Youth Culture, Fandom and Social Participation in Durarara!!

Contents:
I. Personal background
II. Comparing Baccano! and Durarara!!: narrative structures, emphasis, character relatability
III. How Durarara!! shows the condition of an urban setting, with a bit on parkour at the end
IV. How Durarara!! shows different kind of fandom/participation, through character analysis
V. Duarara!! fandom activities

When Durarara!! first started airing on Crunchyroll, I watched the first two episodes because I liked Baccano! and they have the same original author, Ryohgo Narita. I was expecting something along the lines of Baccano! especially because I read on a summary that Durarara!! would also be certain events told from multiple perspectives, but the first two episodes left me feeling a little “wtf?” The issue with Rio Kamichika wanting to commit suicide in the first two episodes, added to the fact that the main characters were high school students, gave me the impression that the series would revolve around teen angst a lot. I feel that I’ve already outgrown that (or maybe I’m just eager to outgrow it), so I dropped the series. It’s a pity that like me, some other viewers also felt that they couldn’t get the point of the series after a few episodes and stopped watching.

Recently, I’ve been intensely absorbed in Baccano! – I’ve been doing translations of volume 8/9 of the light novels over at Baka-tsuki, and recently I just finished the first volume of the story arc. I remember hearing that there was an Isaac and Miria cameo in Durara!! and that the two series take place within the same universe, so I decided to try Durarara!! again. I’m glad I did, because I’m doing some background reading to prepare for PhD applications, and recently came across studies about fandom and Internet culture. To me, these topics clicked with a lot of what is depicted in Durarara!! .

II. Baccano! : Durarara!! :: form : content/theme

Why are people comparing baccano to Durarara? Yes, they’re by the same author. But that doesn’t mean much of anything.
NYA, Random Curiosity

(I have a post about Rashomon, Baccano! and Haruhi in the works but it’s stalling because I couldn’t find anything new and intelligent to say, and also because I have to watch series multiple times before I blog about them, and watching Haruhi repeatedly drives me crazy.)

Both Baccano! and Durarara!! are by Narita and do share some similar structures, in terms of an ensemble cast, multiple perspectives and incomplete information that gets gradually revealed. While at this point I still like Baccano! more, probably due to how much work I’ve invested in it, I have to say that Durarara!! is the more “mature” of the two series. It was written after Baccano!, so from this point of view one can say that Narita has smoothed out his rough edges as he developed his craft.

However, the most obvious difference between the two series to me is that they have different purposes, with one emphasizing form more and the other emphasizing themes more. As an analogy from art history, milestones in the field seem to come either from a radical new subject of the artwork or a radically new way of representing it. For example, Gustav Courbet painted peasants working in the fields in the 1800s and this was shocking because peasants had never been thought of as appropriate subjects of painting. In the early 1900s, Marcel Ducahmp painted works like A Nude Descending Staircase; while there have probably been a lot of nudes on staircases in the history of painting, this achievement was one related to form because Picasso represented the human form as geometrical and also tried to depict movement in a stationary medium. I’m oversimplifying this – Courbet also developed a rougher way of painting that offended the Academy, but one can see these two painters as general examples of how art and literature can develop through form or content, if not both.

Baccano! is very entertaining with its larger-than-life characters and fantastic elements. The “point” of the Baccano! anime seems to me to be a formal/structural one. Within the 13-episode series, there are 3 main timelines that proceed simultaneously, and each episode switches back and forth between these. The OAVs brings the viewer back to Gustav St. Germain and Carol at the end to emphasize that there is no one perspective that can be more valid than any other, and there is no beginnings and endings even though the tidy human mind likes to think there are (from what I’ve read of the novels, this seems to be mentioned in the novels but it isn’t stressed as much as in the anime), and the immortality of the characters just makes this point more salient. The anime is brilliant in that it leads viewers through 3 plotlines to arrive at a resolution for all of them, and one plotline can give clues and answers to events in the other ones. The most dazzling aspect isn’t necessarily the events in the plot (which, to tell the truth, are still pretty dazzling) but how the plot is executed and what this says about human cognition and our need for closure.

