During the early 1930s in Chicago, the transcontinental train, Flying Pussyfoot, is starting its legendary journey that will leave a trail of blood all over the country. At the same time in New York, the ambitious scientist Szilard and his unwilling aide Ennis are looking for missing bottles of the immortality elixir. In addition, a war between the mafia groups is getting worse. On board the Advena Avis, in 1711, alchemists are about to learn the price of immortality.
Based on the award-winning light novels of the same name, Baccano! follows several events that initially seem unrelated, both in time and place, but are part of a much bigger story—one of alchemy, survival and immortality. Merging these events together are the kindhearted would-be thieves, Isaac and Miria, connecting various people, all of them with their own hidden ambitions and agendas, and creating lifelong bonds and consequences for everyone involved.
Baccano! is based on Ryohgo Narita's award-winning light novels of the same title and mainly adapts the first 4 novels. While more faithful to the first 3 novels, the 4th novel (1932) is followed more loosely and is mostly an anime-exclusive story. In addition, content from later novels is briefly included in the anime as well. Unlike the novels however, which follow a mostly linear narrative per book, the anime adopts a non-linear storytelling style; the tale of each novel is told simultaneously with one another, with the focus jumping back and forth in time between and within the different plotlines.
Every so often an anime comes along that isn't afraid to challenge the conventions by which a story is told. Too often, despite being noteworthy or groundbreaking, these shows can fail due to poor animation, lackluster characters, or a marked failure in plot development. In other words, they get so caught up in being unconventional that they sacrifice the other, more important aspects.
Thankfully, Baccano! is not one of those.
Baccano! maintains a very high standard of animation throughout its entirety. Brains Base made good use of color to heighten the effect of the more dramatic moments in the show. The animation quality is particularly noteworthy considering the fact that Brains Base is one of the smallest studios in the animating business. The fact that Brains Base managed to achieve a level of animation to match many of the larger studios and maintain that level of quality for the length the show, especially during the action sequences, is a credit to their effort and skill.
Baccano! opens with the excellent (and very appropriate for the setting) track "Guns N' Roses" by Paradise Lunch. The jazzy theme of the OP fits perfectly against the backdrop of 1930's America, in which the majority of the show is set. This jazz themed music continues throughout the entirety of the show and adds a certain authentic flavor which is often lacking in other shows. The only true downside to the music is the ED, which is a stereotypical J-ballad. However, this is only a small detraction from the otherwise great music though and can easily be skipped over.
Another area where Baccano! excelled was the voice acting. The talented VA's for each role managed to breathe life and individuality into the large and diverse cast of characters. The most singular achievement of the voice actors is that each of the characters can be easily identified by voice alone, as each actor has brought a different timbre, a different nuance, sometimes even a different accent, to each role.
From the marvelously hilarious Isaac Dian and Miria Harvent to the psychopathic Ladd Russo, all the characters are very well designed and as unique as their voices. Isaac and Miria are without doubt the most memorable members of an excellent cast of characters. The duo effectively serve as a glue that holds the story together. They dance through the series's multiple time lines like a giddy gyroscope on acid, occasionally colliding with one of the other cast members at random (usually by fluke).
There is one minor downside regarding the characters. Baccano! is a 13 episode series, with a cast of approximately 12 main characters. Though they all receive a certain amount of development, some critics would argue that it is not enough. However, the quality of the overall show is of such a high value that any shortcomings in development had no impact on enjoyment.
The story in Baccano! is very straightforward. Usually, it is the style of in which the story is told that receives the most attention. Baccano! adopts a non-sequential storytelling style. While this may not be anything new (the TV broadcast of Haruhi and the movie Pulp Fiction did the same thing), it adds to the enjoyment by removing the need for the universally derided "down time" episodes. Baccano! has multiple individual storylines, all of which intertwine into a larger story. At first, the events and characters may be confusing. But once you're past the initial surprise of leaping feet first into the middle of the story, you find yourself immersed in an unusual, fast-paced and entertaining style of storytelling that whets your appetite for more.
Baccano! contains a nice mixture of drama, action and comedy. This, coupled with some amazing characters and a good short story, makes Baccano! one of the most enjoyable romps in recent years. The absurd, comedic moments serve as a perfect counterweight to the action and tension that builds throughout the show. Nothing is too dramatic or depressing, and both the humor and the violence aren't forced. The most enjoyable thing about Baccano! is that each character's actions feel natural to that character and this comes across to the viewer in a big way.
