SPOILER WARNING FOR DURARARA!! S1-S2
Durarara!! vividly depicts the area known as Ikebukuro. We see it teeming with all kinda of people (and those not quite so human) who hurry down its streets. As with any metropolitan area, it seems like a place that swallows one up, where one can look around and only see strangers. And yet . . .
Durarara!! always reminds me of the Guy Ritchie movies Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. These hyperlink cinema stories don’t use a typical linear narrative but instead weave together a single tale by viewing the story from several perspectives that ebb and flow together in a way in which the full picture can only be seen by adding up the incomplete perspectives of all the characters involved. These stories almost always also jump around in the story’s timelines as often as they switch the perspective character. While at times this makes the story a bit confusing this lets the author hide pieces of the narrative so that they can be very rewarding when the audience discovers the whole picture at the end.
I know that form of storytelling is not for everyone. I have even head a few accusations that Durarara!! weaves its narrative this way more to make itself look fancier than it really is or hide flaws in the work. If you don’t like the series because of how it unveils its secrets that is a valid response. It is legitimately not everyone’s cup of tea. The criticism I can’t approve of is the idea that there is no reason for this style at all. Ryohgo Narita clearly structures his books (and by extension the anime turns out this way) for a mechanical reasons in which this method of storytelling reinforces the themes of Durarara!! as opposed to obscuring them. That synergy of theme and form is worth examining for how it enhances the potency of Durarara!!’s overall impact.
Author Ryohgo Narita is playing the long game and building a cast big enough to play it. Everyone in the series is connected either directly or through another character to each other. Spawning charts like the one above. Characters, groups, rumors, news stories, and other various things that receive a brief appearance or mention come back at later dates in much more significant capacities.
Small stories, such as Rio who appears at the beginning of S1, and is saved from kidnappers and her attempt at suicide by Celty, turns out to have connections to other characters. Plus, she is one of the few characters who we get any clues about Izaya’s motivations, cryptic as they are, through. She appears in S2 during the conflict between Chikage and the Dollars as well. Or the story between Shizuo’s brother, Yuhei, and serial killer Ruri which unfolds at the beginning of S2 may seem somewhat self-contained but don’t be so sure.
The clearest example though occurs throughout S2. We already had the color gangs as a central figure in the story, plus a bit of the yakuza thrown in for good measure. Now the Russian mob has also emerged as a major force in the goings-on of Ikebukuro. Simon and Dennis run the Russian Sushi in Ikebukuro. This is a colorful, but minor, spoke on the wheel in S1. In S2, two deadly Russian assassins Egor and Varona show up and, wouldn’t you know, Simon and Dennis aren’t so removed from their homelands dealings.
The biggest example of how seemingly off-handed mentions and introductions leading to a greater sense of interconnectedness would be the Blue Squares. At first they merely seem like a forgotten and mostly unimportant gang barely remembered in the annals the history of Ikebukuro before Mikado arrives on the scene. When the climax of the Yellow Scarves Arc drops we find out that Horada and many of the other Blue Squares have infiltrated and corrupted the Yellow Scarves. When Horada is defeated it seems like the Blue Squares are finally gone for good. But then the actual leader of the Blue Squares, Aoba Kuronuma, shows up and infiltrates and wreaks havoc inside the Dollars even more effectively. The Blue Squares go from a footnote in the story to a constant threat to the stability of the district.
You can also look at Izaya’s criminal connections as something that might seem like a transplanted piece of vegetation but is actually the blossoming of native seeds inside the story. In the first season of the anime Izaya is mentioned to provide information for a wide variety of criminal organizations but since the series starts by just focusing on the teenage gangs of Ikebukuro. But as the series has gone on they have slowly introduced more and more professional criminals. By the second series the various organized crime families are directly tied into the plot as opposed to just being background color.
Kinnosuke Kuzuhara is probably the biggest case of a character who keeps coming up but so far has not done anything that remarkable. We know that he is this motorcycle cop that is so terrifying that Celty runs from him whenever she see him but beyond that is has only had a few minor scenes overall. The guy who gets his head shaved by Izaya has about as much screen time but Kinnosuke has far more weight placed on his appearance. He is like the short Yakuza guy in The Twisted World Of Marge Simpson. You’re not sure what huge event he is going to be tied to but you know it is coming.
The place, the characters, the events, they are all intimately connected in Durarara!! So much so, that one must assume Ryohgo Narita has one of those crazy wall charts with tacks and strings showing just who everyone else’s story crosses paths with. It seems to be his forte, creating these large casts whose stories run concurrently and that continually, sporadically intersect. There is an element of surprise, but it isn’t random.
I’m not implying that every twist, turn, and surprise has been planned from the beginning. Eiichiro Oda, Roger Zelazny, and George R. R. Martin are both well know for sprawling narratives in which little hints turn out to be the road signs for major surprises but I would suspect not all of them are planned. I am sure most of them were but others probably just grew organically out of the writing of the story. As long as they don’t blatantly contradict anything that has come before they can be added as if they were intended all along. A tremendous about of planning can make a few random decisions seem calculated as everything else around them.
But in Durarara!! this is more than mere showboating. One of the major themes of the series is how everyone is holistically connected in both blatant and subtle ways. The Dollars shows this in positive and negative ways all the time. No one in Ikebukuro can do anything (positive or negative) without it rippling out and effecting others. The storytelling style of Durarara!! shows this in spades. A story that will start Shizuo will then naturally involve Izaya and Celty. But over the course of the story we might see that the gang in the van actually kicked off the whole story in the first place, how Anri Sonohara get dragged in accidentally, and how Masaomi Kida was doing things in the background despite the fact that most people involved were totally unaware of that fact. That sort of interconnected storytelling unfolds naturally as the story shifts the camera to get multiple characters perspectives. It is possible to get the same result from a single character’s perspective but that restricts the strength of the message and can make certain reveals and twists come out in a more forced manner. There are few better ways to show how everything is connected then zooming out and letting the audience see the full extent of the tangled web that ties them all together.