Aboard the Advenna Avis in 1711, a group of alchemists summon a demon in the hopes of gaining eternal life. The demon gives them an elixir of immortality and the method of ending their existence by "devouring" one another. Soon after, one among them begins to devour his companions. Realizing the danger posed by staying together, they scatter across the globe.
Centuries later in 1930's America, a certain federal investigator tries his best to combat the rise of organized crime during Prohibition, send a particularly infuriating terrorist to Alcatraz, and catch an outrageous thief duo. Meanwhile, the transcontinental train, the Flying Pussyfoot, begins its trail of blood across the country.
In 2002, a small group of the original Advenna Avis alchemists are on a journey to find the rest of their fellow immortals. However, there is one companion they did not expect to meet again.
Seemingly unrelated events, from a sleepy Italian city in the early 1700's to a modern luxury cruise ship traveling across the Pacific, reveal themselves to be far more connected than anyone could imagine...
“Take Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film Pulp Fiction, cross it with Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho’s famed 1986 work The Alchemist, carefully add a dash of the widely known 1972 American Gangster crime flick classic The Godfather to thus end up with the brilliant light novel series titled Baccano! By Ryohgo Narita.”
The story, ah yes the story; is there even a beginning or a focal point to begin this tale? Perhaps it’s best to look back, the year is 1711 when a group of alchemists together aboard the Advenna Avis summon a demon to grant them the secrets of immortality; little did they know a tragic scene was about to befall the lot gathered. Or maybe you’d like to discuss 1931’s transcontinental Flying Pussyfoot massacre which entailed murder, carnage, and bloodshed between several groups; each out for their own interests all the while hoping to never meet the mysterious monster who lurks about “The Railtracer”. No? Then perhaps you’d like to hear about what happened back in 1930, in which through a set of meticulous coincidences various characters became immortal due to a mere tasting of a particular elixir.
But no! Let’s not forget the characters, yes the characters; they are all incredible important. Why don’t we follow the young gangster with a heart of gold named Firo Prochainezo of the respected Martillo family, who happens to get caught in the business of immortals placing his life in danger during a time when the “Prohibition era” in New York was more than a simply label which defined a time period. Maybe we can follow a more joyous pair of characters, constantly spreading love and happiness wherever they go; an eccentric pair of robbers who call themselves Isaac & Miria. No, who I’d like to follow is in fact the brilliant young capo of the Gandor family, Luck Gandor. Behind him is a young girl named Eve Genoard, in front of him; a mob leader riddled with bullet holes aiming to take his life at any cost.
No matter where you place your focus whether it be on any specific time period or any number of particular characters. You’re sure to be bewildered by the utter brilliance and suspense read throughout these absolutely magnificent set of novels. Ryohgo Narita composes something special with each novel written. Character dialog, action handled throughout each scene, wording used to allow the reader a chance to seep into what’s happening and completely envision what’s being read, narrative composition that further enhances the detailed accounts of each scene. You find yourself quickly being absorbed into the wonders of the Baccano universe; where ever character holds a genuine place in your heart and you wait with baited breathe for a new novel to thus complete your character fandom.
This is Baccano!, brilliant commotion between amazingly portrayed characters. Where a series of unrelated plots and actions cross and intersect thus spiraling out of control. Journey through the early 1700’s where alchemists like Maiza Avaro, Huey Laforet, Elmer C. Albatross, Sylvie Lumiere, Czesław Meyer, and Szilard Quates are desperately seeking immortality and a way to cross the Atlantic to America in hope of a bright new future. All the way up to the 1930’s prohibition period and beyond; where groups of mobsters, thieves, assassins, and everyone’s in between clash violently. Wonderful characters like Firo Prochainezo, Luck Gandor, Isaac Dian, Miria Harvent, Ladd Russo, Jacuzzi Splot, Claire Stanfield, Ennis the homunculus, Adele, Roy, Edith, Tick Jefferson, Maria Barcelito the Mexican assassin, Shouldered Christopher, and Graham Specter all play pivotal roles and waste not one line of each novel.
