The development of the DRRR OST

Now that, after 5 years of waiting, the Durarara!! animation has been blessed with a continuation and therefore the conclusion of the complete story, naturally Makoto Yoshimori, the composer of the first Durarara!! score, has done himself the honour and contributed more atmospheric tunes for the second and final season.

What struck me as most impressive about the evolution of the score is how Yoshimori has managed to maintain the atmosphere from the very first track in 2010 to the very last in 2015. And yet it has undergone a lot of change befitting the characters. In the first season of Durarara!! we were confronted with Ikebukuro and its inhabitants getting entangled in all kinds of unbelievable plots. It’s an introduction – a prelude to later, even crazier events –  and therefore the show feels a lot more high-spirited. The music adds a lot to that. It’s lively and nonchalant and psychedelically crazy. In comparison the soundtrack of the second season feels a lot darker in many aspects. The three parts of the Durarara!! x2  anime are the climax of the series all the way down to the conclusion: those are the moments when all the truly shocking and menacing twists and turns happen, when the characters we got to know grow up or crumble and become something else entirely. Thus, on the second and third score we find considerably fewer tracks with an easy-going atmosphere to it and it only makes sense. The fast-paced tracks have a different feeling to them and though they might still be upbeat, they lack the touch of ease and nonchalance that we experienced on the first season’s OST. Only with the fitting music the atmosphere can truly be brought across to the viewers. Yoshimori has managed to create a perfect symbiosis between music and anime but despite that, his style still remains distinctive to the very last note. This is why the Durarara!! score is one of my favourite works out there: in my opinion it perfectly captured the mood that Ryougo Narita described in his novels, it is what supports the animation the most (right after the voice acting) and simply by listening to the soundtracks you can experience the adventurous, bizarre story of Durarara!!.

The first soundtracks to be released were Psychedelic Dreams Vol. 01 & 02 in May and October of 2010 that also gave birth to alternative versions of two of the main characters. Like the title already hints at, Yoshimori’s psychedelic influence in his creations is present from the very first track of Psychedelic Dreams.

That first track, titled ‘Ikebukuro West Exit Five-way Intersection‘ starts out with a perfect introduction to the setting of the ever-diverse, never-sleeping city of Ikebukuro and the crazy if not surreal characters inhabiting it. It’s radiating a certain mood of neutrality, nothing is good or bad, you will have to find out for yourself how you feel about and which side you are going to take. Followed by that jazzy introduction, ‘The Sought-after Extraordinary‘ plays, setting the stage of a slice of life scenario with an easy-going flute and piano. It is a very uplifting theme for the happy moments in the anime and recurs quite a lot, always used when it fits best. We get more of those nonchalant, every day life tracks (Vol1#3 Walk on the Diagonal, Vol1#9 Stumbling Samba, Vol2#7 Also, Watch in Silence, Vol.2#9 The Road to School at Evening, Vol.2#16 To a Daily Life that Starts Again, Vol.2#8 Holiday’s Bliss) as well as comical ones that progress leisurely with an unsteady rhythm (Vol2 #5 Throbbing Beat, Vol.2#10 The Tocopherol Calcium Succinate Song) that help to portray the equally nonchalant yet complex characters in the story.

The fourth track on the first album has, in my opinion, become one of the most iconic tracks in the Durarara!! series.’He’s Such a Coward that He Can Laugh‘ was primarily Izaya’s theme but was put to a broader use later. It conveys a similar mood as the first track, it is casual and cool and adds a lot of background noises like people’s voices that set it apart from other tracks and other instrumental music in general; this is what coins it as Yoshimori’s work. It functions excellently for a character like Izaya who is suave, overconfident and treacherous in his very being. As we move further along the first OST we stumble across the more chaotic compositions, with a faster pace and the certain touch of psychedelia that we were promised. With an air of foreign melody (Vol.1#5 Russian Bodyguard) , mad saxophone improvisations (Vol.1#6 The Legend of the Strongest Man in Ikebukuro, Vol.1#8 On Tuesday Night) and wild wind players and electro arrangements (Vol.1#16 Justice Blooming out of Season, Vol.2#3 Cosmic Cycle, Vol.2#6 Electric Coite-bodhar, Vol.2#14 Endless Distrust, Vol.2,#15 The Chocolate Is Missing) the mental, unpredictable mood of the Durarara!! universe is established with ease. And of course the main theme of Durarara!! ‘Psychedelic Parade‘ (Vol.2#1) is no exception and follows the latter musical pattern.

But Durarara!! also lives of its creepy atmosphere and unsettling characters and Yoshimori delivers compositions that support the feeling of unease and fear on point, in and outside of the animation. The most memorable track is most likely the track ‘Words of Love to Bind a Heart‘(Vol.2#12), the major theme for the Saika incident and any involvement of Saika wielders and their story. The distorted voice that keeps repeating itself, conveniently symbolising the voices of Saika, and the authentic use of bagpipes immediately create a daunting, mystical atmosphere. In  ‘Voiceless Scream‘ (Vol.1#7) it’s the brilliant use of theremin that reminds of a siren and creates associations of a ghost screaming or wailing. It’s an eery sound which contrasts the calm piano that accompanies it. Unsettling in a different sense are the tracks that work with minimalist use of instruments or theme variety and bring across a more foreshadowing feeling and the fear of what may or may not happen next: anticipation (Vol.1#13 Dry Harbinger, Vol.1#14 Darkness that Tears at the Darkness, Vol.1#15 Urban Unease). There’s also that one track called ‘Bottled Angel‘ (Vol.1#12) which might create a stir of negative emotions as well positive ones, depending on how the listener feels at the moment.

