Note: This was written before the releases of episode 12.5.
You know, I kept meaning to do this academic-type analysis of Durarara!! It would be all deep and brilliant and stuff, and I’d win all sorts of awards for literary analysis that exist solely in my mind, but the more time I spend thinking about it, the more I’m confused about what to make of the show. What I’ve realized is that I can point to a lot of themes in the show that I find interesting, but I can’t cobble my analysis of those themes together into anything terribly coherent. Rather than continue to wait for that magical day when I truly start to “get” Durarara!!, I figured maybe I should just share with fans of the show the things that I find so darned fascinating.
Themes of Durarara!!:
1. Real power pales in comparison to virtual power
One of the things that makes Heiwajima Shizuo so endearing is that, despite his overwhelming strength and the fact that he’s made of about fifteen buckets of liquid sex, the guy is kind of a loser. He’s constantly complaining about his own cowardice, and seems to be stuck in a rut in his life; being an enforcer for a loan shark may be fitting work for a man of his talents, but I don’t think it’s exactly what Little Shizuo (of the brown hair*) was hoping to be when he grew up. While he has what characters on the show call “overwhelming power,” what exactly does he use it for? More often then not, the vending machines and garbage cans he throws don’t actually hit anybody (although I still think it’s kind of bullshit that Izaya didn’t bite it on the spot the one time he nailed him with one, but I digress.)
Mikado, at first glance, appears to be more the lovable loser-type. However, over the course of the show, he proves to be more powerful than Shizuo. There’s obviously a hard power vs. soft power divide (Shizuo moves things; Mikado influences multiple people to move multiple things), but it actually goes beyond that.
Shizuo’s power is predictable; he knows that when he picks up a vending machine and throws it, it will indeed travel a certain distance. Mikado’s power is much more nebulous; if he tells the Dollars to do something, they might just do it. They might also misinterpret it and do something else. They also might subdivide into smaller groups, some of which will do what he wants, and some of which will do the opposite.
Anri thinks that she has total control over the Saika army, and does; Kida thinks he has far more control over the Yellow Scarves than he does. Still it’s Mikado’s nebulous, pretty much completely unreliable power, in the form of the Dollars, that proves the most effective, and gives the show it’s name.
The easy summary is that, in a world of constant, instantaneous communication, an idea is the most powerful thing in the world-okay, fair enough. However, what is the key idea behind the Dollars? There really isn’t one; it’s the idea of having an open-ended idea. It’s an ideology based solely on the idea of not subscribing to other ideologies. So, perhaps, the most powerful thing in the world is the idea of people sharing a group identity that changes according to each person’s individual needs; people join in the belief in their right to carve their own identity. The desire to find the perfect balance between community, belonging, and independence.**
2. In a world of constant communication of ideas, real identities and mythic identities become interchangeable.
One thing that continues to puzzle me is Celty’s relative normalcy compared to the other characters. In the second half of the show, the mysterious faerie creature from Ireland becomes the closest thing we have to a POV character. Early in the show, it seemed like the exploration of Celty’s background in episode 4 marked the descent of the series from a solid, meat-and-potatoes drama with a hint of magical realism to a realm of supernatural hijinks galore. However, rather than dragging the show off to magical la-la-land, never do we feel more grounded then when Celty is there, being her sensible, likable self.
To use Mikado as a point of comparison again, both characters have a kind of mythic status on the internet; Celty more literally, as an urban legend whom people actually refer to as an urban legend, and Mikado in a more general sense. People believe that there is a “leader” behind the Dollars, but no one knows who he is, or if he really is just one person; he’s an urban myth in his own right. Now, Mikado is actually a flesh-and-blood human, while Celty is something that logically shouldn’t exist, yet as far as the show is concerned, it doesn’t seem to matter. If both of these characters are “myths” in the opinion of the majority of the characters that populate the world of the show, how much does it matter that only one of them is actually a creature of the faerie realm?
Yes, it’s one of those annoying “if a tree falls in the forest” questions; even though Mikado is an average, everyday human, if the grand majority of the people in the world see him as otherwise, does it really matter that he doesn’t have cool Dullahan powers like Celty does? Is he any less a myth because he happens to have a pulse?
To return to Shizuo, he doesn’t have mythical powers- there’s a quasi-plausible explanation for his feats of Herculean strength. I’m honestly not sure what to make of this; the framework of the show certainly allows for him to just have magical powers without needing any sort of half-assed, ‘realistic’ explanation. He could have just been born really strong for no apparent reason, and it would not be remotely strange in the world of the show.
To be honest, I’m confused to what extent Shizuo is a mythic figure, which is probably appropriate considering that that’s how characters on the show feel- the reporter certainly does. Maybe it’s as simple as that.
3. Even when they are distinct, choosing between myth and reality is a matter of choice
Honestly, I was wondering what the hell the point of Walker and Karisawa was for a while. Constant otaku in-jokes? Really? Is that all there was to this pair?
It wasn’t until late in the series, when Erika Karisawa revealed her doctrine of reality-by-choice; things that happen in reality have equal value to things that happen in your favorite fictional world, and you can choose which ideas you subscribe to at any moment- that I started to see a point to them.
They don’t reject reality in favor of fantasy worlds like complete otaku shut-ins do; no, the part I find fascinating is that they give them both equal value. They don’t run away from reality, but their reality is subjective; they shape it to their needs. That’s how the seemingly harmless Walker can become a bad-ass supreme when necessary; he just channels a little bit of verve from his favorite manga hero, and suddenly the whole enterprise feels different and he’s a different person.
It may seem irresponsible to live like that, but how else to respond to a world where an Irish faerie and a normal high-school kid are both equally mythic figures, because the shared consciousness of mass communication has destroyed the traditional divide between myth and reality? If reality has gone screwy, are they wrong to make sure it goes screwy the way they like it?
The Dreaded “in summation”
Okay, I think all I’ve really done here is confused myself more, however, I have ascertained this much; in a world where so much of one’s identity is determined in other people’s minds via the accessibility of mass-communication, it almost doesn’t matter who you are behind the keyboard, the iPad or the phone. The only difference between the world of Durarara!! and our own is that we still have that ‘almost’ in there. The show has taken the idea to it’s logical extremity- it might be a high school kid behind that handle, or it might be a centuries-old Dullahan; in the end, it’s all the same, because no one really knows who anyone else is anyway.
I’ve just realized that I wrote this much about Durarara!! and didn’t even mention Celty’s head. Oh dear; maybe next time.
*By the way, I think the implication is that Shizuo dyes his hair blond to a)break with his past and b)make himself look more distinct from his brother. He’s certainly not doing it to get attention from the ladies.
**I mean, I think the idea of finding a balance between losing oneself in a community and staking out one’s own identity is at the heart of the show, but summing it up in that sentence doesn’t really do it justice. I think there’s more going on.