Baccano!

Baccano!

BACCCANO!

Watched via fansubs

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: Light novelist Ryohgo Narita is well known for his various series that dabble in multiple points of view. Baccano! attempts to break down one of these book series into a mere 16 episode season. This is a tall order considering the original novels are 20 books and counting. Plot condensing can cause a lot of issues within the flow and continuity of a series, but Baccano! seems aptly suited to the task. The initial frame work of the series is filled with disjointed narrative and time skips, making montages a perfect fit for story telling. Expect some initial confusion while watching Baccano!, but everything eventually falls into place as the jigsaw puzzle is pieced together.

As for the plot, it is comprised of a conglomeration of frame stories. Each character, of which there are many, has their own place within the overall story, and their own back story. Yes, it does get rather confusing. To simplify it down, each story in some way connects to three events happening loosely around the 1930’s in Prohibition-era America. These events include: gangsters fighting over two mysterious bottles (believed to be alcohol), hijacking of the train called the Flying Pussyfoot (there are also murders happening while on the train), and an on-going search for a man by his sister accompanied by gang. While these plots are highly irrelevant to one another in the beginning, the characters help weave the stories together by showing up in multiple scenes and time frames, developing a clearer story in the end.

Like Durarara!!, Baccano! contains a bunch of characters and narratives that seem weirdly thrown together at first, but the connections slowly gel as the series continues. It’s pretty difficult to say exactly what Baccano!’s about because of this, but it is one heck of a ride.

PLOT: I agree with Whitney—it’s difficult to actually summarize the plot of Baccano! easily. The main storyline, as I see it, takes place aboard the Flying Pussyfoot, a train that’s traveling to New York in 1931. As it’s traveling, the train is somehow hijacked by two different mafia groups, who end up fighting each other. Meanwhile, the train is also attacked by the Rail Tracer, a monster who pretty much eats everyone and causes a bunch of havoc. In addition to that narrative, there’s a story from two hundred years before about alchemists searching for the secret to immortality, and another story from 1930 about the elixir of immortality being recreated and then stolen. Both of these stories connect into the 1931 storyline through the characters present on the train, though it doesn’t initially seem like there’s a solid connection there.

The plot can be pretty difficult to follow because it jumps around between so many different points in time. Durarara!!, which is the only other anime I’ve seen that uses a similar narrative style, at least sticks within the same time frame, but Baccano! really jumps all over the place. This takes some getting used to and was pretty tough for me to follow along with, even though the show reliably provides you with timestamps for major events. I’m not good at remembering years, so I had to struggle to piece everything together, just like with the beginning exposition of Fullmetal Alchemist that relies upon remembering how old the brothers are. If you’re good at years, you’ll probably have a better time with Baccano!, but otherwise, be warned that it’s difficult to get a handle on the plot.

SETTING: As mentioned above, there are three main stories, spanning several years (and even decades), tied up into the plot. Each setting takes place in a different location, but they are mostly situated in America during the Prohibition. Since the plot consists of various frame stories, setting becomes a chief component in driving the plot. The way I broke down location was that the “train” story represented “now”, and the two other stories worked as ties to the “past” or branched off narratives. My reasoning being that the train scenes featured the largest amount of characters in one place. Rather than looking at the story telling in a linear fashion, I think it is best to watch Baccano! as if it were a concept map, with the train as the central point in the web.

What struck me as most peculiar about the series was its use of mythological elements. Each of the three focal stories has its own supernatural element, which could be argued to fit into competing genre themes. This made piecing together the various narratives a challenge for me. I had a hard time accepting each narrative as part of an overall story, since each had its own strongly independent world building. Ultimately I saw this as a negative. Sure it’s nice to ask the audience to put forward some of their own energy to piece together a narrative, but Baccano! felt to me like it could honestly have just been broken down into wholly separate series.

I’ve got to disagree with you about the diversity in Baccano!, since I think it makes the show stand out from everything else. It’s a crazy, convoluted narrative, but the show wouldn’t be what it is without so many different things thrown together to make a narrative whole.

SETTING: Amongst anime, Baccano! is definitely unusual in its choice of setting. I rarely see anything that chooses Prohibition-era America as its setting of choice, and anime shies away from this setting pretty much as a rule. I can’t think of any anime set in historical versions of America that aren’t westerns or adaptations of literary classics, so Baccano! stands out for that alone. The original author of the light novel series must have more of a love for mobsters than I do, though, because his knowledge of the setting seems pretty detailed to me. With, you know, supernatural elements all over the place.

Those supernatural elements add to the weirdness that is Baccano!, changing it from just a mob story into something that’s a lot harder to classify. The Rail Tracer storyline pushes the show into the realms of horror, and the supernatural elements, including alchemy, immortality, and homunculi seem pretty out of left-field when thrown into the mix. Fortunately, Baccano! is so ridiculously over the top that it somehow all works out. I can’t say this show is anything I would expect, but it forms a very cohesive, distinctive whole that makes its own kind of sense. The muddle of genres is successful in a surprising way, especially because it’s not something I would’ve seen myself wanting to watch beforehand.

I think the strange variety of supernatural elements worked better in the author’s other work, Durarara!! In that series at least the majority of events happened in the same time period, so there weren’t too many variables. This story is so broad, both in time, location, and genre, that the world building tends to suffer.

CHARACTERS: Dialogue, memory, action, it is the people of Baccano! that create the story. The “plot” of the series is comprised solely of the intersections where characters cross paths. And with a cast of 20+ main characters, there is a lot of cross referencing happening.

