— Temporal Vortex

Chaotic Dynamics of Cities in Anime

I stumbled upon this nifty article about the interview with Jonah Lehrer in which he discussed the correlation of cities to that of productivity of the people living in it. While it’s certainly not conclusive, it had some merits. He said a certain statement which made me think of Durarara right away – because of its setting, Ikebukuro, and how it was depicted. Okay, maybe I typed “anime” in the title but this post is generally about DRRR.

Ikebukuro was presented as a shady city at the start of the series with the introduction of the people Mikado should stay away from, kidnapping cases for human experiments, and more importantly, Celty’s existence. It was not that noticeable but Mikado was truly excited of this new found freedom. It was somewhat a juxtaposition that Mikado has been anticipating this transfer as a debut to a new chapter in his life despite all the nasty rumors he discovered upon arrival — considering his previously confined life.

Now, you might ask why my brain went full of Durarara when I read the article? To start with, Jonah Lehrer claims that it’s the freedom and chaos of the city that make it so incredibly creative.

Chaos can be attributed to randomness or irregularity and this has been an apparent style used by Ryohgo Narita as seen with his previous work Baccano! Viewers were ultimately asked at the end of the series if there really exists a definitive start or end for the story, thus the arbitrary jumps in the timeline of the story. While Durarara isn’t that keen in the timeline jumps, the randomness is evident in the way that Narita-sensei handled the characters and their encounters with one another. But of course, DRRR and Baccano! are both set in different settings. DRRR sticks to Ikebukuro, a city, while Baccano! traverses different places in different continents.

Now, there are loads of anime(s) that are set in a bustling city, fictional or not. Index’s Academy City and Steins;Gate’s Akihabara are just some examples but I don’t think most of these shows had the city as an active catalyst for most of the plot because of the chaos and freedom it provides to the story. Academy City might be an effective catalyst, for both the science and magic sides’ motives but the concept of freedom is highly questionable.

Others might think of Aria’s Neo Venezia as a valid example for a city setting that acts as a catalyst for most of its stories. Still, I opted not to cite it (despite the relevance of the serendipity too) since the concept of “chaos” clashes with its utopian atmosphere regardless of the freedom concept that it readily captures.

Going back to the interview article, Jonah Lehrer cites the capability of cities to gravitate all kinds of people to one another thus the human friction and new connections. This reminds me of the scene where Mikado wrote the word “tsunagari” (connections) on the lost and found sketchbook (episode 8). This just shows that the series is primarily fueled by the connections of the characters with each other which were made possible through the random encounters and the conspiracy of the city.

One of the episodes I enjoyed a lot in DRRR was the episode where Anri was helped by strangers that are members of Dollars when she was being pursued by some Yellow Scarves members. Chance meetings with strangers that would willingly help someone, or if you’re not lucky, “The Slasher”. Weird people bumping with others that are similarly weird. For some reason, when it’s set in a bustling city, everything just seems possible to happen. It’s not because of the script but of coincidence. Suddenly seeing a friend because s/he was dragged by an acquaintance, both of you lining up to buy some limited edition item, seeing your boss because there was a 50% off sale, or anything! It’s astonishing how being set in a city immediately gives out an implication that anything might just happen, no matter how outrageous it is.

This concept is somewhat lampshaded by the idea that Mikado expressed at the end of the series when he disbanded the Dollars:

“There’s one thing I learned. The Dollars are the town, itself. A lot of people arrive, and a lot of people leave, never in the same colors. Something is always happening. People are hating each other, loving each other, becoming friends, and drifting apart. In the same way a town exists, so long as there are people, the Dollars will continue to exist.”

Stories where random people are smashed together is an excuse in itself to write an outrageous situation. No one knows for sure the final outcome of befriending people you are total strangers with just few days ago.


image credits: Kazuaki and pixiv user 染谷

  1. Eri Uri says: June 22, 20127:56 pm

    Interesting theory, statement, conclusion or whatever. Cities have indeed this kind of ability to attract a variety of personalities and become the host of fateful encounters in the way anime present.

    But still, I question Durarara's, and similarly any other anime's, amount of randomness. Nothing can be random in a written scenario solely because all events are carefully schemed to lead to the story's pre-determined conclusion. Anri, for example, was going to be saved either way because otherwise the plot couldn't move on. Anri's whole existence is not random to begin with. Just notice the fact that Anri met with Mikado and Masaomi and they even went to the same school when they're supposed to live in a so-called "vast and chaotic" town; it's a complete set-up. Not to mention that all three "happened" to be the LEADERS (not even simple members) of the city's three largest power groups. In the end, every important person in the city is a protagonist. I don't remember any of the main characters not being special for the city. Totally not random at all.

    What I also question is a city's uniqueness in the subject. I mean, ANY setting could be just as "random and chaotic" as long as it fitted enough people to be so. Schools in school anime also look like miniature cities. And villages could be just as random. And not just smaller settings. In Fractale, specifically, the whole island hosting the Fractale System was a melting pot of diverse personalities and cities. My point is that the setting doesn't matter; it just has to be used appropriately and it can be a catalyst to the story's development regardless of its size.

    And, lol, Venezia was indeed like a huge playground. By the 5th episode of the second cycle I wasn't sure if everything was taking place in a single city anymore.
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    • foomafoo says: June 22, 201210:11 pm

      Of course, there's always an extent at which we can predict things even if we say that it is random or whimsical which is just typical for scripts and stories. But I think DRRR managed to fool me on that aspect. I get the thing you're saying about the somehow predetermined conclusion like how Anri will surely turn out safe in the end but I can say that the whole scene where random Dollars members helped suddenly expanded the number of situations that the chase scene could lead to BEFORE it ultimately reaches your predetermined conclusion.

      I don't think nearly enclosed and small settings like schools would give justice to "random and chaotic". Of course, there are multiple possibilities that troll authors might want to write something nearly impossible but in the end, what we usually see are school activities. Why? well duh, because it's a school.

      Hmm, I agree that the setting, regardless of its size, could be a great ingredient to the story as a whole since it's part of the whole world building that every story should have in order to establish its "universe". But, I don't think every setting could just set that "random and chaotic" atmosphere besides bustling cities — because just as what Durarara!!! somewhat tries to say, it's also about the connection of these characters.

      • Eri Uri says: June 22, 201210:14 pm

        Apparently, you haven't watched Nichijou /hit
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        • foomafoo says: June 22, 201210:17 pm

          ok, well that's what I call trying too hard to be random.

          • Eri Uri says: June 23, 20121:41 am

            But it's still endorsing the chaotic atmosphere in a school pretty well!
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  2. Leap250 says: June 27, 20126:36 am

    When I read the title from the feed I immediately thought of Ikebukuro (or at least, DRRR!!'s Ikebukuro). It has, by far, one of the most intricate web of connections of people I've seen in anime – which makes for very dynamic interactions between them (part of what makes the show entertaining)

    Ikebukuro works as a nice foreground, because the diverse elements of the city (I think, I don't really know that much about Ikebukuro, lol) kinda supports the characters' existence as coincidental, and not completely random.

    • foomafoo says: July 13, 20123:51 am

      Haha true, we're not sure up to what extent Narita-sensei based Ikebukuro in DRRR from the Ikebukuro in real life, but one thing for sure, it's what ties eveery character in the novel.

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