The 1930s were a time when many societies hit economic depressive lows, Black Tuesday might have been the start of the Great Depression, but it reared its ugly head and took hold of the lives of many people in the 30s, leaving them desitute and struggling to make ends meet. Yet, there were those lurking in the shadows that made it big and continued to live in luxury, a luxury entangled in blood, deception, and sometimes just by the luck of the draw.
Yes, I'm speaking about the original gangster: three-piece suit, gun-toting, aspiring rebel youths with an ambition and a resolve towards their respective families and causes. And they weren't simply that. If you've ever seen "The Godfather"; "Road to Pertition" or "Once Upon a Time in America" you would know that to step into the arms of the "family" meant unyelding support but also uncertain, relentless death. So bloody, twisted, and sudden that it made death seem like it wasn't the worst thing that could happen.
Baccano! is perhaps the first anime series that I've seen that takes the period of the 1930s and dives into the hearts of several gangsters, all with very distinct personalities - something that makes this stand uniquely from its peers. A pair of effective con-artists, a man with a lust for blood, a young man welcomed for the first time into a mafia family, a man with a secret, elongated past, a woman who fights alongside her "supposed" father, and even a young boy who faces torments worse than death itself. Put it all together, and you only have a part of the story that Baccano showcases.
Baccano's execution may throw some off a bit to start - handing 17 characters already suggests this series is devilishly ambitious, but yet it presents a rather looping story revolving around these characters that seem to "crash" into each other, whether knowingly or just by situtational connections. The storyline jumps back and forth between the years of 1930-1932 primarily, though there are treks to both the past and present in brief context. There's definite story here: it's mainly driven by the characters, and it's also driven by thematics that drive this beyond a traditional gangster story.
Does it execute well? On most points, a definite yes. The story starts along with enough of a blood bath of violence to capture attention on one hand, but also mixing humor, action, and intelligent swagger to appeal to those who like traditional gangster stories. However, there's a catch - there are elements of this series, which I won't spoil, that twist the tale as the progression comes forward-and revolve around the character identities that ties them all together-you can say it deals with alchemy, superstition, and a lust for power/domination. There's not just one story in Baccano, there are several, and they're all occurring in fragmented conjunction, some are precursors to certain events (the first episode, as confusing as it may be, is a good example of this), while others occur in sequence with other events. If this seems overbearingly confusing, then chances are that you may be the wrong audience for this series, as the fragmented method of storytelling is sequenced in each episode in pieces, some of which are expanded upon in further episodes and pick up "in medias res".
The definition of the characters helped the story along, but I found myself sometimes saying that the format also, somewhat, took away from the progression. Fragmented stories tend to fragment characters in a manner of snapshots, and thus backstories can find themselves, though told, awkward in presentation. With a series with so many characters, this can become a problem. Example, while Miria and Issac are two wonderfly comedic characters this side of a mentally skewed Bonnie and Clyde, there wasn't much to readily develop them. Then again, this series isn't so much about character development as it is about character definition. Those who take that into consideration may enjoy this series a lot more.
The ending of the series was all action driven, and leaves many threads bare which was something I didn't always like, but I liked the resolution in some of the relationships, some of which I could see well from the first of the series, while others...had only begun to surface in the latter half.
Baccano's animation is actually quite well done for a modern adaptation of a mafia based story. The setting backdrops accurately reflect Depression/Prohibition era America among other plot settings, yet one might find the character design a bit inconsistent in some points. I'm probably one of the few who really did enjoy the character design as it reflects the characters in a more realistic manner than most anime series.
I'd argue that the action sequences aren't nearly to the level of gun-toting seen in series like Gunslinger Girl or the characters as "pretty", but they feel realistically portrayed.
Baccano's soundtrack is one I would highly recommend to those who love Jazz music. Gun's and Roses "Paradise Lunch" is a nice "big band" opening that I loved watching with the opening of the series, fitting the style and sequence of the series to a tee. Noting the era this series takes place, it's relevant to the backdrop of the anime. The ending theme is a beautiful ballad: Kaori Oda's "Calling" fits the ending sequence quite well, and it's one of the best ending themes I've heard this past season. In-series music stands strongly rooted in the era, appropriate in both the comedic scenes as well as dramatic contexts.