Durarara!! is different in that while it does include an ensemble cast and does have narration from multiple perspectives, the execution of the anime’s plot is pretty linear compared to Baccano!. It seems that Narita has confidence in the form that he has developed over Baccano! and is now building up more of the content with Durarara!! Like Baccano!, Durarara!! also has amazing characters – e.g. I feel like Izaya is almost like a more sadistic version of Huey Laforet – but it places its content more at the fore. There is less action and that makes the anime seem slower, but events in the plot, rather than the plot’s structure, is more reflective of the human condition.

Jutester wrote on the recommendations section for Durarara!! in Myanimelist.com that the two series are similar in that they are both about underground groups in society, and this is true; there are gangs in both – organized crime like the Mafia in Baccano! and youth gangs, underground doctors, and illegal immigrants in Durarara!!. However they are handled differently. Baccano glorifies in violence and gore, like it’s an animated Quentin Tarantino film. The psychopathic Ladd Russo is probably the best example of this – punching an opponent until both fists are bloody, dancing in a pool of blood, shooting a child in the head, etc. But while Durarara!! glorifies in action, such as Shizuo Heiwajima throwing things like pop machines and Celty’s chases on her motorcycle, it doesn’t figure violence in an entertaining way as much as Baccano! does. From very early on in the series, Masaomi narrates that he wants to protect Mikado from the darker side of society, and the actions of the renegade Yellow Scarves members are horrifying rather than appealing. In addition, the “twisted love” in Durarara!! seem more frightening than the twisted relationships in Baccano!, even though technically they’re on the same level of twistedness. For example, Ladd and Lua in Baccano! are pretty messed up, as well as Huey’s relationship with his children, but they don’t seem as creepy as weird love trapezoid between Mika Harima, Seiji, Namie, and Celty’s head, and the entourage of girls who worship Izaya. Speaking of Izaya, I also feel that while the information brokers in Baccano! seem very cool for the extent of their powers, Izaya in Durarara!! is meant to be doubted despite being appealing, seeing as how he shamelessly uses people and puts the focus characters through a lot of misery. In Durarara!!, I think, there are more clear villains.

On the flipside of villains, something which Baccano! lacks and Durarara!! has is characters viewers can relate to. There isn’t really anyone in Baccano! that viewers can relate to right off the bat, because the world it depicts, 1930s American gang warfare and train hijacking, is so far removed from our own, even without any anime-esque twists. While there are elements of profundity like Claire’s solipsism , and his idea that human relationships makes one’s world bigger, there aren’t too many instances of desires or quandaries or losses that exactly match what real people today experience.

Also, the two series are both about gangs but they are very different gangs. In Baccano!, the gangs are well-established organized crime families run largely by adults, but the gangs in Durarara!! are mostly packs of kids, and I think this is the series’ strong point. In Episode 18, Masaomi singles out Horoda for being too old and tells other members not to invite adults anymore, because they’re just junior high students and wants neither to fight against adults nor be controlled by adults. In the end, when Horoda and the Blue Squares members reveal that they’d taken over the Yellow Scarves from the inside, all the remaining members appear to be adult or approaching adult age. I remember in Children’s Literature class, the professor says that a lot of young adult stories “get the parents out of the way” before the story starts – either they’re dead or missing or away on a trip or whatever, because these stories tend to want to build into a world just for children(1). Masaomi’ comments seem to reflect this. All children feel at some point in their lives that parents can ruin things and they just want to bump around and see where they end up, which children’s literature allows them to do. Durarara!! shows a world where there aren’t many adults, and rather it’s up to interactions among teenagers to sort things out, and so the teenage/young adult audience might find the series more compelling than Baccano! because they would see themselves more in the series’s characters. Ultimately, which side of the line Mikado will end up in and how he will get there, and whether Masaomi can extricate himself from a gang war that he’d rather not be in, stand in for all the questing of young people to find their place in society, as trite as that sounds. So, I must admit that I misread the first couple of episodes, and the series actually does have very strong points and a lot of depth.

