From the outset I want thank you for being interested in this topic, I try make it as appealing as possible and hope you see where I am coming from.
There will be no spoilers for Kekkai Sensen nor for Durarara.
To make my argumentation more orderly, I split it up in four sips of coffee (categories)
- The city as a character
- The people of the city
- The streets of the city
“Hellsalem’s Lot” is the name of the city the entirety of Kekkai Sensen takes place. Hellsalem’s Lot, formerly New York City, was created when a portal to the “netherworlds” opened, becoming a paranormal melting pot of monsters, magic and the everyday mundane life. If you haven`t watched Kekkai Sensen already here are some examples for you to get a clearer picture of the city.
For a better understanding of my reasoning I will compare “Hellsalem’s Lot” to Tokyo’s downtown district Ikebukuro displayed in the show Durarara.
Because: 1. Both solely take place in their city 2. Both use open city places as backgrounds and scenes 3. Both acknowledge the city as an important part for the story
So without further ado let’s begin with the first sip.
1. Sip “The city as a character”
This may sound weird, but let me explain. Both anime set up the cities with their own quirks and gimmicks, for example, Durarara has a headless rider roaming the streets, color gangs, a guy in a bartender getup with superhuman strength and other weird and mysteries things, while Kekkai Sensen has the whole human and alien city mixture going on which is not only visible in the streets but for example in shops and bistros as well. It is possible to give the cities character elements like dark, grim, random, upbeat, mysteries etc.
So why is “Hellsalem’s Lot” a better “character” than Ikebukuro, you might ask.
The answer is continuity.
What would happen to Ikebukuro if you remove the whole cast of main characters? The city would completely change. Without the cast the city would become its real life role model and wouldn’t be the same city it was set up to be. The city would lose all its character traits.
The characters –> make –> the city.
Meanwhile if we remove the main cast in “Hellsalem’s Lot” what would change? Nothing much to be honest. Sure the organization “Libra” wouldn`t exist but that’s about it. The city would still be the strange place that it is and no character traits are lost. This is what I meant by continuity, the city still has the same premises it was set up with. It’s the characters who are under the influence of the city and not the opposite.
The city –> makes –> the characters.
In my opinion the world, where the story takes place, should work regardless of the characters existence or influence. It makes the world feel more real and independent.
2. Sip “The people of the city”
Both shows use many shots of pedestrians to show that the city is a living and breathing world full of people (and aliens etc.). While Durarara uses an art direction that makes all pedestrians grey figurines, Kekkai Sensen use the full color pallet to show the uniqueness of the aliens. And both methods are, in my opinion, absolutely acceptable in their own way to show the density, diversity but also blandness of city crowds.
But once again the devil is in the detail; let me explain with a comparison of two near identical scenes from each show, which represents their use of pedestrians.
In both scenes one or more characters from the main cast sits in a bar or bistro and eats/drinks, while pedestrians are walking on the other side of a window simultaneously.
In Durarara Shizuo and Tom are enjoying a coffee and a smoke, while discussing things that happened in the story thus far. They sit at a big window, where a couple of pedestrians walk and cars drive by. So far it’s a pretty good way to show the energy and liveliness of the city, but turns out it wasn’t the intended purpose, but rather having another character walk by, who wasn’t introduced in the story thus far, to meet the other character coincidentally.
So why was the scene set up as it was?
To advance the plot of those characters within the city. Like I said in the first sip, it’s a character driven story, where things in the city and in its background happen mostly to continue the plot of the characters.
By Kekkai Sensen on the other hand we have a complete different story.
The main character Leonardo is sitting in a bar; drinking coffee, talking to the waitress, while pedestrians walk by behind big white tinted windows.
You may have not noticed it but your brain did.
The pedestrians are humans and aliens/monsters alike, which are visible in the wide as well as in the close up shots. Hell, even in the reflection of the window in that shot you could see pedestrians walking by. Then the camera of the main character gets stolen by a monkey and he pursues him on the streets.
In no way did the pedestrians interfere with the protagonist or the other way around. Other than Durarara Kekkai Sensen doesn’t use the people of the city to demonstrate a characters point or influence them in one way or the other, in the city “Hellsalem’s Lot” those pedestrians are just city crowds, they are there because the live in the city and have work which needs to be done. This is also demonstrated by the many shots of the city life without any main characters at all.
3. Sip “The streets of the city”
Now let’s take a look at the streets of the city or rather what happens when the character of each show rides on them.
In Durarara the streets are mostly abandoned to make enough space for things like chases or monolog and exposition while driving. That said, there are many scenes with cars of pedestrians as well, but most of the times, when the focus is on the driving, there are near to none other cars on the road.
Or to give another example, in one scene there are a ton of biker on the streets driving through Ikebukuro. Why are so many bikers on the street? Because of a character , the headless rider to be precise. Once again the city is used as a stage for the characters instead of being a city with its own rules.
To see how Kekkai Sensen handles the streets of the city, we just need to look at three scenes.
2. Other cars are uncomfortably close
3. Wouldn’t be
New York “Hellsalem’s Lot” if there wasn’t a traffic jam
If there’s one word to describe the density of cars in nearly every scene it would be stuffed. And why are there so many cars on the road? Because the average Joe got to go to work and they still would be there even without any main characters to again raise the argument of continuity.
The last sip of coffee is the most bitter a.k.a the “Conclusion”
Kekkai Sensen shows us how to create a believable city, by making it its own character with its own rules and putting so much detail and love into each aspect of a city. Durarara doesn’t fail in those aspects; it rather focuses on the characters, their relationships with each other and their influence on the city, which makes it such a great show.
I hope I was able to express my arguments in an understandable manner and I thank you very much for reading