, Princess Jellyfish, One Week Friends, My Little Monster) almost never give them conclusive endings, and never do second seasons. I'm not sure if this is a personal rule they operate by, or if they're simply never given the chance to produce second seasons, but it can be aggravating to watch all these good shows and never feel satisfied with how things are wrapped up. Durarara was one of those shows, a personal favorite of mine that ended in an underwhelming fashion, and after four years of waiting I was almost sure I'd never see the story continued in anime form. But to my surprise, in 2014 a new season was announced that'd feature much of the original show's staff returning, though at a newly formed studio rather than Brain's Base. The season will have three parts, so now that the first part, titled "Shou" has been released, was it worth the wait?

The plot of Durarara is a bit difficult to put into words. Usually when people ask me what the show's about, my initial answer is along the lines of "Uh, well, there are a bunch of people in a city and stuff happens to them." Probably the best way to put it is that it's about an expansive cast of characters in the Japanese city of Ikebukuro whose lives and stories constantly interconnect in various ways, with everything from gang wars, to romance, to mysterious mythical creatures being thrown into the mix as the story goes on. As I mentioned before, my biggest issue with the original season of Durarara was that it ended at what felt like the precipice of much larger plot events down the line. The second season picks up right where the first left off, but felt as if right out of the gate the second season starts dialing it back, returning things to a more normal state rather than climbing higher. Instead leaping forward, this first cour of the show's long awaited new season felt more like a tiptoe forward, only closer to the more significant story elements the original season had foreshadowed rather then finally putting them front and center. Chances are they're saving them for the next cour, but that doesn't excuse that by making this cour seem entirely like set up, it left it feeling uneventful, and not very memorable.

Looking back at the first season of Durarara, I could probably name about five or six of my favorite big moments from each 12 episode halves. Meanwhile, I could probably only name on one or two of these kinds of moments for Durararax2. The place where Durararax2's story largely stumbles is in a lack of focus. This may sound strange, after all, Durarara was a story that thrived on how bustling and complex the ever thickening plot was, but the original season was always great at focusing just enough in the right places and at the right times. The story was always structured in very small arcs in which a character struggled with a specific conflict, one that often lead to larger moments and satisfying resolutions. Durararax2 on the other hand is constantly switching around, and never focusing enough on each of the individual stories going on within the greater, overall story to be truly engaging. In addition, it only scratches the surface of these conflicts and almost never leads any of them to any sort of conclusions. While Durarara dug deep into its characters minds and lives, showing in full detail the nature of their struggles, relationships, and motivations, it feels as if Durararax2 explores them on a shallow level. The story moves from plot point to plot point, but never homes in on any of them long enough to create anything meaningful. That isn't to say the story is terrible, it does expand the ever-changing story in a few new directions, and the set up it provided could lead to some interesting events down the line, but it felt like a step backwards from the first season rather than a step forward.

But then again, I wouldn't say I really watch Durarara for the plot. Don't get me wrong, it's an important factor, but the real draw for me has always been the characters. And to an extent, they've all remained the same in the transition from one season to the next. The gang's all back, from Shizuo, the short tempered debt collector with superhuman strength, Izaya, the constantly plotting information broker who's always one step ahead, to Celty, the powerful but cute "Headless Rider" who works as a transporter, when she's not searching for her missing head. It's an incredibly diverse cast of unique and likable characters, and none of them have gotten any less charming in the second season. They are somewhat less interesting than before, as a result of the aforementioned lesser focus on individual character arcs, but it's still tons of fun watching the cast interact as their stories intermingle. It introduces some new characters as well, though none of them so far are as memorable as the characters from the original cast. The only real stand out new additions are the Orihara twins, Izaya's little sisters, who pretty much steal the show in every scene their in. But like with many of the characters, their presence is very shallow, we never get to look into their characters any more than the surface level details and character traits, which is a big letdown.

The only characters who gets much in the form of specific development are the main trio of high schoolers who were at the center of the original series, Kida, Mikado, and Anri. Despite being the focal point of the series, at first glance the three have always stood out the least as far as the extended cast goes, but they all still have interesting conflicts and a lot of potential for growth. We do get some of that here, though felt like it could have gone a lot farther. For instance, since mid-way through the first season the show has played with the concept of Mikado having a darker side, that despite his innocent, harmless demeanor he gets enjoyment out of danger and conflict, and may even go so far as to embrace the more dangerous implications of The Dollars organization in order to make his life more exciting. While the show does dip its toes into this idea, it didn't go nearly as far as I wish it would have, still only teasing at the concept rather than fully exploring it. But with that said, the big cast of weirdos I've come to know and love are still here, and I still love them as much as I did before. I just wish the show had done more with them than it actually did.

The most glaring issue with Durararax2 though, has nothing to do with it as a narrative. Going into the show, I actually wasn't too worried about it from a production standpoint. After all, most of the major players from the original show were back, so I thought they'd be able to pull it off together. Kill la Kill went through a similar situation as a follow up to a popular show at a new studio, and while it certainly had its fair share of visual issues as a whole it held itself together at a presentable level. Durararax2 on the other hand, is an outright disaster. Whether the studio wasn't prepared for a show of this scale, or the production schedule just fell apart at some point, Durararax2 is the first show in recent memory that looked so bad at times it didn't even look presentable. As in, it shouldn't have been aired on TV in its current state. Character motion is jagged and stiff, characters go off model incredibly often, and go so far off model its impossible not to notice, it constantly implements shortcuts in order to do as little actual animation as possible.

One episode (episode seven to be precise) looks absolutely appalling, with scenes almost completely devoid of in-betweens, as characters teleport from key frame to key frame without any transition, characters are so lacking in detail they barely resemble their original designs, and cut outs of characters moving around with tween animation like it's Inferno Cop. The production quality fluctuates episode by episode, some look totally presentable, while some look unacceptable. The original show was hardly a pristine example of excellent animation, but it got the job done, kept the visuals consistent, and even threw in a few scenes of truly great animation. While it's entirely possible the visuals were spruced up for the Blu-Ray releases as studios often do, the aired version of the show is one of the few examples of an anime so ugly looking I could see it turning people off from how it looks alone. How much it bothers someone will vary from person to person, but for me it made it legitimately difficult to watch at times.

A lot of what I've said about the show is pretty negative, and for good reason. The show has some major flaws in terms of its production and storytelling that make it a major step down from the original series. But the question is, should you watch it? That all depends. If you're the kind of person who was lukewarm towards the first season, and was hoping the continuation would finally sell you, you're probably better off passing on this one, at least until its clear whether or not the future cours build effectively on this foundation. But what about big Durarara fans, people like me who fell in love with the characters introduced in the first season? Should they avoid it at risk of crushing disappointment? Absolutely not. Sure, it's flawed, and one should probably go in with lowered expectations, but these are still the same characters fans love, and they're all just as lovable as ever. No matter how times the exposition dragged on too long, or the poor animation bugged me, I'd always get pulled back in by the charming cast of characters and their ever-entertaining interactions. Through all the issues, I kept coming back just to see where the stories were headed next, even if as of now the stories aren't quite as engaging as they could be.

Hopefully in the time before the next cour of Durararax2 the studio and staff of the show will work out the kinks. It's abundantly clear simply from a production standpoint that something went wrong somewhere in this brand new, fledgling studio, and if all goes well perhaps they can learn from their mistakes and make sure the show looks of a more acceptable quality in the future. All in all, while the show sees the return of the series' exceptional cast of fun characters, this first batch of episodes just felt too light on substance to truly shine like its predecessor. A fairly enjoyable but sloppy experience, that's worth watching for dedicated fans, if not so much everyone else.


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