III. The Urban Condition

So uh, anybody figure out who the main character was? Some say it was Celty, others say it was Mikado, and people even say that there is none. […] In my opinion its Ikebukuro itself, since I felt that the events spiralled around the city itself, but then again, that’s just me.
Click, Random Curiosity

A lot of people who watch Durarara!! noticed that the anime prominently featured Ikebukuro. There is also a discussion on Random Curiosity about the final episode where Simon punches Izaya into a sculpture that says “LOVE,” where fans debate whether it’s in Shinjuku or Ikebukuro and one fan, “ammato,” says that he/she heard that the production team actually went around Tokyo and assigned where certain events would take place. Hence, Click in the quote up there is correct that Ikebukuro is more than just a backdrop – it has its own importance. (I really wish that I had my notes with me, because a couple of years ago there was a seminar on anime culture at Ryerson University in Toronto where one professor talked about the relationships and significances that different areas of Tokyo such as Ikeburkuro and Akihabara had to anime fans. I can’t remember what he said, but it seemed to be along the lines that there are many places in Ikebukuro that cater to fans.) Anyway, in this section the focus is more generally the city and how the city, Ikebukuro or not, provides an important setting that is also a comment on the condition of many young people today, and sets up a lot of tensions in the anime series.

I think urban studies is a specific branch of the Humanities, but I haven’t really done any work in this area. I only have a vague memory that Charles Baudelaire, an early 1900s French poet, had about the idea of the flaneur, which is someone who walks around the city and looks at urban sights and urban people, which is sort of like window shopping + people watching today, and very general stuff from Social Studies class. In the 1800s and 1900s, the city was just developing into the structure it was now. In the Industrial Revolution migration of people from the countryside to the cities, social structures in the country, such as the relationship between landowners and peasant farmers, changed. This caused a lot of concern among the middle and upper classes regarding the breakdown of traditional hierarchies in the city where you could meet anybody. The absence of a hierarchy and the everyone for themselves attitude, added to poor working conditions, also made crime in the city a big concern. In some ways this is still the case.

More abstractly, life in the city also changed people’s self-concept. In rural areas and in feudal societies, a person’s place in society was likely determined by the work that he or she is doing, which was most likely passed down from older family members, plus being a member of whichever church/congregation. Most people lived by identifying themselves vis-a-vis immediate family first, then the community, which was probably a village or a town, and for most people this would have been as far as identification got. Middle-class merchants and craftspeople would have had a bigger world view since they engaged in trade and production, and of course the upper classes had an international mentality and could probably speak a few languages. But most common people would not have had the chance to feel that they were a part of a world or even a part of a country. But being in the city, where there was every kind of person imaginable, plus the sheer number of people, made one quite aware that there was a huge world out there and that one person was quite small.

Also, since the city developed due to industry, there was the sense that the city was a giant machine and people got sucked into it. This idea of the city still stays with us today, because people who work in urban areas like to go to the beach or the woods or something non-urban for holidays. Part of this is true. To be sort of Marxist (not meaning a Communist here though), industrialization does make the individual worker a cog in a machine. In feudal societies, perhaps even peasants had the sense that the land they were working on has been handed down through their ancestors, and it gave them a sense of ownership and pride in the work they put into it, but in the factory, workers do small repetitive tasks for the owner of the enterprise.(2) However, industrialization, while messing with traditional hierarchies and identities, also provided a new playground. It is possible that in the city a lowly peasant could work hard and become wealthy through the capitalist system, whereas this wouldn’t have been possible in the feudal system. (The American dream should be amended to be the American urban dream. Few immigrants go to America to be farmers, for instance). So the city provided a sense of possibility but also a sense of danger in that anything could happen to you, and also a faint sense that taken altogether, the city wasn’t quite human and sort of mechanical (For a comparison between the experience of working with a machine and the experience of being jostled in the city, see Bejamin’s “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire,” section VII).

Benjamin writes that Baudelaire was caught between two aspects of the city – on the one hand, he could be a flaneur and enjoy the teeming possibility of the city as a detached observer, but on the other hand, as a person being among the city crowds, he was also a part of the masses. A quotation from Benjamin is that “He [Baudelaire] becomes deeply involved with them[city crowds], only to relegate them to oblivion with a single glance of contempt.” (“On Some Motifs in Baudelaire,” section VI). I might add that other people also dismiss Baudelaire with a single glance of contempt too. Whereas in a village you knew everyone who lived around you, in the city this isn’t the case, and so critics in the 1900s talked about alienation in the cities, a criticism we still hear today.