The Japanese voice acting couples the effect of the overall cast by giving it much stronger hold than it would otherwise have. Coupled with the distinctive prescence of each character, their voice actors (particularly I have to give credit to Luck's VA, cool but quite mature) shape them well, but as I'll note in the character section, some of these characters didn't really have roles to fill enough for their VAs to help them.
There were characters within this series I really enjoyed watching, and others that I felt fell off the ladder because they were never really given a due chance other than standing in the pale shadow of other characters. It was something within Baccano I feared coming into the series about with the sheer number, yet, if you watch this series for more character definition than development, it doesn't necessarily take away from the experience.
Take Miria and Issac for example, off the wall, terribly hilarious duo of petty thieves and con-artists, and probably two of the characters that really drove Baccano for me in its overall course. They pretty much seem like a duo that's lifted right from a old comedy sketch routine, but with a certain backwards logic that makes them seem smarter than they actually are. Either by dumb luck or just clever wit, the two seem to avoid danger and live life on their own terms. Some may view them as a bit over-the-top, but for me they really carried the series in terms of enjoyment. You learn to love them, even if they don't have much backstory because that's not what brings out their characters, their sheer definition does.
Now compare that duo to Ladd and Lua. Ladd is a very defined character, no doubt a sadist that almost makes you want to chuckle at him at first..makes me think of a younger horror Jack Nicholson role (most people probably won't agree with me on that though) with tongue in cheek statements that make him seem cool and at the same time show how seriously insane he is in his lust for blood. Then put Lua into the picture, a female who doesn't really have much of a mark on anything except being the one Ladd pledges "to kill first"...in an almost twisted display of affections. Lua's character doesn't amount to much, she's just...there.
Compare Lua to Ennis, a woman with a mysterious past and connections within her mafia upbringing that lends Firo to look into her identity after a chance encounter. Ennis, I would argue, is one of the female characters that really stands out more than the other females, not necessarily for her combative specialty, but her characterization. In the scheme of the series, we get snapshots of her character. I actually really liked Ennis and Firo's chemistry, and considering how they meet and the events they face together, that made them also a duo that I really enjoyed. Jacuzzi and Nice were pretty much in the same way: Jacuzzi is a seeming crybaby who becomes a leader of a gang, and he becomes more respectable when he puts his best face forward, that by the end, I really did like his character. Nice is a kick-butt female character whom you can tell has an affection for Jacuzzi, but sometimes shortchanged because you don't see "enough" of her to balance her character with Jacuzzi.
Among the other "good" mafia members is Maiza, probably the only character with the strongest sense of backstory and the thread that ties all of the characters presented in the series together. His role has much to do with the hidden plot, and in one particular arc of the series, you find that he's not only a partner to Firo, but also one with a dark past and secrets of his own.
Other strong characters included Luck, well defined particular to his roles in his set arcs, Silzard, who plays the central conflictive role in the series in thematic and in identity, and Czes, whom one might dismiss as a bitter kid, but the series provides a bird's eye view into his experiences to see his reasoning.
Eve's pursuit of her brother Dallas was an interesting arc with its backdrop characters (particularly with Luck), yet I found Eve and Dallas' roles to be stronger when in conjunction with the stronger characters (i.e. a nice scene with Eve, Miria, and Issac later on in the series provided a few laughs).
Baccano! is a series with definitive class and style that is unique to most anime series in the present year, and one that I think many will enjoy for those factors. I would say it's among the strongest I've seen in it's respective action/period genre, yet there were some holes and characterization parts of the series that I felt weren't as strong as they could have been. There's a potential of depth this series could have achieved both with its storyline and even with the chance of "playing around" more with the period elements. Yet, I enjoyed this on quite many levels, and would recommend it. I definitely hope there's a second season to this, if the award-winning manga is any indication.
Baccano is a 12 episode action seinen anime set in 1930’s America. The narrative of this anime reminded me of the Tarantino movie, Pulp Fiction. It’s non-linear and follows a variety of characters, each with their own individual stories that converge at one disaster of an event, on the Flying Pussyfoot train during a cross-continental journey across America. My prior expectations were low, I didn’t think much could come out of a simple train journey, but the intro alone got me excited. And soon I realised what a masterpiece of an anime this is.