With a cast so large and diverse, it’s hard to go into much analysis on specific characters. Each story has its own sub-genre and archetypes: gangsters, scientists, cult members, gold miners, elite, musicians, thugs, etc. However, there are common threads that connect the stories, and allow for a respite from the more serious nature of the events. For example, Isaac and Miria are two jokesters who are always looking for a quick buck. As a chatty duo, they get the rest of the cast talking, and serve as a catalyst to unlocking events.

The author of the books is said to have designed the plot to follow the actions of the individuals, rather than a key event. This alternative focus grants the characters strongly unique personalities. Each character is like a ball in billiards. As they traverse the length of the train and bump into each other, they knock each other around and change the course of the story, often setting off flash-backs to older events.

CHARACTERS: The characters are Baccano!’s greatest strength and biggest weakness. There are so darn many of them that it’s tough not to like some of them, but that means there are also many characters that you can dislike. The characters are a mixed bag that add to the show’s narrative complexity, and they pushed me into thinking the show might be too hard to watch for its own good.

When the characters are good, they’re very good. Isaac and Miria, two goofy thieves, immediately stand out in my mind as the most likable members of the ensemble, but there are also characters who are too cooly competent or adorably floundering not to like. There are even solid ships within the show, which is an important draw for me, since I’m so invested in characters’ romantic lives.

However, there are also a lot of unlikable characters and a lot of bad deeds that get perpetrated. I might enjoy Baccano! more on a rewatch now because I’m better able to handle that kind of awfulness, but there are definitely characters that were hard for me to stomach the first time ‘round. On top of that, the show flies by at only sixteen episodes, making it hard to feel like you’ve gotten enough time with anyone you like. Though Baccano! is a thrilling adrenaline ride, it reminds me why I like to watch slice-of-life anime that take their time and allow me to savor moments with my favorite characters.

I will say, for how short this series is, I feel that I actually got to know a surprisingly large amount of the characters. Well, at least well enough to be invested in what happens to them.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: When I think about the animation for Baccano!, it’s hard to separate it from the soundtrack. The tempo of the series meets the erratic pacing of the plots as they mix and jive with one another. Baccano! is an action packed series that comes together like a jazz session. Each instrumental character falls in and out of the spot light with a blast of energy and confidence. This series will please lovers of thrillers, horror, and action, and convert those who aren’t.

As for character designs, each has their own unique appearance that sets them widely apart. Since the series is character driven, the physical and internal makeup of each character fashions how they will eventually interact when mixed together. The style designs for the characters fit well with the American setting. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it meets Western ideals for animation, but it is devoid of the frills and moe of many modern anime series.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Baccano!’s art matches the show’s frenetic pace perfectly, which is saying a lot. This show was the first time I’d heard of its animation studio, Brain’s Base, but they’ve gone on to do many respectable anime, including Durarara!!. The art style doesn’t change to depict the different time periods, but the show was clearly well researched in order to show a realistic version of Prohibition-era America, which strengthens the overall effect.

The chosen character design style reminds me of shows from the early 2000s that don’t look stereotypically anime-ish and allow their characters to look more like real people, in a kind of Western-animation style while still being recognizably anime. Fortunately, all of the characters are distinct individuals without going to ridiculous means to differentiate between them. Some of the names get silly (Jacuzzi Splot?!), and poor Jacuzzi does have the weirdest tattoo I’ve ever seen, but otherwise the character designs are all great. I wish more anime look like Baccano!, with characters who are all awesome and nicely free of moe stylings.

OVERALL: Baccano! is definitely worth a watch, if not several. It is difficult to piece together the various stories, but it’s a fun ride watching it all come together over time. Even if you don’t “get” all of it, the action is enough to entertain in the meanwhile. The one issue I still have is with the supernatural qualities of the series and how illogically they fit together in the world building as a whole. While I personally am not completely satisfied with the way everything was handled, I think it’s an essential component of the series as it adds a random variable to the mix.

The one piece of advice I’ll give is that this is probably best watched as a marathon. I watched this as it came out every week, and it was hard to recall how everything pieced together. I think the flow and continuity would be best if watched as closely together as possible.

OVERALL: Though Baccano! is a fun, crazy ride that makes more sense than you’d expect, it wasn’t really my cup of tea. I might enjoy it more now than I did when first watching it, but I definitely think you should be interested in its major genres before giving it a go. For me, I’ve never been into historical shows set in America, and the supernatural elements seemed kind of excessive, plus the Rail Tracer storyline was nerve-wracking and intense. Though Baccano! is very well put together, it’s not something that will be for everyone, especially in comparison to its cousin show Durarara!!, which brings in those more familiar moe and high school life elements to ease in viewers. If you enjoyed Durarara!!, think about giving Baccano! a shot, especially if you’re into mob movies, action, or horror. The show is wonderfully put together, so I think you’ll like it if you enjoy any of its base genres, but otherwise it may be too intensely violent for you.

FINAL SCORE: (8/10) FINAL SCORE: (7/10)

This week’s review will be postponed due to Crystal graduating and moving out-of-state! Congratulations on completing your degree!!! :3

The next couple of weeks will be a little rough, so please bear with us. We will complete this post next Tuesday, and then skip weeks again. So essentially we are updating every other week for a while. Following this week I will be in New York on a week long trip to see as much art as my eyes can handle! Since I’ll be out-of-state with no computer, it’ll be impossible for me to work on the review. So there you have it.

Please be patient, and I hope you’re all enjoying your summers! Time to marathon series and catch up on whatever came out over the last year.

cardbo moving out

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