So, going by these effects of being a part of the city, there is alienation from the traditional references of personal identity, which are no longer present, however there is also the possibility that people can develop into anything they want. There is fleeting glances of contempt but there is also anonymity if one is trying to escape from the law. All of these aspects of being in a big city is central to the development of Durarara!!. Toshi left an insightful discussion comment on Random Curiosity that if we apply Campbellian archetypes, Mikado is like the young man in tribal societies who leaves his home to go into the forests to become a man. I agree that the Campbellian archetype is still apt even for the 21st century, except boys no longer go into forests to prove they are men anymore, they go into cities. The cities is where a new identity can be forged and sustained through new connections, but it’s also where young people can fall really, really hard.

In the first half of the anime, Mikado repeatedly emphasizes that he wants his life to become more interesting, and that’s one reason he accepted Masaomi’s offer to enroll in Raira Academy in Tokyo. This is the aspect of Mikado that would take advantage of a city’s possibilities. The first episode seems a bit confusing but that’s probably exactly what the producers want us to feel, which is to feel like Mikado experiencing the city intimately for the first time, with its legends and rival factions and quirky characters. It also makes Mikado and the audience feel that there’s a whole web of material that we don’t know about, which there is, and this is the aspect of the city where individuals might feel alienated and insignificant. Some audiences (like me) might have felt alienated enough to drop the series, but I think the point of the series is that the audience should overcome what amounts to culture shock along with Mikado.

Because anything in the city is possible, there’s a question of where Mikado would go, whether he will be swallowed by the anonymity of the city and become a drone, or whether he will become a man in the wilderness. He obviously doesn’t plan on becoming a drone, however soft-spoken and awkward he is. But “becoming a man” is also fraught with danger, since anything is possible and there are all kinds of people in Ikebukuro, from mad otakus to headless fairies to hell-bent traffic officers to rival street gangs. Many young characters of the series is in a similar situation as Mikado, in that they are trying on identities and allegiances and fandoms in order to find who they are. The question surrounding Mikado becomes: what aspects of the multitudinous city will he imbibe to form his identity as a man, and are they the right ones?

(Before I get into answering this question in the next section, I want to add that part of the mechanicalness of the city is that it controls the flow of human bodies. To drive in the city you have to obey traffic lights, for instance. But something we might take for granted is that most public places are ordered into grids or webs of some kind, meaning you can’t take the most direct point from A to B “as the crow flies.” Most people probably don’t see this as a restriction, since we generally still end up where we want to go. But we still find that breaking these rules seem pretty cool. In Durarara!!, Celty is amazing for her mastery of the Ikebukuro streets on her motorcycle/horse, and Shizuo is amazing because he can literally change the urban setting by picking up and throwing almost anything that’s not a concrete building. I thought that part of the humour of how he used a highway signpost to smash the car that Saki’s captors were fleeing in (Ep. 21) lies in that he’s abusing an urban sign which is normally used for peacefully directing traffic to completely smash someone’s vehicle, not to mention deprive other drivers of directions, at least until it gets fixed.

Even if Shizuo can’t pick up buildings, He and Izaya both know parkour, which is sadly underemphasized in the anime. Wikipedia says that the objective of parkour is to “take the most direct path through an obstacle as rapidly as that route can be traversed safely,” or in another words, A to B as the crow flies and working around the obstacles that the city places in the way. In the philosophy of parkour, “Urban reclamation,” which is “the idea that by creating an urban landscape around us, society has robbed us of something dear to us” and “We re-imagine the concrete and architecture as we see fit, and are no longer bound by the rules of ‘stairs’ and ‘barriers’ and ‘fences'” (Tran, “Two Theories on Parkour Philosophy”) For Izaya, who manipulates humanity, parkour can be seen as another kind of manipulation, but at least Shizuo can be a force for good even if he doesn’t always feel that he is. In Celty, Izaya, and Shizuo, there are characters who are not physically bound by the limitations of the city.

(Interestingly, in the article “Two Theories on Parkour Philosophy,” there is a section on “Human Reclamation” that contrasts the movement of parkour to movement up the social ladder of capitalism, which most people are “conditioned” to believe they will be “perfect capitalists,” but
“reality and statistics have only shown that this is a very rare occurrence and most people will remain in the same place or social stratum for most of their lives.” So, this goes back to the idea of the city as being a place where anything is possible – but actually few people “make it.” Working around the boundaries of the city becomes symbolic for working around the system of capitalist production that the city stands for.)

IV. Different Kinds of “Fandom”

With “fandom,” I don’t mean just fans of particular media productions – I mean more loosely groups who actively participate in anything that gives them a sense of identity.

