Hironori Toba, producer of Angel Beats, said in an interview prior to its premiere that thirteen episodes wasn't enough to tell the story Jun Maeda had envisioned. He was lying. Somewhere between the baseball episode and the protracted and overblown ending it becomes apparent the series doesn't know what it's doing beyond trying to force the audience to feel something for its tepid and underdeveloped cast. Trapped beneath a script which oscillates from terrible to appalling and a story with more holes and useless caveats than development is some mediocre commentary and a smattering of interesting ideas. It is saddening such high production values are wasted on a show that with some tightening and tweaking could have been immeasurably better.
Mikado comes to Ikebukuro after his friend Masaomi gets angsty, wants to see Sunshine City. Girl has rubbish home life, gets angsty, gets kidnapped. Girl saved by Black Rider with cute helmet, is told by Izaya she was played, gets angsty, jumps off building. Saved by Black rider then never seen again.
Mikado goes to school, sees Anri, is betwitched by her large chest. Masaomi tries to pick up girls, tells Mikado about gangs. That could be important later on. They run into Dotachin and Erika and other people who aren't as awesome. Anri getting bullied by badly dressed ganguro girls and a mentally retarded gang member. Mikado tries to save her, fails, Izaya stomps on a phone. People run. Bartender shouts at Izaya, gang members attack bartender, now Shizuo, man gets clothes punched off him. Large black Russian stops the fight - isn't that always the way?
Shinra makes bad home movies for Black Rider, now Celty. She yearns for (her) head. Head crime in Ireland rises 100%. Shinra's dad cuts up Celty, Shinra sees Celty's breasts. Mikado still fascinated by Anri's chest, so is a pervy teacher. Masaomi saves the day. Runs into some gang members, Mikado tries to save him, fails, sword wielding lunatic with crazy eyes interrupts them. She might be important. Masaomi knows a girl in the hospital, Jun Maeda gets angsty.
Dotachin, Erika and some other unimportant characters go to save someone equally unimportant. Chloroform fun. Shizuo has a brother and uncontrollable rage. Lifts refrigerator, gets hospitalised. Tries to save bakery owner, fails, gets annoyed by Shinra, meets Celty. Shizuo angered by Izaya, gets chest cut, run over by van, not hospitalised. Finds solace in hitting people with signs. Becomes debt collector, roughs people up for money. Anger management.
One criticism that could never be levelled at Baccano! was that it was unoriginal. So too can this be applied to Durarara!! which defies its lacklustre predecessor by going full bore for a modern thriller with supernatural overtones, eking out some social commentary along the way. Featuring an expansive cast and set in the city-within-a-city, Ikebukuro, the series has an eye for the dramatic and though ostensibly the story is bifurcated, it covers a variety of stories that involve murder, urban gang conflict and domestic abuse through to a love triangle between school friends and a Russian sushi chef's desire for more business. It is a stunningly constructed series and though it has its stumbling points, by and large it demonstrates that with the difficulties of an involving story and an engaging cast down, everything else comes naturally.
When Mikado arrives in Tokyo, his friend Masaomi shows him around Ikebukuro, and though he doesn't realise it, he is now deep within a world populated by an outlandishly strong bartender, a fox-like information broker, a Dullahan on a journey from Ireland to recover her missing head as well as a cornucopia of gang members, students, foreigners and all points in between. The effervescence the city enjoys though is soon ruptured by a brewing street war, leading the charge is the brutish Yellow Scarves who sprung up after the dissolution of the previous ruling gang, the Blue Squares; however a shadowy internet group called the Dollars have also made some headway. Meanwhile a violent sword wielding lunatic has antagonised the Black Rider and it seems someone wishes for all of this conflict to spill over. The city certainly has its share of miscreants but whether its cosmopolitan nature will survive the brewing trouble may just rest in Mikado's hands.
First released: February 2004
The story goes that after Satoshi Kon's movie triumvirate - Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, and Tokyo Godfathers - there were a surplus of ideas and the desire to break from being locked into a two and half year development cycle for movies. So with the aid of Madhouse studios, Paranoia Agent was born. Demonstrating a familiar mix of reality bending, mind melting storytelling and a flair for the symbolic and layered, the series is a stunning achievement shifting from detective thriller to black comedy to erudite social commentary with jaw dropping ease. Challenging and subversive, this is everything a Satoshi Kon fan could want: a playground where he runs free; as bleakly funny just as it is darkly incisive there are some minor hiccups along the way but it is a powerhouse of a series that rightly deserves but never demands attention.
Takashi Watanabe obviously woke up one morning, head still groggy from a night of drink, drugs and debauchery, one hand clutching a napkin with a list scrawled on it - ninjas, cyborgs, magic, gods, dragons, breasts - and in the other a production contract, sloppily signed by himself. There is no way else a series as bonkers as Ichiban Ushiro no Daimou could have been born except from some ill-informed bet or dare. Cramming this amount of content into twelve episodes means dispensing with a consistent art-style, rounded characters and coherent storytelling; that the series hangs together at all depends entirely on the infectious enthusiasm and deviant pleasure of wondering where the story could possibly go next.