Manga! Those lovely small-sized books of satisfactory thickness. They’re a compelling buy, if perhaps higher priced than is strictly desirable. Especially as volumes in a series are far less skippable than your average cape comic. Weigh it up: long-form story by one creative team (or creator!)

But how do you find out what’s good? You can spend your life on research, or you can judge a book by its cover. Join me, won’t you?Durarara!!, デュラララ!!, Ryohgo Narita, Yen Press, 2009

The spine: Very strong. Eye-catching font, sharp and urgent. Sky blue, as you can see, stands out from the average manga shelf colour scheme. Hints of finely sculpted, windblown hair of non-descript colour please the parts of me that fell for Final Fantasy X (parts shared by many buyers). DRRR!! is an unfathomable title, but one that invites attempts at pronunciation. It has mystery, but it also has community encouragement (turn to your shopping buddy and roll your Rs at them). Durarara!!, the correct form of DRRR registered above the main text, still tells us nothing—which means we aren’t put off by any specificity before we even see the cover, before we investigate the blurb.

Durarara!!, デュラララ!!, Ryohgo Narita, Yen Press, 2009

The front cover continues the strong blue, and uses complimentary shades of peach for the characters’ skin tones. The shading on their faces and necks is minimal, although not as minimal as it appears (it’s just very subtle). Shading is a warm mauve that links the central character’s suit with the peach, and with the background.

The best thing about this cover is that it has a transparent overlay: a circular, alternate logo version of DRRR!!. Slick! Sort of a mod vibe, backed up by Middleguy’s suit and the parka on Mr Lefthand-Side. I’m not sold on the figure drawing or facial details, although I like the varying weight of the lines. The design of the book, opposed to the illustration on the cover, attracts me.

Durarara!!, デュラララ!!, Ryohgo Narita, Yen Press, 2009

The blurb, finally. This book, having caught my eye on the strength of it’s spine alone, turns out to be volume four and assumes I’ve been along for the ride: I can’t relate. Who are the Dollars? Is Yagiri Pharmaceuticals where the good guys work, or the villains, or both? Do we know this “unobtrusive boy” already or not? Who is Celty—is she on the cover? Is the precious thing she found . . .  friendship? This isn’t the kind of blurb that welcomes new readers, or even pardons them for not being in the vicinity of the first volume. It’s cliquish, to be frank, and gives the impression that the story is too generic to try to entice readers who aren’t already sold on it’s gimmick. It lacks the confidence that’s so evident in the design of the thing.

Verdict? The designer of this book’s cover should get more work, but I’m not chancing my £7.99 on this. And I’m not searching out earlier volumes.