Durarara!! shows many different ways that its urban youth focus characters engage with society to build their identity. There’s Izaya, who manipulates everyone while claiming to love humanity; Anri, who can’t engage with people, and Saika, whose relation of “love,” similar to Izaya’s “love,” brings destruction; again, the love triangles between Mika, Seiji, Namie and Celty’s head; the scary makeup girls who bully Anri, who seem to be swallowed in commodity culture, and their rapidly gesticulating boyfriend; Walker and Erika, the otakus with a twisted sense of reality; Masaomi, who becomes the leader of the Yellow Scarves and is mired in gang warfare; and Mikado, the anonymous leader of the Dollars.

Basically, I see Durarara!! showing two kinds of social engagement. One is an obsessive, (self-)destructive engagement with one aspect of society that makes everything not of this aspect to be expendable, and another is a balanced engagement that takes into account both one’s private sense of self and one’s social roles with a sense of responsibility. Some characters have a sense of this all along, and some grow into it. One can say that Celty and Shinra, two older characters, also go through this path as well. Shinra, being in love with Celty, wants to hide the knowledge of her head from her, but realizes that he is perhaps being selfish. Likewise, in the beginning of the series, Celty is very adamant about finding her head, but she comes to accept that lacking her head does not unmake who she is.

To start with more minor characters, the creepy makeup girls and their boyfriend. They seem like they’re trying to fit into a certain popular image, which in the representation of the anime, seems outrageous and ridiculous because it’s overdone and pretentious. The boyfriend, especially, seems to reflect how young people will overload themselves with signs of a subculture to shore up their sense of belonging to that group, hence the hair and the gesticulating that proclaims himself as part of street culture, but again, overdone.

I don’t know how to analyze Izaya, and it seems to me that he’s one character in the series who isn’t quite human in character – all other characters, when they do wrong, seem to have a reason and a background story to explain it, but Izaya doesn’t. Anyway. The obsession on the part of Mika, Seiji, and Namie doesn’t really need to be explained, except to emphasize that Mika is so blinded by her obsession that she’s willing to accept a severed head in Seiji’s possession and would get cosmetic surgery for a chance to be with him, and Anri also said that Mika and Anri were only friends because they each used the other to make themselves look better. And Seiji is willing to grievously hurt Mika to protect the relationship between him and the head, and Namie is willing to completely disregard the law to protect Seiji, kidnap people to do experiments on them, etc.

Next, there’s Walker and Erika. When I first heard about them, I was immediately interested, because having anime fans in anime is a very brave thing to do because the production is confronting the audience with themselves. I first thought they were sort of cute, and it was very brave of Walker to save Saki. His otaku-esque rant while he is confronting the Blue Squares who kidnapped Saki was one of the highlights of the episode : “In real life, people don’t come to the rescue like in movies and cartoons, and so this girl’s been trashed like she has. So I was thinking…if a hero appeared now to save her, perhaps the world would become two-dimensional, and I’d become the saviour of the world with superpowers at my command!” (ep. 18)

Basically, Walker and Erika espouse the philosophy that reality and fiction aren’t separate. This is perhaps what enables Walker to walk up to a gang and save someone they’re torturing – he sees his actions as a part of a fictitious story, a two-dimensional world (which it is from the audience’s POV, hence part of the fun in this scene). I think this episode portrays an obsession with the two-dimensional world in a positive way, because it gives people courage to do what they wouldn’t dare do otherwise.

However, Erika and Walker quickly become extremely creepy. I haven’t read the novels but apparently they torture people according to how people in anime, manga and light novel series are tortured. The most disturbing of all is Erika in episode 21. While Izaya is goading Masaomi with the theory that he will always be haunted by his past, Erika is basically saying that Masaomi can just pretend that the conflict with the Blue Squares never happened. Later, scenes of a troubled Masaomi pacing the streets of Ikebukuro are interspersed with Erika and Walker in an anime store, and Erika saying hat she can edit reality to be what she wants and can get rid of everything that she doesn’t find interesting. The scene shows her casually throwing one of those ball container things into a garbage can. While this isn’t as bad as educational critics saying that violence in the media causes incidents like the Columbine shootings, it has a more troubling undertone in what it says about how a engagement with fiction might distort a person’s social outlook. From this, I find how Narita handles Walker and Erica to be very realistic, by neither criticizing nor glorifying the otakus, and hence I still like Walker and Erica as complex characters.

