From the very get-go, even from the opening title sequence, you can easily notice one thing about Durarara, and that is that it was made by Ryohgo Narita, creator of Baccano. Everything about this show besides the setting is very reminiscent of Baccano, so inevitably, it will be compared to it. So, how does DRRR hold up compared to Narita's previous work?
Well, let's just get this out of the way now: No, it isn't as good as Baccano - but then, few anime are. If you're a Baccano fan, Durarara is definitely worth watching, and even if you aren't a Baccano fan, Durarara is still worth watching, although some of the references may be lost on you, seeing as how Baccano and Durarara take place in the same fictional universe. The main difference between the two is, perhaps bizarrely given their setting, Durarara is clearly the more mature of the two series. It opts for a darker, big city underworld chic as opposed to the vibrant 30's style of Baccano. A lot of it revolves around mystery, an element not present in its predecessor.
While the plot of Durarara is hard to sum up briefly, the premise revolves largely around Celty Sturluson, a Dullahan (read: Headless Horseman) who has lost her head, and come to Japan in search, posing as a biker. At the same time, highschool student Mikado Ryugamine is moving to Ikebokuro, after growing tired of his life in the countryside, and meets up with his internet buddy Masaomi Kida. Kida is quick to warn Mikado of the colour gangs that roam Ikebokuro, such as the Yellow Scarves and Blue Square, as well as the mysterious "DOLLARS", a gang claiming to be colourless. The two of them soon befriend a shy, withdrawn girl named Anri Sonohara. But as the plor develops, it becomes clear that none of these people are as simple as they seem.
One of the strengths of this show is the characters. Near enough every major character, and even some of the minor ones, are fascinating and distinctive characters. Celty is considered fearsome by many, though is immediately likeable and down to earth in person. Shizuo Heiwajima is an inhumanly strong man who hates violence, but is filled to the brim with unstoppable rage. Izaya Orihara is a crafty information broker who has a fondness for deranged chess motifs and knives. Shinra Kishitani is a quirky underground surgeon who has a loveably flirtatious fascination with Celty, and even minor characters like a gang of otaku who practise torture based on anime and manga add a comedic referential streak to the series, so if you're a fan of Spice and Wolf, Railgun, Dokuro-chan or Kino's Journey, expect a few giggles.
Whilst the show is initially good, it doesn't really pick up until around a third of the way in, when it begins to move into the fast-paced action that Baccano performed to wonderfully. For most of the middle third of the series, the show is absolutely on its peak, keeping you absolutely glued to your seat wondering what will happen next. It skillfully runs through plots of Celty's missing head, a mysterious slasher attacking people, the background of the wars between the colour gangs, a medical organisation performing human experimentation, and people controlling everything from behind the scenes...
But as great as all of this sounds, in the third act, everything begins to fall apart. Once the slasher arc is over, most of the other plot threads are abandoned, and everything winds up revolving around the a gang war, which is a considerably weaker plot thread than the others, and at it's worst devolves into soap opera drama caused entirely by foolish decisions that could easily have been avoided. This would've at least stood up strongly if it had kept skillfully using the other storylines, but the plot of Celty's head is completely and utterly ignored as a result of this massive plot tumour. All of this builds up to an anticlimactic and lacklustre ending that gives very little closure whatsoever. The upcoming specials are set to wrap this up, but I really don't consider that a valid excuse. The only way this would be forgiveable is if there was a second season, and by the way that the specials were announced, this seems unlikely.
(EDIT: Future seasons have rectified this dangling plot thread, but considering how much worse the later seasons were I still can't forgive it for this.)
Final Words: At it's best, absolutely fantastic. Shame it went to waste.
For Fans Of: Baccano, Boogiepop Phantom.