About five years ago I learnt about the character called Izaya Orihara from Ryougo Narita‘s novel series and multiple-media project Durarara!! Little did I know that it would be this fictional character that would dominate my life forever. To be fair, it is one of the most popular personae in the series if not the most popular one. I never tended to like the major characters in television or film but in this regard, Durarara!! is different to me as there are many actors in the play and each can be considered the protagonist according to which point of view the story is told from and who we, as the reader, take interest in or relate to.
The first thing that drew me towards Izaya was his attitude and personality which remain to be the features I treasure about him the most until today. Surely there is the aspect of his appearance and even Narita lets the characters describe Izaya as notably handsome and suave:
It was a very pleasant voice, crisp and clear and vibrant, as though being hailed by the pure blue sky itself. […] Mikado turned the same way and saw a young man with an equally pleasant face. He looked soft and gentle, but with a bold, intrepid edge – a perfect materialization of some ideal of handsomeness. His eyes were warm and all-accepting but glinted with a hard scorn of anything that wasn’t himself. His outfit, while possessing its own personality, did not show off any obvious features or characteristics. […]
Therefore his good looks or his individual fashion sense do no strike me as a surprise for reasoning attraction towards him. It is what most people like about him, it is understandable and it is a very convenient additional fact but there are things so much more intriguing about a character.
Izaya and his self-destruction.
The reader is introduced to Izaya Orihara in the form of a warning as he is “one of the people in Ikebukuro you should under no circumstances get involved with”. A negative connotation which is followed by Mikado’s more positive description as quoted before, during Izaya’s first physical appearance. The next time we meet Izaya we find him in a situation where he meets up with two girls who wish to commit suicide together with him. He reveals to them how he was just provoking and mocking them, drugs them and puts them into suitcases that are transported back to their homes. All too soon, we are confronted with Izaya’s twisted hobbies and personality which strongly contrasts with what this characters seemed to be on the outside. Starting from chapter 5 of the first DRRR!! volume a thrilling journey begins; it is a journey of finding out more about this young man called Izaya Orihara, of what he pretends to be, of what he really is or maybe a bit of both.
When I talk about the information broker of Shinjuku I often say that he is a ‘complex’ character. That might be true in a sense, regarding how many layers there are to the display of his feelings and I am convinced that many of the characters in the story do not understand why Izaya acts the way he does. But what is also true is that, on a level of narrative transmission (and also on an extratextual level), it becomes easier to see through the act he puts on with every volume of the series. Narita never gives us valid proof of the “real” Izaya, he only scratches the surface, throws in tiny bits and pieces of what could be the man’s true nature, so that most of the interpretation is left for us to do. And that might prove to be even more captivating than a character that is laid bare before us.
What do we know about Izaya? He loves fatty tuna, he owns a lot of cellphones and he is a light sleeper. And he also loves to play–be it a game, a part in one of his “plays” or with a heart he can stir up. He has that childish side to him, not doing too well with losing to someone, especially if it is his sworn archnemesis Shizuo Heiwajima. He is a man who wants to be in control as he observes how situations unfold, hopefully amusing him. Izaya’s characteristic claim throughout the series is that he loves humans more than anything and therefore wants to place them into a scene in which they behave out of the ordinary and exceed their limits and his expectations. He may go as far as putting himself in danger for that. Nevertheless, his love for humans appears contradictory when we see his masquerade crack, when we see how he might just be a lonely soul that is extremely insecure and afraid of proper human interaction and bonding. According to Shinra Kishitani, one of the few people who are close him and appear to be able to see through his facade:
He may seem cold-blooded, but he is more human, and his heart more brittle than anybody else, so much so that if you filled it with human love or betrayal, it would break easily, which is why, I think, he chose from the start to avoid it all, to love humanity, you understand? Not to accept, not to face it, to avoid it.
If we can believe Shinra’s assumptions, Izaya is constantly lying to himself and also unable to feel genuine affection towards someone else. He might have chosen to do so at some point in his life to protect himself and cannot go back now. Even when it comes to his family he either cannot admit that they do matter to him or the statement that “family [are] friends just like non-family” to him is actually true (which could raise the issue of what a “friend” is by Izaya’s standard). In the epilogue of volume 9 Izaya reflects on his life choices and his own personality and we get one of the few scenes were he crumbles and shows his true feelings openly, even if Narita doesn’t clearly state which emotions he is feeling. It is truly one of my favourite moments in the series if not my absolute favourite:
Now that I think of it…It might be the only thing that ever did affect the formation of my personality in a significant way. Remembering the envy and the sense of defeat he had felt back then, he realized that Kishitani Shinra was probably more of a rival than a friend to him. Different from Heiwajima Shizuo, whom he hated, Shinra was probably something he should have aspired to be. […]
In retrospect Shinra, who lived confidently above his world, did invoke some jealousy in him.
Yet he was attempting to betray even a friend like that. Not a friend by Izaya’s standards, but a “friend” as defined by most people in the world.
“Haha!” Izaya couldn’t help but laugh slightly as he pictured his only “friend” by the world’s standards getting mad at him. There is nothing to be afraid of. This is the way I have lived my life all along, he laughed as he thought-
He clenched his right fist and slammed it hard into the telephone pole next to him.It made a loud sound, but since Izaya was in a secluded alleyway, no one took notice of him. What did Izaya’s face look like? Why did he slam his fist into the telephone pole?
What was on his mind? No one in the world would ever know.