Saki’s situation is also troubling. Again, not having read the novels, I’m not sure exactly how Izaya collects girls who have been traumatized in their past, but Saki as the one example in the anime would do anything for Izaya, as she states in Masaomi’s flashbacks. During the conflict between the Yellow Scarves and the Blue Squares, Saki gets kidnapped and tortured and hospitalized on Izaya’s orders. I suppose, purely theoretically, being traumatized in some way is a big wound to anyone’s self-concept, especially children. Izaya might exploit this fragile sense of self and give the girls a sense that they have a legitimate place alongside him, and they do as he commands because he is the only person in their lives to offer them a sense of place. Saki’s change through the series seems to be that she has found another reference point for her personal definition, which is Masaomi. A lot of fans seem to find her really creepy too, but I think the last episode redeems her, when she calls Simon’s sushi restaurant and tells him everything that Isaya plotted in an effort to save Masaomi.

Masaomi’s situation has a slightly different inflection than the other characters. He’s no longer trying to be a part of something to give himself a sense of identity, but trying to get away from certain things in his past that makes him someone he doesn’t want to be. This can be just as bad as unquestioning participation. One thing in his past is the Yellow Scarves, whose leader position he grudgingly takes up again, and another is Saki, whom he couldn’t bear to visit and whom he wants to break up with. At first, around Masaomi are two competing choices. One is Izaya’s philosophy. Izaya says to Masaomi in Ep.20 that since people use their accounts of the past as a guide for their actions, then it is possible to think of the past as “God.” Izaya uses this chain of reasoning to tell Masaomi that since he feels guilty about what happened to Saki in the past, then Saki will be like Kida’s “God,” and that he will never shake free of it. The other philosophy is Erika’s philosophy that Masaomi can believe what he wants and forget about what happened to Saki if he doesn’t like it.

However, Kyohei (Dotachin) gives Masaomi another choice, and that is to overcome his guilt and “be responsible to both the past and the future.” This was stated in rather abstract terms, but Masaomi manages this by the end of the series. Not wanting a repeat of what happened between the Yellow Scarves and the Blue Squares, Masaomi goes to face Horoda, the upstart leader of the Yellow Squares, proclaiming that he’d been running from his past but he is going to actively catch up with his past this time.

Lastly, there’s Mikado. Contrary to Masaomi, who just wants to be a normal high school student, Mikado wants his life to be extraordinary, which is one reason he went to Tokyo. This makes Mikado the character that most of the audience can relate to, because most audience members are probably teenagers and young adults who wished that their lives were more interesting, and not the reverse like Masaomi, which is wishing that their lives were more normal. Hence, what Mikado does in the series would command the most attention, and more than anyone else, his path serves as a guide among all the other clearly dysfunctional paths other characters take.

Unlike other characters in this section, Mikado doesn’t jump into a social faction to find a place for himself and he doesn’t commit himself to actions just to prove himself. For instance, he advocates peace when some of the Dollars members agitate for conflict with the Yellow Scarves, even when he doesn’t know that the leader of the Yellow Scarves is really Masaomi. In other words, he seems to feel secure enough in his position (and the position of Dollars) that he doesn’t feel that he needs to prove anything by committing everyone to a gang war. He’s already proved himslef. In the middle of the series, when Mikado is dealing with threats from Namie, he has proved that he can mobilize all of the Dollars members and overwhelm Namie with numbers acting in a pacifist way. The nature of the Dollars, contrary to other youth gangs, is nonviolent; Mikado tells the Dollars members only to stare at Namie and her employees, but not to actually do anything else to them. He has tried to influence the Dollars to become a socially benevolent group, for example through public acts of charity. Most importantly, he can let go and disband Dollars when it seems that being a member risked targetting by the Yellow Scarves. All in all, for Mikado, the Dollars is important but not such a crucial part of his identity that he would hold on to it above all other things, such as the safety of its individual members, and it doesn’t colour his perception of his own situations to the exclusion of everything else. In this way, Mikado strikes a balance that many of the character in the series lack.