What Makoto Yoshimori does best – or with utmost sophistication, to say it better – are his piano pieces. For me, it is what sets him apart from other composers, and his ability to create the most beautiful, melancholic music becomes clear in the slow-paced tracks of the score. Most of them are also iconic for the anime and have stayed that way throughout the entire series, the first one is ‘The Girl in the Drawing‘ (Vol.1#10) in which he proves once again what an outstanding harmony strings and piano are able to create. ‘The Girl in the Drawing‘ might play when characters have lost their way and come to terms with realities and new possibilities, it’s a melody  that is both happy and sad. The second is ‘Their Aspirations‘ (Vol.1#11), a dominant piece which equally melancholic and fully piano based, the third is “Beyond Recollection” (Vol.2#2) which is, in turn, fully strings based and often plays during flashbacks. The type of melancholia he creates with his music varies with the range of instruments; each use of piano, xylophone (Vol.2#11 A Smiling Shadow), acoustic guitar (Vol.2#13 Watching the Past that Clings), strings or even harmonica, accordion and flute (Vol.1#17 Green Memories) makes the mood shift considerably.

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Five years later the third original soundtrack was released as DuRaRaRa!!x2 Shou Vol.4 Bonus CD with about an hour of new music for the second season. The new album definitely has a darker and more serious feel to it, all in all it is more jazzy than psychedelic now, supporting the fact that the characters are growing up – evolving.

The second season of Durarara!! has a new theme and it’s called ‘Dancing in the Sunshine‘ (#1): it is cheerful and catchy, with strong wind players, vocal support and a Spanish and Bohemian touch. In contrast to ‘Psychedelic Parade‘ it seems a lot more solid and consistent, setting the stage for an advanced Ikebukuro with its inhabitants different from how they were before, looking for closure or new trouble. We get many new “slice of life” tracks on this album and mostly, they are graceful, easy-going jazz/r’n’b, reminding me a lot of Yoshimori’s Baccano soundtrack (#4 Collection Rhapsody, #6 A Tiger In The Circle, #9 The Legend Of The Red, #13 Midday Single Combat). ‘Spicy Cats & Dogs‘ (#5) could be right out of Disney fairytale with its playful glockenspiel melody while ‘School in Spring‘ (#2) creates its eased atmosphere through strings only, with one minimalist theme recurring. For an original video animation of the romantic trip of Shinra and Celty in her coite-bodhar there is the ‘Chakapoko Lovestory‘ (#8) – fittingly cheesy and peaceful. For the fast-paced songs there is a fantastic wind player provision among the already strong orchestra (#15 Shooter’s Direction, #12 Ceaseless Thorns), however there are also a few electro based tracks (#7 Gas Mask Couple, #11 Russian Workaholic). These are the tracks with a faster pace to create tension, thrill or a background for a complex revelation. My favourite track  on this album has to be ‘Chaos of Darkness‘ (#14) – it is lively and jazzy and gives me just the right amount of thrill balanced out with plain happiness. A reminiscence to ‘Voiceless Scream‘ is the 10th track ‘Shadow Gaze with its equally heavy use of theremin – it creates a beautiful, spooky atmosphere once again. In no way lacking any beauty are the slow-paced tracks on this album that are quiet and melancholic and lose themselves in their own tragedy (#3 To the non-blue sky, 16 Crazy Extraordinary, #17 Standing in the rain).

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The third and last soundtrack was released 23 December 2015 under the title of DuRaRaRa!!x2 Ten Vol.5 Bonus CD. This album is the most slow-paced one of all the OSTs and it is the main support of my argument that the soundtrack has become “darker” regarding the atmosphere. This might actually be my favourite album among all of the Durarara!! OSTs, simply because every track comes with such grace and in perfect accordance with itself.

Despite being less fast-paced the songs on this album are extremely authentic, especially the piano based ‘Unwavering Thoughts‘ (#16) and ‘This Story is Eternal‘ (#1) which also serves like one of the main themes in the third part of the series, as well as the string based “Black Shadow Covering the Sky” (#2) and “Quiet Request” (#8 ) with its soothing harmony of acoustic guitar and clarinet. The tracks with the wind players and the orchestra on this album all give a very 60’s swing feeling (#3 Eccentric Returned, #4 Sunfish Negitoro,  #5 Ikebukuro Walker) as well as the seventh track ‘In his Room‘ with a very relaxed piano leading the melody. Love’s Revenge‘ (#9) is protruding because of it five minutes string solo, the whole track is arranged without any accompaniment, while ‘Wandering Fate‘ (#17) is another typical example of Yoshimori’s soothing piano pieces that touch you as gracefully as a gust of wind,  gently brushing against your cheek yet lacking the force to sweep you away and off-balance. That is rather what songs like ‘Soul Fragments‘ (#15) and ‘Explosive Situation (#10) may evoke in the listener with its headstrong electric guitar. The xylophone makes its comeback  in ‘Dancing Jokingly With You‘ (#6), creating the most easy-going and light-hearted track on this album.

The track ‘Stalking Strings (#13) truly lives up to its name, the fast plucking of the strings instantly create a feeling of unease, like being followed or watched. And the soundtrack has more to offer from where that came from, like in my favourite track on the album, ‘Red-Eyed Mob (#14), which serves to accentuate the oppressive feeling we get when being confronted with Saika victims and the mere existence of Saika and its twisted love. Similarly uncanny are ‘Spiral of Ice‘ (#11) that always gives me the mental image of a race against time and ‘Set a Thief to Catch a Thief‘ (#12) with clarinet and bassoon only. ‘Returning Days‘ (#18) reminds me a lot of “Their Aspirations” from the S1 OST, it’s like a new, changed version of the track, after having undergone so many hardships the theme recurs like the characters that come back to us as new people and yet many things about them have stayed the same, they are still the people that we have got to know and learnt to love and they are now facing the life ahead of them with new adventures awaiting…

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