A multi-strand tale of mobsters and alchemy, 'Baccano' is the 16 episode story of a colourful cast of characters on the other side of the law (including hitmen, gangsters, socialites, robbers and well, an alchemist or two) whose lives change over the course of three years (1931-1933) as they deal with the likes of a turf war, gangland murders, an elaborate train heist and the convergence of 'immortals' seeking the means to produce an elixir of eternal life. And that's just a quick skim!
A fun and distinct period romp, 'Baccano' is told in a manner akin to 'Rashomon': jumping between different characters and times and seeing their effects on the story, and given our diverse cast, this equals a lot of possibilities. The train is the main anchoring point, and where most of the story takes place, but we cut back to prior years to help inform characters, as well as the bigger narrative of the show, which deals with immortals, alchemy and their ongoing battle. Despite all this though, the show is for the most part a drama with comedic elements (mainly in the form of cosplaying thieves Issac and Miria), and not a big whizzbang fantasy or action show. In fact, this would make a great beginner's anime, given how restrained it actually is and not using a lot of the 'eccentricities' that the form has become notorious for. If the West produced mature dramatic animated series, this is how I imagine it would look.
Animation is solid, sleek and dynamic without being hyperactive, the voice work is good despite some accents, and the 30s setting allows for some really neat recreations of the contradiction that was 30s America: really gorgeous skyscrapers and trains versus very dingy warehouses, dark speakeasys and slummy neighbourhoods. The large group of characters are also by and large rather likeable and fun, even if they are slightly stock mafia archetypes, with special note going to the aforementioned Issac and Miria. They are such wonderfully charismatic and energetic goofballs yet not so much so they clash with the darker elements.
As far as complaints, I really can't offer much, except that having a big cast does mean some of them, as well as certain plot threads, are not fully tied up by the end, yet their introductions make them feel more important than they actually turn out to be. Plus, the returning immortals angle is not explored as much as you would think, with really only one episode being the focus and then a quick cap off at the end. I wish they did delve a little more into their lives and what the effects of living so long do to different people. However, the rest of the show is so engaging that it didn't become too big an issue.
In the end, 'Bacanno' was a neat little surprise. It's not 'FullMetal Godfather' as one may be lead to think at first, but it's an exciting and often lively romp through the unlikely blend of mob and magic. Not sure about anime because of all the fanservice, kawaii and ADD action? Give this a shot ya mug. Issac and Miria will more than make it worth your while...