One quote from Celty that strikes me is in episode 23, when she says that Anri, Masaomi, and Mikado need to meet not as the leaders of their respective factions, but as themselves. But what is “self” but a collection of identities, and what are identities except that they describe the self as belonging in various groups? So how can there be a self for the three Durarara!! characters totally apart from their identities as Slasher, Yellow Scarf leader, and Dollars leader? What Celty seems to be saying is not that there is some abstract “self” apart from identities found in social groups, but that one’s investment in one social group should not overwhelm the other aspects of one’s identity. In this case, it would mean that none of the three characters ought to place their relationship to their respective groups above their friendship for one another.

In this respect, Durarara!! is extremely postmodern. In postmodernity, everything is constantly shifting, there is no fixed centre of reference and nothing is absolute. Postmodernity describes secularization, since less and less people are sure about all-powerful deities and their absolute authority. Postmodernity also rewrites history, showing that multiple events and people contributed to the unfolding of one event rather than attribute the event to one remarkeable person.(3) It is where we get novels like Wicked, and where we get narratives structured like the ones in Baccano!. Identity, too, is part of this. There is no single “self” that is always going to be stable through time. All the other gangs in Durarara!! seem to espouse an older and outdated sense of identity, where there are feuds between factions and revenge; Yellow Scarves members calling Masaomi “Shogun” seems to reflect that they are more traditional in their idea of hierarchies.

Dollars reflects a more postmodern sense of identity. There are no hierarchies, no defining characteristics, no fixed memberships, and an unknown leader. In Episode 21, some members of Dollars call out in the chatroom for their leader to do something about the impending gang war, and also question the leader’s choices and capabilities. However, the members come to the agreement that it’s not up to their leader but themselves, because the group has gone beyond the conventional notion of gangs where a group of people “belong” to a person who leads them, but rather, “It’s not about who Dollars belong to – it belongs to us.” In this move, Dollars crosses the line between the social and private self. We see in Masaomi the conflict between what he wants personally and what he must do as the leader of the Yellow Scarves because the Yellow Scarves is external to his sense of self and calls on him to negate other aspects of his character to prove his allegiance to the Yellow Scarves. Group membership is the worst peer pressure. However, in Dollars, there is no difference between the outside group to which one belongs and the members’ sense of self, since they can join and leave as they please – in another words, participating in Dollars would never risk one’s self-concept because Dollars never tries to impose on its members that it’s more important than any other identity that its members might hold. The fact that Dollars members refuse to disband comes from their own sense of self as responsible individuals and not because the leader of the Dollars calls on them to prove their allegiance.

This difference between Dollars and the other groups is most saliently expressed in the colours of other gangs versus the Dollars’ transparency. What I have been talking about with Masaomi, the scary makeup girls, the otakus, and Seiji, Mika, and Namie is that something external to themselves – either a group or a person – has drawn them into an allegiance where all other allegiances are rendered unimportant or impossible. If one participates in a colour gang, for example by joining the Yellow Scarves, one has to be yellow and no other colour, and this is often shown on the characters’ clothing. However, Dollars does not require this of its members, and it has no outward sign of membership. Not requiring that its members show a particular colour symbolically means that it lets its members take on other identities in addition to being a Dollars member. The anime handles this well stylistically, by making unnamed colour gang members gray silhouettes with only their colour to identify them, making the majority of passers-by grey, and having all the members of the Dollars suddenly erupt into their full spectrum of colour when they choose to act on Mikado’s call to stare at Namie.

V. The Fandom of Durarara!!

The Dollars ARE real. And you’re a part of them. We are real people trying to make a real difference in this world. And we don’t WANT the world to take us seriously, because then our group would be infiltrated by a bunch of assholes that just want to ruin everything. Yes we all have different cells (our friends, and people near us), but that doesn’t make us separate gangs as long as we all continue to collaborate and contribute by keeping communications with these forums.

— Umbra Serpens, ID TzE2UXLq, Dollars BBS

People speak of Urban youth culture a lot, and in general the city is seen as a place where youth culture is established, because the city has spots outside adult surveillance and young people can move freely to find themselves. While the roots of urban youth culture isn’t going to disappear any time soon, I feel that in the West at least, the Internet is the home to more subcultures than the streets.

