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.
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.
Well.... first of all I have only watched the series, not the spin-off OAVs. If I am bored enough one day I might take the plunge and then update this review as they seem to be listed as part of the series.
This anime is set in 1930s gangster America, and makes that blatantly obvious throughout. Painfully so: shitty, repetitive jazz music; uniformly dressy gangster costumes (and chimney sweep outfits for the little 'uns); cobbled streets and inadequate mood lighting; endless fights on the roof of a train. It was just all too much for me.
The story itself is some kind of self absorbed multi-character orgy involving some really lame personalities and possibly the two most annoying douchebags ever dolloped into an anime. Izaak and Miria don't fit the style of the show, the other characters, or the plot. While the majority of the series carries itself at least with some pride, whenever these two popped up I was forced to question why I had gotten so many episodes in and just what exactly the writers were thinking.
The way the plot flails around riffing on a shitty and simple idea really gets on my tits. And then with all the distracting and confusing flashbacks, forwards, or whatever they actually were I felt completely lost throughout what was in hindsight a very simple plot. I was left frustrated, annoyed and maybe even less of an anime fan than I was before. In fact I hated it so much, yet wanted to finish it so badly, that I got so drunk I fell asleep on an electric fan, alone, in my living room. Which was awful because I just had to watch all those episodes again as I'd predictably forgotten the content.
Yes, very good, well done. Now work on the more important bits and you have a good show. Character designs were a bit shit though. Those tattoo things looked rubbish for a start.
Give me a break from that goddamn jazz! The music was tiresome. Overall the Japanese VAs were fine, but again Izaak and Miria took everything down a notch to complete idiocy and WASTED MY TIME!
.... too many, not enough development or originality, and really fucking annoying.
And one thing I forgot to mention - the ridiculous attempt at American names is neither funny nor convincing. Jacuzzi Splott? Give me a break.
I work out 5 or 6 days a week. I push my body to the absolute limit. I'm used to feeling like I'm on the verge or self-destruction, and have developed a mental toughness to rival the Greek Gods. But this show.. this show.... why? WHAT THE HELL IS THE POINT?
For God sake it's like Goodnight Sweetheart crossed with bad X Files with elements of Quantum Leap. It's shit!
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.
Straight up, this is a mish mash of genres: crime, comedy, drama, suspense, action and probably a few more. Something for nearly everybody and all those ingredients in the end form a decadent cake that may be brief but tastes delicious. The ambient jazz goes perfectly for your meal, but more on that later.
It takes place in the 1930's and this is probably the first anime I've seen set in that period. I don't know much about the '30s so I don't know if alchemy or immortals were commonplace back then. But you can bet that makes it more fun; even if it was just mafia and Issac and Maria, it would still be great.
The story zigzags, going from one year into another, another year back, forward again and then way back only to come back to the '30s. It's strange, and it makes the viewer remember the events that occur previously as one part could be seen through one set of characters and then another perspective through another set or how one segment can interlock with another and add another piece to the puzzle. As strange as it was, I enjoyed it. It was different and even though it took a bit to get used to, it grew on me. It wasn't a straight line, but one that twists and curves to it's own beat.
But as much as I enjoyed the story and it's style, the writing exceeds it; in particular the characters that fuel it. And yet again, in particular, the duo Issac and Maria. Absolutely the best this show has to offer, and even though there are quite a number of excellent characters, these two are the best. And even though they are morons, I love them for being such. From their wacky costumes, mannerisms and personalities, funny dialogue and just about everything about them. They're just so likeable. The other characters are great, especially the psychotic Ladd; who isn't just that, but an amusing, crazy, joyful psychopath. I could go on for a few more characters, but that would spoil everything. Simply put, the characters make it more fun than it already is.
And as a side-note; as funny as it is, it has it's moments of darkness and moments of sheer violence that can surprise the viewer. No spoilers, but it's violent at times. Quite bloody. Just wanted to get that out of the way.
It certainly isn't dated and it looks good. Not much to say, apart from how good everything looks. Definitely love the realistic looks to the characters.
From the magnificent up-beat, fast-paced OP to the slower, more somber EP and everything inbetween, the music is a feast for the senses. The jazz is perfect feels like it belongs there and suits it better than any other form of music. And it would be ruined if the voices weren't as good, but fortunately they're superb. And by supurb, I'm refering to the english dub, as no other sub or dub could compare to it's majesty. I mean, the accents, the lunacy in Russo's voice, how Issac and Maria's voices work in perfect harmony with their characters... this wouldn't be nearly as much fun if the voices were off; the voices and characters work in perfect harmony.
What I remember most from Baccano! is how fun it was, how fast it went and how it zipped and zoomed while slowing down at times while keeping the viewer glued to the screen. The cast is great, the music is great, the VO is simply amazing and it's just simply packed with the stuff that makes anime great. It's just... fun.