FEATURE: Aniwords – Durarara!! and Unhidden Monsters
In its 50+ episode run, particularly in the twenty or so episode that have made up Durarara!! x2, Durarara!! has demonstrated a rather impressive ability to maintain a largely impregnable nature, both in terms of plot and character motivations. While the outlines of the character beats and story movements are at least accessible, plunging into the depths of why certain characters act certain ways or (heaven forbid) where the story is actually going, if anywhere, is a venture most watchers of the show will admit is challenging and perhaps even impossible. I'm no exception to this kind of general bafflement with the contortions of the show, having been fooled time and time again into thinking I'd finally seen where Durarara!!'s endgame lay. It's been frustrating, I'll admit, but one thing that I have noticed—particularly within the winding nonsense of x2—is that there do seem to be a few dualities and themes that have cropped up again and again, even as the plot has knotted and tangled itself beyond any sort of reasonable rationality.
Of these, the most prominent (and, I think, most relevant to what Durarara!! actually seems to be interested in musing on) are the dynamics between children and adults, the interplay between the human and the inhuman, and the tension between secrecy and openness.
In episode thirty of Durarara!! X2 The Third Arc, our dearly hated friend Izaya Orihara makes a short monologue about removing the "non-humans" from what he sees as his personal chessboard—Ikebukuro. Among these he counts Anri Sonohara (a host for the sentient sword Saika), Kasane Kujiragi (another Saika wielder), Celty Sturluson (a dullahan), and his long-time rival Shizuo Heiwajima. In doing so, he also specifically highlights the humanity of Mikado Ryuugamine (and, by association, Masomi Kida), drawing a clear line between his human loves and the "monsters" whose unique powers and capabilities place them largely outside of his ability to control.
But, of course, the distinctions that Izaya draws are largely arbitrary—as are those others impose on the weirder figures of Durarara!!. Shizuo is often referred to as a "monster," but we know he's really nothing more than a human with inhuman strength. He has friends, a job, feelings, and motivations. To call him a non-human on account of his physical power reveals a fascinating bias within Izaya's human-centric ideology and, in fact, calls into question the validity of compartmentalizing humans and "monsters" with clear certainty. Of course, as far as Izaya and Shizuo go, there's a lot of bad blood there, so perhaps Izaya's not the best source for objective opinions (as if his sociopathic tendencies weren't enough to clue you in on that already). But, alternately—why does Izaya despise Shizuo so much? Perhaps it's because of how radically Shizuo disrupts the easy distinctions Izaya wants to draw between the human and the not.
By way of contrast, let's take Mikado—who Izaya, at least, explicitly considers a human—as an example. Mikado since the ending of the original Durarara!! (and Kida's corresponding departure) has been one hell of a mess, wandering aimlessly about before beginning his association with Aoba in back in the first season of x2 and even more still after that. But thanks to Chikage's brutal dismissal of him at the end of that season and his worries over Anri and Kida, he's slowly grown into a someone dangerous despite his harmless exterior demeanor—enough so that even the city's yakuza, who generally turn a blind eye to the childish antics of the color gangs, have taken note of him. Although he comes from the other direction as Shizuo, Mikado likewise blurs the lines between the human and the monstrous—and I suspect we've yet to see how far down the path of darkness he's really gone.
Before moving on, I'd be lax to not note that this intersection of humanity and monstrosity is not simply limited to Shizuo and Mikado; it's in fact a dynamic present in many of Durarara!!'s other characters. From Celty's humane love for Shinra balanced against her mythical nature to Varona's merciless drive for power evaporating in the face of Shizuo's strangely normal side to Ruri Hijiribe's idol/serial killer personas, this duality exists throughout the show.
The child vs. adult theme doesn't exist separately from the human vs. monster theme, and its further tied up in the show's obsession with secrets. Although the first two ideas certainly aren't perfectly analogous (you can't say childhood=humanity and adulthood=monstrosity so easily), the moments where they line-up are plentiful. Consider Mikada and Shizuo in contrast again: where Mikado, the teenager, hides behind screens and manipulation to execute his own brand of inhumanity, Shizuo, the adult, lives his out in the open. For an even clearer example, consider Aoba and his brother Ran—the former again hides in the shadows, while the latter lives out his nasty, monstrous life in the open. Or, we have the difference between the yakuza (a vicious, confident, organized adult group) and the Dollars (anonymous, fractured, and childlike). The Dollars began as a fantasy for a naive Mikado, a way for him to access the monstrosity of the city without really engaging with it. Unfortunately for him, Ikebukuro is a monster—an uncontrollable, amporphous, dangerous mass—and so the only way to keep up with it is to become more like a monster himself. But Mikado's got friends, humans he cares about, so he can't allow Anri and Kida to see him taking this path. Thus, secrets.
Again and again throughout Durarara!!, secrecy is associated with childhood and transparency with adulthood. In the show's terms, the only real adults are the ones who have come to terms with the monsters within themselves and have learned to live with them. Consider Kasane Kujiragi as a foil to Anri on these terms. Kasane doesn't have Anri's qualms about using Saika; she conducts "business," as she terms it, with her blades. She lives openly with her own monstrosity. But does this make Kasane less (or more?) than human? I don't think so. Ditto Shizuo. Ditto Celty, and many other characters in Durarara!!. The human exists right alongside the monster.
One might come to the end of this and wonder if Durarara!! is, then, a show fundamentally pessimistic on the idea of humans. If all of us have secret monstrosity inside us that we either hide for better or worse, or live out openly, do the more human parts of us even have a chance? Or will we, like Celty, be consumed suddenly in a dark ball of instinctual rage? To that end, I suppose much relies on the ending of Durarara!! x2 and where Mikado, Kida, and Anri ultimately end up. Will Mikado pull the trigger? Will Kida be able to face up to the monster of his own insecurity to stop his friend? Will Anri overcome her worries to pull the two boys together? The outcome of this arc will tell us whether Durarara!! believes we can be humans despite our monstrous urges or if it thinks we will become monsters despite our human natures.
I, for one, dearly hope for the second option.
Isaac eases his compulsive need to write about anime on his blog, Mage in a Barrel. He also contributes to the Fandom Post and sometimes hangs out on Tumblr. You can follow him on Twitter at @iblessall or on Facebook.