In some ways, Dollars is extremely similar to the medium it operates through, which is the Internet. The Internet is postmodern because there is no centre and technically no hierarchies; there is no central website that governs other websites, and people connect to the internet and leave, whatever identities they have outside it. The Internet is anonymous, which translates to the Dollars’ transparency. In addition, the Dollars is shown to be all-pervasive in Ikebukuro even though they aren’t seen by marked symbols of membership, such as when member after member pop up and help Anri escape from the Yellow Scarves on an unplanned relay rescue. Similarly, the Internet today is ubiquitous, as smartphones can connect to the Internet and one can access the unseen Internet almost wherever one goes. Mikado’s words as the anime ends is that Dollars can be considered the city, but I would say that Dollars is the Internet as well.

Or maybe another perspective is that Dollars and its members are the go-between between the virtual world and the concrete one. Many people join Dollars (or any other group) because group membership makes them feel that they are affecting some positive change, if this change is only just to make oneself happier. A group like Dollars may start on the Internet, but it has real life consequences for the characters, for example when Mikado sees on the news that graffiti has been cleaned up overnight due to his nudge the day before, not to mention Dollars helping to save Anri’s life through the cell phone network. The importance of the Internet to Dollars is that it provides a network that can be called upon to change the world.

At the next level, although Durarara!! is an anime, it has real life consequences for the audience’s real life. There is a Dollars BBS made to look like the one in the anime. It’s a mind-blowing project, because as you face the log-in page, you feel that the difference between reality and fiction is collapsing. Like Dollars in the anime, people can come and go as they please, use different user names if they choose, follow other members’ proposals or not. It’s all entirely voluntary and there is no leader, other than perhaps administrations. As implied in the quotation opening this section, some people are concerned that this kind of group cannot last among a world still dominated by hierarchical groups. But just as parkour is a symbolic rebellion against the tiers of the capitalist system, Dollars can be a symbolic alteration of conventional hierarchy. The fact that some members don’t need to be “taken seriously” is like what I said about postmodernity, that there is power in being fluid, unstable, and outside the system of punishments and acknowledgements. In addition, the problem that I looked at in the last section with everyone except for Mikado comes from taking their groups too seriously, making it more important than anything in the character’s life. Not insisting that the real world Dollars be taken seriously by the rest of the world may also protect members from investing too much in the group itself to the exclusion of other aspects of their lives.

On the BBS there are also threads proposing missions to better the world in small ways, such as giving others confidence and helping each other with life issues (I’ve barely scratched the surface of the missions – I’m sure there have been other worthy projects that I haven’t seen). It was started by fans of the anime, and it’s still bound to its roots, but it has great potential to become a major force. I am slightly worried that the enthusiasm with the real-life Dollars group will fade as fans move on to other animes, but I hope that this will not be the case. For everyone who wishes their life were more interesting, if members do complete small acts of kindness in their life and get positive reinforcement from other members, this will constantly remind them of what it means to be a part of Dollars. Then, when a crisis does come, members may remember that they are a part of Dollars and react accordingly. For example, if an earthquake hits the city you are living in, it would be wonderful if a message can be sent to all the Dollars members in the city, and whomever is safe and has no other obligations can meet up and try to help others.

The whole last section was spent analyzing different kinds of social participation, with the conclusion that the colourless nature of the Dollars helps its members to stay and do good without compromising their selfhood. What the Dollars in Durarara!! did for its members is what Durarara!! would do for its audience – make the audience into intelligent and socially responsible people and not Walkers and Erikas, who simply put reality they don’t like in the trash. And it looks like it’s working.

(1) The first example that comes to mind of children’s literature where there are no parents is Harry Potter. Of course Harry doesn’t want his parents to be dead, but it means that his adventures are negotiated through an interaction with his peers rather than through teachings by his parents. And step-parents don’t count as parents – I remember my prof for Children’s Lit saying that having step-parents in a story is an automatic cue for readers to hate them as surrogates for all the adults ruining their lives. Hence the Dursleys.

(2) This is an oversimplification and I don’t entirely agree that the two systems are so different. One could say that in feudal societies, a lot of work that peasants do is for the landowner and not themselves, and in contemporary production there are still many incidences of small business and individual craftsmanship. But it’s more a question of the scale of the two systems.

(3) For example, in recent decades historians have been trying try to explore the Holocaust and WWII in the West through examining social forces rather than put most of the blame Hitler, but many people are unhappy about this because that seems to absolve him of guilt. Personally, I don’t think it does, because explanation doesn’t absolve guilt, it just explains guilt.

2 thoughts on “Youth Culture, Fandom and Social Participation in Durarara!!

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