EDIT: Must watch with special episodes for extension. Extended review here
The quality is immaculate for a 2007 anime. There’s quite a lot of action, fighting, explosions, shootouts. I never noticed any hitches in the animation, though occasionally I noticed that the lip sync was off, the mouths didn’t move enough for all the words to be said, irrespective of language. I watched it in glorious 1080p of course. The minor complaint aside, animation style was also first class. Not completely unique, but it did what it meant to and managed to depict the atmosphere and essence of the 1920s/30s staunchly. The character designs are not all common and it reminded me a lot of Full Metal Alchemist, where is almost didn’t seem like an anime at all. Of course, a few characters like Maiza, Firo and Ennis are designed in such a way that seeing them reminds the viewer that this is an anime made in Japan. There’s quite a lot of blood and gore, from all of the action, I’d say they go overboard, but it was actually just fine. There are some scenes that may be shocking to some viewers. Things like torture and mutilated corpses. But then again, this isn’t exactly aimed towards the faint of heart.
Damn, the intro is so dang catchy. Very smooth and sets the 30s atmosphere for the anime itself. The outro is a bit different, chilled out and it reminded me of some other chilled out, yet containing sinister sub-tones, outros. The rest of the soundtrack is perfectly thematic, a lot of jazzy stuff that sounds like it’s from the 20s/30s. I don’t really need to say how much it fits the mood, they even have slightly comical jingles playing at the appropriate moments and thus sound design is immaculate here. Thing is, I don’t really listen to music of that era, as cool as it is. Thus I didn’t get the soundtrack.
Now the voices… first a quick rant. I’ve mentioned this in a recent review, but don’t be arrogant, childish dub vs sub fanboys (or girls). Especially those who absolutely refuse to watch any anime with English audio, they seem to be especially common and especially unreasonable. There are some anime out there, which the Japanese version is better and others where the English version is better. And there are some where both are equally as good (or bad), in which case no point watching the Japanese version, unless you have another reason for doing so (i.e. you understand it without subs). This is one of those rare gems of an anime where the English dub blows away the competition.
If you hadn’t gathered by now, this anime is available in English and Japanese. I watched it in English. Why is it so good? Because of the appropriate language used, the characters talk like they’re actually from that time period, using terms like doll and dollface (used to refer to women). The accent helps too. This anime is set in America, so I can absolutely forgive the American (butchering of the English language) accent. There are also some non-American characters which also have appropriate accents.
Wow, I haven’t written a sound section this long in a while. There are a ridiculous number of characters one could consider to be main characters. I was surprised to find out that Chanet Laforet was actually voiced by Monica Rial, might have something to do with the fact that she doesn’t speak much. Known names in roles include Brina Palencia as Ennis, Todd Haberkorn as Firo Prochainezo, J Michael Tatum as Isaac Dian (instantly recognised their voices), Jason Leibrecht as Luck Gandor, Caitlin Glass as Miria Harvent, Colleen Clinkebeard as Nice Holystone, Carrie Savage as Lua Klein. I’d mention the Vas for the other characters, but this section is already long, even without the usual list of VA roles in other anime.
The characters are the best bit of this anime and give it a unique charm. Among the many characters, my favourite (pair) has to be Isaac Dian and Miria Harvent. This couple of jokers (remember the intro?) are the comic relief in this anime and it doesn’t just stop with making the viewers smile either. The two look for riches at first, starting off digging for gold in a mountain. But they soon become a couple of costumed thieves, stealing all sorts from museum doors to cars. What’s mind boggling is the fact that they haven’t been caught after several dozen ‘jobs,’ especially since neither of them seem to be very bright. Their silly suggestions echo as Miria often repeats what Isaac says (usually that way around), though sometimes Miria gives Isaac suggestions. They end up stealing to help people and make them happy. They really are a couple of nice and caring folks.
Where to go next? Firo Prochainezo (pronounced ‘proc-en-zo’) is a young man who has just joined the mob. He’s a very nice guy, not the sort to punch first and is very skilled in melee combat. It seems to me that he has a crush on Ennis. Maiza is his best bud and the guy he had to beat in a knife fight to get accepted into the family.
