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.
It's the 1930s, and Mafia groups fight for supremacy in American cities. Young Firo joins the secretive Camorra group; a meek street boy, Jacuzzi, finds himself the leader of a gang of thugs; an alchemist is producing a liquor of immortality, and a homunculus tries to retrieve it; and upbeat thieves Isaac and Miria head to New York after failing to strike gold in California. They ride the novel train, the Flying Pussyfoot, across the continent. However they find themselves embroiled in a ruckus caused by gangs, terrorists, serial killers, and others as multiple stories intertwine and unfold on this fateful ride. All are haunted and hunted by the legendary Rail Tracer...
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I tend to be a fan of slice of life, dramatic and romantic series, but my palette is open to different series of a plethora of genres. I love watching series that engage my senses and imagination, and as a writer, I always appreciate a good story with a great cast of characters. I love when people give feedback on my reviews, because it helps me see things in a different lens, so I encourage you to converse with me if you have any questions, commentary or just want to chat about a series. ^_^