Baccano Review

[Note: This is of a recent vintage. It was written in January 2009 for possible inclusion in an anime magazine. If that magazine ever comes out, I doubt this article will be in it.]

In a word, Baccano! can be defined in English as “Ruckus,” and it certainly shows. The meandering, multi-year plot is a ruckus in itself, bouncing from one timeline to the next with almost no warning.

In 2002, the original Baccano! light novel won the Gold Prize (500,000 yen and the publication of the winning entry) in the Dengeki Novel Prize contest which was started by MediaWorks in 1994 (in April 2008, MediaWorks merged with ASCII to become ASCII Media Works).

Baccano! started its run soon after its win in 2002 as a light novel series written by Ryohgo Narita. Aniplex adapted the light novel into a 13-episode anime series in 2007 on the WOWOW network.. Funimation picked up the rights to Baccano! in mid-2008 and plan to release the first volume state-side in January 2009 with further volumes scheduled for release throughout the year.

Baccano! cannot easily be classified according to genre. It has gangsters who operate out of speakeasies in Depression and Prohibition-era America, a duo of clumsy thieves, immortal alchemists, an evil monster of legend, and several teams of trigger happy killers.

The anime takes place during the “Grand Punk Railroad” story arc of the first four light novels. The primary action takes place in 1932 with the aforementioned teams of trigger happy killers having a bloodbath with the unfortunate passengers as open targets on a train from Chicago bound for New York City.

Stylistically, Baccano! is pretty straightforward anime fare, big eyes, small mouth, but the characters are human, well, as human as immortals can be. Its mix of silly and serious never feels forced and the slapstick doesn’t travel down the same roads Excel Saga became lost on.

Baccano! has Cowboy Bebop’s outrageous action scenes and Dominion Tank Police’s screwball criminal antics. That’s not to say the heroes of the story are upstanding citizens either.

In 1930, as Firo becomes a new camorra member he has a chance encounter with Ennis, a homunculus created by 300-year-old alchemist Szilard Quates who has been working for the past 300 years on recreating the recipe for the Cure-All Elixir, a potion that grants immortal life to all those who drink it.

Further, in 1931, the clumsy thief duo, Issac & Miria, Jacuzzi Splot and his gang, Ladd Russo and a gang of similarly trigger-happy thugs, and the Lumeres, a gang bent on taking the passengers hostage in exchange for the release of their leader all board the Flying Pussyfoot in Chicago on its route to New York City.

The 1931 chapter is the most action packed and as such, forms the backbone of the story. The action begins outside the Flying Pussyfoot with each group of characters sizing up each other set, and getting their predictions horribly wrong. Ladd Russo’s group wears white, but they’re not going to a wedding – blood shows up better on white. The Lumeres take the guise of an orchestra, Jacuzzi’s group plans to bomb the train and rob it. Issac & Miria planned a “train robbery” but got the fundamental fact of train robberies wrong: You’re supposed to rob the train, not use it as a means of escape from a previous robbery.

In the dining car, Issac tells the story of the Rail Tracer, a monster that follows trains and eats the passengers. Fearing for his life, Jacuzzi runs to the conductor’s car to warn them of the impending doom, but finds the conductor dead. The Rail Tracer has arrived. The two groups of thieves become the de facto heroes of the Flying Pussyfoot, despite originally boarding the train with less than honorable intentions by fighting the Lumeres, Ladd’s gang, and even the Rail Tracer itself.

In 1932, Eve Genoard, the sister of Dallas Genoard, seeks his whereabouts by going to the two main mafia gangs in New York City and the local newspaper, a self-styled information shop for help.

In a series with so many characters and so much going on, it’s hard to tell who the clear cut main character is, which is a question Eve tackles in the first episode, since her story is the furtherest in the future, the events of 1930 and 1931 are, for the most part, already known to her.

The main characters of Baccano! are Issac & Miria. They provide the comic relief with their over the top heists and serve to link the three years of the series together as they’re the only two who interact with every character.

Funimation has recently created an official Baccano! website full of character biographies and story synopsis. Until recently a password had to be input in order to view the first episode, subtitled in English with Japanese vocals only. As of late, the episode starts playing automatically. The official DVD releases will have an optional English vocal option for those who enjoy their anime in English.

Baccano! has the potential to be one of the top anime releases of 2009. With its intrigue and connecting story lines and mix of various action points, Baccano! is one series to keep an eye on this year.

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