Ennis is a mysterious stoic woman, who seems to work under the ruthless old man, Szilard Quates (pronounced ‘zil-erd’ and ‘k-wait-s’ I think). Szilard is part of a group of old men who wish to develop the legendary alchemist’s elixir, which is said to grant immortality and prevent aging. He also has an interesting history with the other characters and is most knowledgeable about this immortality.
Maiza Avaro is a man who is part of the mob which Firo has just joined. He is also somewhat mysterious and it is discovered that his skill in melee combat and his mystifying ability to heal quickly makes him the best choice to test out the new members. But of course, his story goes much deeper, and much further back…
Czes, short for Czeslaw Meyer (pronounced ‘chez’ and ‘chez-law’) is a young boy with the shocking ability to ‘not die.’ In other words he is immortal. For child, he seems awfully calm and secretive. Perhaps he knows something or is hiding something. He seems to be friends with the senator’s daughter, Mary Beriam. Though it looks like they are the only two kids on the train.
Next up, the nice conductor of the train, a man named Claire Stanfield. He seems to know the Gandor family fairly well. Working with a smile on his face, he offers the story of the terrible monster ‘the Rail Tracer’ to his passengers. The elderly man conductor taught him everything he knew about his job. Just a simple conductor or is there more to him than meets the eye?
Jacuzzi Splot is a wanted criminal. This young man runs a gang along with Nice Holystone (pronounced ‘neese’), a young woman missing one eye thus wearing an eye patch, who he has known since they were children. Jacuzzi is a shy young man and cries quite a lot. He always has a look of fear or sadness on his face, as if he’s about to cry. He also has a sword tattoo on the left side of his face. Despite his crying, he is a surprisingly capable leader and is able to wreck shops with Thompson machine guns, all the while bawling his eyes out. While he is a gang leader, he is a surprisingly kind individual, willing to take in folks with nowhere to go and even being willing to put his own life on the line for others. Nice loves explosives and is skilled in making/using bombs, particularly ‘cherry bombs,’ the archetypal spherical cartoon bombs just like in old TV shows and cartoons. She also has what is either a very large tattoo, or burn scars (I thought Jacuzzi’s tattoo was a scar at first). The two seem to care for each other too. These two characters are my favourites after Isaac and Miria.
Next up is Ladd Russo of the Russo family. This big blonde guy is a skilled boxer and decent with guns. It helps he’s part of the Russo family, since he gets many opportunities to kill people. He loves it, the bloodthirsty, sadistic guy can’t even properly show care towards his fiancée/girlfriend Lua Klein, as he claims that she exists solely for the purpose of being killed by him one day. He’s hot-headed and loves a fight, it seems apparent that he must have some sort of mental illness with his unique behaviour. He’s also funny at times too. Him and his gang aim to hold up the train, the flying pussyfoot and cause some chaos.
Another group of characters are the siblings of the wealthy Genoard family. Only Dallas and Eve remain, after their both their father and older brother were killed by the mob. Eve is the youngest and really looks up to her brother. She is going around looking for him and she even asks for the help of the information broker company. Dallas on the other hand has developed into a delinquent thug, going around being mean to people, both causing trouble and finding it. Dallas is wanted by two different mobs including the Gandors.
Speaking of which, the most prominent of the Gandors, in this anime at the very least are the three men, Luck Gandor, Berga Gandor and Keith Gandor. For mobsters, they seem to be nice guys who only mess people up if they get in the way or do something to annoy them. They’re after Dallas for some reason or other.
So, there’s two main events being depicted in non-linear fashion, jumping between the two. The first is the doomed journey upon the train, the flying Pussyfoot during 1931. I won’t spoil what happens, but there’s a lot of blood, gore and death. Various characters are onboard including senator Beriam’s wife and daughter, a prime target for hostages. Then a year later there are the events in the city of… erm Brooklyn? I can’t remember, so I’m making a guess. During this period is when the whole thing with Dallas Genoard, the Gandors and Szilard Quates occurs.