Welcome to Baccano!, wonderfully written novels that hold a genuine place in my heart. read more
I have yet to be disappointed by any of Narita's work, but even that didn't prepare for how much I ended up loving these novels. I've sat here in disbelief as the ground shifted from underneath me by a single line (“This building... is my laboratory”). I've groaned at Elmer's bad jokes (“Would being popular with aliens mean I’m universally attractive?”). I've been left in awe by the sheer badassery of Claire (“Do you think that I just sat here and had this strength handed to me on a silver platter?”). And now I patiently wait for Narita to wrap up the pieces once and for all in the 2003. And by patiently I mean sitting here while screaming and resisting the urge to tweet Narita about how much he's ruined my life.
The first four novels of Baccano! are okay - not great, but still far from terrible. Their biggest issue is that they simply bombard you with too much information and too many characters (a good percent of them never actually physically appear - but you'll need to know them anyway). It's a bit much to take in and might make reading the series feel tedious. Then “The Children of Bottle” happens.
“Bottle” is unlike any of the novels before it, starting with an abrupt jump from New York in 1932 to Northern Europe in 2001. It also has a significantly smaller cast and only two characters from the first four novels have any significance in it.
Despite all this, or maybe because of it, it's the novel that really won me over. The central mystery of the novel is fun to unravel and has a profound impact on the rest of the series (though you won't realize how much until many novels later) but the greatest part for me is the introduction of Elmer C. Albatross, a character that always looks on the bright side of life to a terrifying extreme. His scheming is a delight to read about and he plays off the rest of the cast brilliantly.
From “Bottle” onwards, the series really begins to pick up the pace, though the 1930's arcs always tend to feel a bit too long. The interim novels provide a much needed breather (I'd even recommend reading the story somewhat out of publishing order; going from The Slash to Alice in Jails is kind of too much) and even end up stealing the show to some extent.
The 1700's novels in particular are a really enjoyable read for me because of how unlike they are from the rest of the series. They have a much smaller character focus as they are almost completely centered around Huey. Their setting, a small town near Naples during the War of the Spanish Succession, gives them an entirely different atmosphere from the novels set nearer to modern times. And there's this undercurrent of dread running throughout them as you meet characters whose ultimate fates you already know.
The 2002 novels, on the other hand, are powerhouses. The already large cast only further expands and the series comes to what is both a climax and a turning point thanks to the order the books are published (one thing you'll get used to is having storylines spoiled ahead of time that still manage to be shocking when they play out).
As all these different arcs go on they become more and more tangled together which only increases my enjoyment of the series. No scene ends up feeling wasteful in the long run and it's the kind of series that benefits from multiple readings.
Art 10/10 (but not really crucial to the series)
Enami does a good job of matching his illustrations to the character descriptions which makes it easy to visualize them all. And there are some really heartwarming scenes that become more so because of the illustrations (Czes and Maiza's first meeting!). In my experience, that's pretty rare in light novels as illustrations are usually treated like a bonus instead of an enhancement. But since this is a novel, the illustrations shouldn't really be a deciding factor in your opinion of the series.
Now, the best part of the series is the characters. Despite the ridiculously huge cast it's not difficult to remember everyone. They all have very unique personalities and their sheer variety guarantees you'll find at least some of them to your taste. In my case, the characters I ended up falling for are the 1711 immortals, especially Elmer and Huey who benefit greatly from having so much of their backstory explored. The unusual friendship they form is one of the highlights of the series for me. Huey's friendship with Elmer, along with his love for Monica, ends up humanizing him a great deal.
Also from the 1711 immortals are Nile, Denkuro, Sylvie and Victor who get negligible screen time in the anime but are greatly expanded on in the novels. They all deal with their immortality in different ways. Denkuro spends years trying to go home but when he does he finds everything has changed. Nile fights in war after war, Sylvie is cursed to spend her endless life without the person she wanted it for in the first place. And Victor seems unaware that he's in a Narita novel as he decides to devote his life trying to force order and harmony on the universe. I love reading about all of them and while they may not end up being your favorites - you will have favorites. This is a cast you'll end up feeling attached to.
I don't think it's possible for me to enjoy this series more than I already do. There are so many great moments that more than make up for slower sections of the story. The hardest part is dealing with brutal cliffhangers that don't get addressed again until many novels later thanks to the timeline jumping around. But every smack down and wham moment makes it all worth it.
If you have any curiosity about the series it's well worth trying out.read more