Kishōtenketsu In Durarara!!

If the first two episodes of Durarara!! were combined into one, it would almost certainly be one of my favorite anime episodes of all time.  I think what I like about them, more than anything else, is the way their narrative is presented. In many ways they perfectly exemplify the way in which anime is structured these days. That is, the splicing of seemingly incongruous narratives into one. This style of storyelling isn’t unique to just anime though. In actuality, this technique has been used in Japanese and Chinese narratives for centuries, existing under the name Kishōtenketsu.

There are countless variations on the Kishōtenketsu method of storytelling. Hell, some people may even recognize the term from Yonkoma, but I think Durarara!! is a wonderful example of Kishōtenketsu in action. Now, Kishōtenketsu is a portmanteau consisting of four different words, each one describing a particular part of the narrative. They are:

Mikado introduces himself and the story.

Ki, or in Japanese 起. Ki is short for Kiku (起句), which means the beginning or introduction to the story. In Durarara!!, this would be Mikado introducing himself and explaining the circumstances of his visit to Tokyo or or the introduction of the Color Gangs as part of the story or Masaomi describing the more dangerous characters in Ikebukuro for Mikado to avoid. Essentially, it’s exposition which sets up the status quo for the story. A thesis of sorts on the characters, settings, or concepts that the rest of the narrative will behold to.

The plot thickens!

Shō, or in Japanese 承 is short for Shōku (承句). It alludes to the development of the plot. This is where new elements are introduced which slowly build up to the “climax.” (If it could be called that) This would be the kidnapping that occurs or Celty’s introduction or perhaps most interestingly the chatroom interludes which all serve to build intrigue. It’s mysteriou,s because in the first episode we’re not entirely sure what’s going on. The unrelated plot elements are slowly introduced, creating a sense of intrigue and mystery to keep the viewer interested. In many ways, Kishōtenketsu rely more on this sense of intrigue to create interest rather than actual conflict, and if there is conflict it takes backseat to the mystery, which build and builds until…

ERMEGERD WHAT A TWIST!!

The twist happens.  Ten (転), short for (転句), alludes to the introduction of a new plot elements that ties all of the previously unrelated plot threads together into a single whole. The twist, if you will. In the context of Durarara!!, this would be the kidnapped girl, Rio, being revealed to be one of Mikado’s classmates. This could be considered the most important part of Kishōtenketsu. It introduces a sort of chaos, a blow to the status quo sufficient enough to keep things interesting. Things suddenly move to such a great extent that it generates interest, it becomes more than just a series of unrelated events, but a story in and of itself.

Izaya wraps things up.

Finally, in the final act of the story, the seemingly disparate plot threads are brought together. Ketsu (結), or, 結句, literally means the meeting point of Ki and Ten. All of the stuff that didn’t make sense before is explained. In Durarara!! this would be the kidnapped girl’s backstory and her inevitable meetup with Izaya, all of the plot elements are brought to their logical conclusion and the status quo returns to normal. There may still be questions left unanswered, but the story arc as it were has ended.

Now I use Durarara!! as an example, but if you look closely enough this style of storytelling is present all over the place in anime. In fact, I first noticed this pattern while watching Fullmetal Alchemist. You might be in the middle of a fight scene and then suddenly it might be interrupted with the Homuculi being evil or something and these plot elements build and build until an event happens which inexorably changes the course of the story and ties the scenes together. It’s a really interesting technique, one that sort of challenges the Western idea of narrative in a way that, at least to a Western viewer like me, is really unique and special.

Advertisements

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Julian
    Nov 13, 2015 @ 19:15:26

    I agree! This style of complex narrative that slowly builds up into one is so interesting to me. It’s so much more dynamic and creative; I believe it does require a certain level of storytelling prowess.

    Reply

  2. Lisandro Casal
    Apr 18, 2016 @ 21:46:46

    the funny thing is that X2 (the second season) is divided in three cours; Sho, Ten and Ketsu…

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: