Director Takahiro Omori and production studio Brains Base reunite for a spiritual successor of sorts to Baccano! (2007) in the Winter 2010 release of Durarara!!, adaptation from the light novel series by Ryohgo Narita (author of Baccano!). Like Baccano!, the series begins with a fantastic OP featuring the vast ensemble of characters whose seemingly unrelated lives will be weaved together into the overall story plot. Slated for a good 24 episodes, Durarara!! shows promise to be one of the top new shows of the early 2010 anime.

Quick synopsis:
Durarara!! takes place in modern Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district, reknown for its large commercial and entertainment businesses. Mikado Ryugamine has just moved from the dull countryside to Ikebukuro, where he hopes to change and have an exciting lifestyle filled with adventure. He reunites with his old childhood friend Masaomi Kida, who warns him that living in Ikebekuro will be easy as long as he avoids Shizuo Heiwajima, Izaya Orihara, and the mysterious gang called Dollars. Mikado also witnesses the urban legend going around Ikebukuro about a Rider on a black motorcycle. The Rider saves a girl from being tricked and kidnapped by a group of thugs. During the fight, the helmet of the Rider is knocked off, revealing that the Rider is headless as rumored, with just a cloud of black smoke coming out of the jacket. Just who or what is the Headless Rider?

Notable Seiyu: (many, to name only a few…)
Selty Sturluson = Miyuki Sawashiro (Galaxy Angel – Mint Blancmanche, Canaan – Canaan)
Masaomi Kida = Mamoru Miyano (Death Note – Light, Gundam 00 – Setsuna)
Izaya Orihara = Hiroshi Kamiya (Zetsubou series – Nozomu Itoshiki)

For all its comparisons to Baccano!, I want to first preface that I have not seen any of Baccano! except for its pretty famous OP, “Gun’s and Roses” by Paradise Lunch. From reviews I’ve read, I get that the story is pretty episodic with a large set of characters rather than the traditional focus on fixed protagonists and that there is a lot of interweaving for form the overall grand story – through the first few episodes of Durarara!!, I can definitely see how the format may parallel. A lot of what I’ve read so far about Durarara!! points to it doing all the good things that Baccano! did. That’s fine and I imagine Baccano is a pretty good series that I’ll have to get around to, but I don’t have that reference point, so I want to assure you that you don’t have to have seen Baccano! to appreciate Durarara!!. That said, when I got started on the series, the OP for Durarara!!, “Uragiri no Yuuyake” by Theatre Brook, got me pretty psyched going into the first episode. Cool song. Cool animation sequence. Introduction of all the unique characters during the OP, multiple potentially interesting stories, and good quality of animation and voice acting (I love the way Masaomi talks) all got me pretty hooked to the show by the end of Ep1. And come on, how cool is it that they’re carrying around a billboard of Horo (Spice and Wolf)?

There is a recurring mechanism of the different characters using online chat messages to discuss rumors and gossip circulating around Ikebukuro. It’s an interesting concept as the different screen names keep identities anonymous among the characters, allowing talk between odd pairs of characters. Unfortunately, for people with limited Japanese reading skills, this may not be easy to figure out exactly what each screen name says and I’m not sure if they’ve revealed who’s screen name is whose yet without resorting to Wiki. Until I actually figured out who was talking to who, the online chat scenes were kind of confusing and limited my interest.

In Ep4, Shinra Kishitani, an underground doctor in Ikebukuro, reveals who/what the Headless Rider actually is and tells the story about his relationship with the Rider, Selty Sturluson. I think this is a pretty cool supernatural element in the series, and its similar to the existence of immortality found in Baccano!. It also makes me think about a possible connection to another character in the series, but I’ll refrain from elaborating for sake of not spoiling the plot. After wondering about it for the first three episodes, Durarara!! picks a good point into the series to reveal  the secret of who/what the Headless Rider is – after three episodes, the mystery has accomplished its goal of sucking in and gaining viewers’ interests and now it can move on with it to build what will likely be the main encompassing story.

Bottomline Impressions:
Durarara!! – A, unique and interesting characters drive story, good animation and voice work, and awesome OP + ED = great start to my current favorite new show of Winter 2010.

Reminds me of: Baccano! for a lot of reasons discussed above.