The folks at Aniplex USA kindly sent me a DVD sample of their upcoming domestic Durarara!! DVD release. I was eager to critique it until my anticipation waned slightly upon discovering that that sample disc included only the English dub. Rather than be a snob, I sampled the screener in the company of some friends that are more partial to dubbed anime than I am.
Unlike most anime that revolve around a protagonist or small group of core characters, Durarara!! depicts a tangled and complex view of the intertwined lives of a large variety of characters all living in present day Ikebukuro, Tokyo. The cast includes school kids with dangerous secrets, a devious information broker with a fondness for inciting conflict, a pair of streetwise otaku, a short-tempered young man with preternatural strength, a Russian giant with a fondness for sushi, a research scientist with less than academic goals, and underworld doctor, opposing street gangs, a mysterious slasher that randomly attacks people in the streets, and an expatriated Irish dullahan headless ghost. The convoluted yet engaging anime adapation of Ryohgo Narita’s light novel series follows multiple characters simultaneously, revealing events from multiple perspectives and in multiple parts of Ikeburuko, slowly revealing connections, revelations, hidden conspiracies, and fortitutous coincidences. The buoyant drama incorporates action, humor, suspense, absurdism, and occasionally just a bit of horror to create an ensamble story like nothing else in anime. The earlier anime adaptation of author Ryohgo Narita’s Baccano novel series may be the closest cousin to Durarara!!’s tangled narrative web, yet the tone and approach of even Baccano is quite different from Durarara!!
On a 42″ Bravia HD television set, jaggies on character edges appeared especially prevelant and distracting. However, the jagged lines on foreground characters appeared much less noticable on a 36″ SD television. I honestly don’t know the extent to which this flaw should be blamed on hardware or the DVD. The disc may also suffer from some ghosting. The opening and ending credits and theme songs appeared in their original, unaltered Japanese. On the five-episode sample DVD provided, the second episode opening credits included hard-subbed karaoke and translated lyrics, many of which appeared and disappeared too quickly to fully read. The remaining four opening sequences and all five ending sequences did not include lyric subtitles. On-screen text throughtout the episodes appeared to be selectively hard-subbed. Only on-screen text deemed significant had on-screen translation. Messages on Celty’s smartphone were not translated, but messages she typed to use for communication were hard-subbed. Eyecatch, next-episode previews, and the “This is a work of fiction” disclaimer were included, the later two including hard-subbed text translations. The sample DVD provided did not include a disc menu.
Not having a particular ear for dubbing, the English dub sounded competent to me, although I found Masaomi Kida’s voice, provided by Bryce Papenbrook, to be a little bit grating. I also noticed an absence of the sarcastic, spiteful undertone in Izaya Orihara’s voice that was always present in Hiroshi Kamiya’s original performance. My fellow viewer suggested that Johnny Yong Bosch was a bit miscast as the villainous Orihara because his voice is too familiar and frequently associated with heroic characters. The English dialogue acknowledges the Japanese setting, generally making a respectable effort to properly pronounce the Japanese names and locations that pepper the dialogue. Simon Brezhnev continues to speak with his characteristic disjointed cadence, but the English dub also gives him a Russian accent. The dubbing attempts to emulate the youthful slang and tone of the setting and Japanese dialogue by incorporating “equivalant” American coloquial slang. Undoubtedly some viewers will find the effort immersive while others will be distracted by hearing Japanese teens occasionally uttering American expressions that they wouldn’t naturally use.
The 26 episode series will be released on American DVD in three bilingual double-disc DVD sets, each retailing at $49.98. The first volume will be available on January 25 in an exclusive digipack featuring new artwork and an exclusive set of postcards. The two discs will contain episodes 1-9 with 2.0 English and Japanese audio and anamorphic 16:9 widescreen video. Viewers that watched the series during its Crunchyroll streaming distribution will now be able to own the complete series, including its two home video exclusive episodes, in a never-before-released bilingual edition. New viewers will be able to discover this fascinating, stylish, and engrossing “urban street drama” that’s become a fan favorite for good reason.