There are some mysteries early on, which do get revealed later. These are depicted well since they aren’t particularly predictable, though it does give a few clues here and there. Of course the overall story is rich and goes in a variety of directions, I’m amazed at how they managed to successfully involve so many characters in this one plotline.
This anime features some minor supernatural aspects, as alchemy and immortality are themes present. It’s not an easy story to grasp, I went at it with a slow pace and I’m still kinda clueless about a few things, though no fault to the anime itself. I probably need to watch it again, since the story happens in a fractured way. Thus this story is not aimed at a younger audience, due to the difficult and complex plot and I guess the extreme themes (though these days kids are fine watching gory movies). That's the onl;y negative I can think of, I founf the conclusion satisfactory, even though there's a 3 episode OVA sequel.
Baccano is one of those excellent anime that almost doesn’t seem much like an anime at all. If you don’t like anime or are looking for something that isn’t typical anime BS (aimed at a younger audience), then this is one to go for. I’d also recommend it as a first anime, early anime to folks getting into the media, since this shows what sort of interesting and unique experiences that anime can offer. I saw FMA in the recommendations and I’d definitely recommend this to folks who enjoyed FMA. However, this being a seinen anime (even if it isn’t officially designated so), it’s a bit difficult to watch, particularly for younger members of the audience or those who have difficulty getting their head around things. Maybe not the best anime to start with if you are younger or get easily confused. Thus it, just comes shy of a perfect score (no point in having the score if nothing can reach it).
BUT, stay tuned for my review of the extended anime, with the (sequel) special episodes.
Family-friendliness Rating: 4/5 Extreme themes and difficult narrative (lower is better)
Overall Rating: 9.5/10 (higher is better)
Guy Ritchie must be proud, as Baccano! steals his style so bluntly. Just like the movie Snatch, which this anime is heavily inspired by, it deals with all forms of the underworld through a nonlinear, near-spastic bounce between perspectives and time frames. Like that movie, it has moments of over the top violence, bad guys being bad, thieves being thieves, terrorists, gangsters, and rich people, all set in motion by one thing. And just like Snatch, this ends up a resounding success.
Baccano! does so many things right. The over the top violence is countered by comedic brilliance. The dialogue has just enough in it to develop the huge cast while remaining light hearted and fast paced. The pacing itself is brilliant, and uses the sharp cuts between scenes and their different perspectives well (again, a classic Guy Ritchie trick) managing to make the show never get bogged down by things like "plot". This is backed up by solid writing and a distinct sense of style, which is just what the show needs.
There are some issues with the show. The character development is at times forced, and the animation isn't top notch. There are holes in the plot, and the names are ridiculous. None of these truly matter though, as Baccano! is a cohesive package of explosive fun. And speaking of explosives...
Anyways, it is absolutely lovely when a show isn't ashamed of its own faults and issues. Baccano! just feels like the creators shrugged, said "whatever", and decided to make the fun outweigh all the details. There is so much style to the show that it ends up being one hell of a ride. On a train. Also, just like Guy Ritchie films, it finishes on an open ended note; some characters dead, others in jail, some going on in their adventures... but the world goes on, the story may be in a lul, but never over. A perfect fit for something made like this.
Writing (Story and Characters):
As I mentioned before, Baccano! borrows heavily from Guy Ritchie films. There are many threads to the story, both in plot and character perspectives, and the writing is about how they all clash. It is a gloriously ambitious endeavor to write something like this. What is more surprising is how the technical side of the writing holds up.
Just deciding how to divide the plot into a way to analyze it is difficult (something cleverly mentioned in the first chapter). Does it work by character? Group of characters? Chronologically? The beauty of the story is that there are so many threads, and they are intertwined contextually, giving an organic feel to the many subplots. Perhaps the center of the story is about the train, but as to who is the character exposed to the most detail in person, it is completely unknown and irrelevant. Actually, the difference in perspectives is what makes the story of Baccano! so unique in the anime landscape. The clever pacing keeps the viewer on their toes, and even when the story goes off the wall for a bit, it is attention grabbing.