We barely get to see the side of Izaya where he shows anyone that he struggles or suffers, that is why this scene is important to me. Right after his secret outbreak his two sisters join him and actually treat him nicely for a change. The scene ends in the ‘abnormal’ siblings chatting and walking home together through the ‘normal’ bustling night of the city. The entire ninth volume gives us a lot more insight in Izaya’s personality, his past and his motivations. That is why I was so disappointed that the Durarara!!x2 animation decided to not include the epilogue scene, among many other scenes from volume 9. Nevertheless, I do understand that not everything can be included in an anime adaptation as the novels are simply too vast to do so. They decided to rather focus on telling the main story as clearly as they could, therefore details about characters–and not just Izaya–had to be left out.
Moreover, as person who usually appreciates antagonistic characters, his cunning and downright menacing traits are something that I adore about his character as well. He is not someone I would call evil (especially as I am distancing myself from using the terms good or evil in Durarara!!) but he does disrespect people at an awful level, barely shows any mercy and takes pleasure in the misery of others. When people express their dislike about him I understand because it is all true, but this way he is just so much more interesting! Simply because he wasn’t just as a ‘bad’ person but because he chose to play the part of the antagonist to distract from his own deficit, to find a way to cope with the world and to self-destruct eventually.
Izaya and Shizuo.
A second aspect that is very important to me in regard to Izaya’s persona is his dysfunctional relationship with Shizuo Heiwajima and how it develops in the course of the novels, even though it hurts the core of my very soul. From the first second the two boys met in highschool they hated each other with passion. They are exact opposites, and as the saying goes, those attract each other: in Shizuo’s and Izaya’s case their attraction equals conflict. However, Izaya’s fixation on Shizuo reveals a whole new side of him. It is usually the information broker that instigates their fights and provokes the bartender. Maybe saying that Izaya yearns for Shizuo’s attention goes a step too far but he is, at least, dependant on him. It is another paradoxical thing about Izaya that, one the one hand, he wants nothing more than to kill Shizuo but on the other hand, he does enjoy scheming more plans to lead his nemesis into death traps or simply play pranks on him. In the final arc of the series, Izaya discloses that his strong hate for Shizuo is mainly based on jealousy. Shizuo, without any conscious effort, has the things Izaya wishes for deep down in his heart: friends and acceptance. If the reader hadn’t realized it before (e.g. during the attempt of Izaya craving to have a hot-pot party with someone, making him face the sad truth that he doesn’t have any friends.), now Narita had given us a canon confession that might have come straight from the informant’s fragile heart. Izaya keeps calling Shizuo a “monster”, not even acknowledging him as a human being. Thus for him to get everything Izaya wants obviously causes frustration and envy. Shortly before their final fight in volume 12, Shizuo, for the first time, ignores Izaya’s provocation and bids him farewell: his decision to finally kill Izaya for good. This way, Shizuo is the one in control of his emotions and has matured in various ways while Izaya is the one that gets left behind. Simon called it Izaya’s “Shizuo-complex” for a good reason…
Izaya and audio-visual media.
The last point I want to address is the depiction of Izaya in the animation and through the score by Makoto Yoshimori. Izaya received two different character designs in season one and two, with the second one trying to adopt Yasuda’s style from the novel a bit more. In all honesty, I was happy with both of them, either seemed to be a reasonable adaptation from Narita’s description on paper. Elite seiyuu Hiroshi Kamiya lent his voice to Izaya which will forever be one of the best choices the production team has made. Since Kamiya is an extremely talented voice actor he had no problems switching between a cheerful, mental, indifferent, uppity, charming or menacing tone. The whole range was perfectly provided by him and fit Izaya’s personality as soon as I heard him speak for the first time. As I mentioned before, especially in the second season they left out a lot of scenes which include key elements to understanding Izaya’s twisted mind a little better. Yet all in all I love the animation, merely because they went as far as to devote themselves to finish the series even if it took them five years. The OVAs are a very entertaining addition to the series. In the Durarara!!x2 Ten special 「お惚気チャカポコ」 (Onoroke Chakapoko) we even learn a few new facts about the man in the fur jacket, namely his strong dislike or even fear of dogs. The new Durarara!!x2 Ketsu OVA is still playing in Japanese cinemas right now, but the plot is about a fake Shizuo Heiwajima who Izaya seemingly gets involved with as well. Teaser pictures showed a genuinely smiling Izaya, something rare of sight. Thus I am expecting even more additional details on my favourite character, I wonder what we can expect of this unusual setting?
I also want to shortly mention Makoto Yoshimori’s work because I believe it plays a major part in the success of the Duarara!! anime and therefore also adds to Izaya’s characterisation. I’ve already talked about the ost in great detail before, but the only thing that matters at this point is the track that mostly served as Izaya’s theme in the first season and helped to introduce the character to the audience by giving him a recurring musical emphasis that had a certain atmosphere of mystery and temptation. I believe that both the original track and the original remix support Izaya’s shady and at the same time suave features, as well as his playful and unconventional side.
Concluding, after all this time, even after getting a spin-off novel devoted only to him, Izaya Orihara remains to be a character shrouded in mystery and that is why he will forever be my favourite character. I never get bored when I think about his dishonesty towards himself and the ongoing contrast of what he wants people to think of him and what he actually feels like doing. It creates a layer of uncertainty where we, as the addressee, can always project new interpretations on the character and shape him in a way we find most logical, relieving or challenging. Because eventually, isn’t fiction about subjective perception?
Narita, Ryōgo. DURARARA!!, Volume 1. Tokyo: Kadokawa Corporation, 2004. Print. (Translation by Stephen Paul)
Narita, Ryōgo. DURARARA!!, Volume 9. Tokyo: Kadokawa Corporation, 2011. Print. (Translation by anni_fiesta).
Narita, Ryōgo. DURARARA!!, Volume 12. Tokyo: Kadokawa Corporation, 2013. Print. (Translation by bangya@mizaya)