The first thought when I saw the opening credits: man, this looks like Chrno Crusade (with its early 20th century American setting). The second thought was: just how many characters are there going to be? And how much more butchering of Western names will they do? The description on Animenfo.com promised something akin to Fullmetal Alchemist, one of my favorite shows. But Baccano! turned out to be something quite different and quite intriguing.
With such a huge cast, there needs to be an efficient way to introduce them all, and typically when you have a complex and large world you start in media res. This show is no different, but it uses a framing device in which a cute little girl, Carole, and her grandfather–who happens, significantly, to bear the name of Saint-Germain, thus promising some deep connection to alchemy in the future–discuss where and with whom they should start the story. I am not sure the best way to begin an ambitious tale like this is to talk abstractly about the nature of truth, though.
Eventually, after some meandering discussion for the first third of the episode, we see some action–and violent action it is. Body parts explode and get severed, which surprised me to be honest (I guess I didn’t know what to expect). We shouldn’t be surprised, though: it turns out this is as much a Mafia story as it is a story about alchemy, a Goodfellas for the anime crowd. The alchemists–who are, indeed, the bearers of the brunt of the violence because they know they can completely be regenerated again–are part of different Mafia families who are alternately allied and at war with each other. They nevertheless have a kind of bond with each other which is evident at the end, but it sows the seed for future conflict. This isn’t the first time an anime has dealt so extensively with the Mafia (as opposed to the yakuza), is it? Since the show is set during Prohibition, when gangs proliferated, it’s a very appropriate time period for it at least.
My worry with this show is the same as any other large multi-cast show–can they develop the characters well enough to make them distinct and interesting at the same time? Bokurano dealt with it by focusing on mostly one at a time before killing them off. Other shows get tons of episodes. This one appears to want to have a knotty, convoluted story, which I can see going into multiple seasons. Will it be like the superb Monster, or more like Bleach and Naruto? I’m also wondering how they are going to handle putting magic/alchemy in the middle of 20th century America. The shock and surprise at the regeneration of the various alchemists shows that it’s not a casually accepted fact of life, the way it is in FMA. Will this be a standard mob story with a few near-invincible characters added on, or will the magical elements play a much more key role? (The fact that there is a character named Saint-Germain suggests the latter.)
And is it just me, or has there been an alchemy boom in anime lately? First FMA, which was very well-researched all things considered. Then Le Chevalier D’Eon, which borrowed much from real history. This is probably one of the more original combinations and I’m interested to see where this goes next.