Each character has their own way of speaking and interacting, the names and backstories (when given) are varried, each has their own agenda, and most of all, the characters manage to be surprisingly enjoyable. Some are beyond likable (Isaac and Miria are brilliant), others disgusting, and everywhere in between there is at least some representation. Most of all, the characters don't really need to develop because they are already developed enough for their purpose in the plot. For a series that has more characters than episodes with each getting plenty of screen time, this is a massive success.
While plot driven, the characters get their time in the spotlight, and both combine to make Baccano! a ridiculously fun experience. While heavily inspired by Guy Ritchie, the series has its own take on things, and goes into territories that said director didn't explore (which is afforded by the longer running time). This is definitely technical show-off writing, and it does so very well. The structure keeps up both pacing and interest as the plot unfolds and characters are explained. It is so nice when anime takes a page off the western media playbook and adds that strength to the toolkit of the show... and this is a great example.
Art (Animation and Sound):
What a mixed bag Baccano! is from the artistic perspective. It probably won't dazzle anyone, especially compared to the newest shows, but also compared to some of its contemporaries. But the artwork does go smoothly with the writing. The soundtrack is wonderful, but the animation mediocre for the most part - but they manage to bring characters to life and give a lot of energy. While not at the top of the metaphorical totem pole, the artwork is very effective at what it does.
The animation is the weakest point of Baccano!. There is absolutely no question about that. While the writing is heavily stylized and as such gets varried responses, the animation can be judged by the technical issues. First, the combat scenes aren't impressive. The backgrounds are a mixed bag, and tend to be reused a lot. There is a lot of stiffness, and the visual "wow factor" moments aren't all that impressive compared to modern anime. But, the animation excels in giving a ton of energy, the visual gags (especially with Isaac and Miria) are brilliant. The character designs aren't forcefully differentiated, allowing for people who look alike - something quite realistic with such a large cast. The visual themes are quite intelligent, and in general, the mood set by the animation fits the writing. So, mixed bag.
On the other hand, Baccano! has an absolutely stunning soundtrack. It fits with the era in which the show is set, and is absolutely a joy to listen to, used both subtly and aggressively at the right times. The voice acting is rather good, and made me fall in love with a few of the characters. The sound effects are workable, and at times even great. In general, the audio does a great job in conveying the right amount of energy and tension to make the writing and animation mesh together and give the art a ton of personality.
1930s ganster settings are a hard thing to pull off, and doubly so when animated. Going for heavy handed realism would have failed abysmally, so instead, Baccano! goes for style rather than detail. It pays off in spades in some cases (Isaac and Miria's choreographed insanity) and in some cases falls flat, but is absolutely the right choice for the show. It isn't a technical tour de force by any stretch of imagination, but it is the right way to go about things, and allows the writing to shine.
Baccano! is more fun than any viewer has a right to expect. It is gory, hilarious, touching, disturbing, fun, and most of all interesting. Often at the same time. Characters can be insane, lovable, or just plain wrong. The dialogue is both silly and genius, again, sometimes at the same time. Most of all, this show is recommended to anyone and everyone. Just lay back and enjoy the ride.
I was very impressed when I started watching Baccano, and even though I've bailed on the series, I'm still impressed with it. It's quite imaginative, the 1930s-era look is well done, it's well paced, and the story is intriguing.
There are aspects of it I am less enamored with. The violence is over the top, and becomes increasingly so as the series progresses; episode 10 really creeped me out.
But my main issue with the show is I just have trouble keeping track of what's going on. There are a lot of different stories taking place in different years and a huge cast of characters, and it's just a bit overwhelming. It's the sort of series I feel I'd have to watch at least twice to be able to follow.
Also, not all of the stories are equally interesting. So at times I was very immersed in what was going on, and other times I felt restless.
But it is very well done for what it is, even if I found myself enjoying it less as time went on.
I...LOVE BACCANO!!! It has everything i love!! funny and interesting characters that draw you in, wonderful writing, attention to detail for a historical anime and fast paced action and suspense! I love how they flow all three different timelines together almost like they were randomly pulling out different newspaper clippings from those timelines! I know it doesn't sound like it fits but IT DOES!!! All the characters get a chance to shine and you find bits and pieces about them. Baccano Has to be the best underrated anime out there!! more people Must know of this Masterpiece!!