Baccano! is one of the rarest types of anime as it successfully merges comedy, suspense, action and even a little romance, without sacrificing animation or sound quality. It is a gem that will appeal to fans of many different genres and it is one of the few animes that can be watched again and again without suffering any loss of enjoyment.
This review is the final result of a review team composed of members from the "Critics and Connoisseurs" club. The team members were:
Archaeon - Wrote the review
Lowell - Who contributed to and edited the review
Megadedhed - Who contributed to and edited the review
Here are their individual scorings for the show:
Category - Archaeon, Lowell, Megadedhed
Baccano! has a great reputation among many American fans, who lauded its boundless energy, larger than life characters, and unconventional narrative style. As I eventually watched it, I discovered that Baccano! indeed has all that stuff and could understand why so many people love it. And yet, curiously enough it never ascended beyond a mildly entertaining show for me.
The feature often mentioned first in regards of this show is its non-linear narrative, so let’s address that accordingly. I don’t find it significantly confusing, for one; while certainly disorienting at first, Baccano! is pretty easy to follow once you’ve focused on these key questions: (1) what’s up with some of these guys who just can’t die?; (2) what happened to the sad woman’s missing brother?; and (3) what happened on the train journey? Thing is, there is really not much point in the non-linearity either: it’s basically nothing more than a gimmick. There’s only a single instance where it did something interesting with the structure (episode 8, in which a certain pair of characters committed the same schtick in three different timelines and circumstances), but most of the time it simply hopped between all these small chunks of timelines going simultaneously for no good reason. Honestly, I don’t think the show’d lose anything significant by telling its story like a normal person would, and in fact it’d probably help to cut down the momentum kills and a bit of time inevitably needed by the audience to recall what happened last in Plot/Timeline B as the show zipped back to it after some development in Plot/Timeline A and C.
A much bigger problem for me than that: I don’t find the characters nor the dialogue endearing at all. Once I’ve finished it, I didn’t and probably would never get the urge to re-watch Baccano! just to hang out with this bunch of characters, who are either irritating dorks, nonsensical bastards, okay-ish but ultimately forgettable, and psychopaths that the show clearly wanted us to love (it’s sort of Ryohgo Narita’s thing, as I’ve discovered later). I really respected the huge amount of research by the show’s creators to re-create the setting and atmosphere, but as it is I just don’t have much nostalgia for Prohibition-era America, and the authenticity is dented anyway by lines of cliched shonen-esque dialogue (to be fair, I’ve watched the subbed version. As I understand it, the dubbed version is lauded as being remarkably good and more setting-appropriate, so it’s a fair possibility that there’s a tangible difference in dialogue quality and/or delivery).
All that said, I’d still recognize the level of energy and playfulness that made Baccano! so popular and recommend the show to those with certain sensibilities. Fans of 1930s gangster movies might be able to appreciate the setting and atmosphere it’s trying to evoke, and lovers of long-running superhero stories would also find plenty to love, what’s with the cartoonish ultraviolence, people keep coming back from dead, and inconclusive ending. While it doesn’t amount to much in practice, I at least appreciate its explicit willingness to experiment with narrative structure and the notion of main character.
Throughout my childhood, I wasn't really much into movies or the whole moving picture theater idea when I was young. I was more into video games and playing outside. All that changed when i watched a certain movie called Reservoir Dogs. At first, I was only into it simply because of the blood and violence. But further throughout my multiple viewings, I realized that the story and acting was also a big part of my fascination to this particular film. Then a few years after that another movie created by the same person came out called Pulp Fiction. This was done in the same style as his first movie but on a much bigger scale, involving so many more characters and following more stories stumbling toward one goal. During one of my multiple viewings of that movie throughout the years, i had a friend tell me to watch a movie by a man named Guy Richie named Snatch. Why am I taking the time to write 169 words about actual movies? Watch them to find out.
It's because you see, Baccano is very heavily influenced on these western movies made in this style. From the opening theme (Snatch) to the storytelling (Pulp Fiction) to even the coolness (Reservoir Dogs/Godfather) oozes western-style. Therefore, it's practically pointless to explain the plot of the show since they show how the show ends in episode one. That's the hook, the viewer isn't supposed to understand what they are seeing at first. Instead, they are enticed to want to know how did a 'mess' such as this happen in the first place. After that giant hook of showing you how it ends, it all unravels almost perfectly into a story involving over a dozen individuals. For the most part they are all complete strangers but through a little luck, chance, and happenstance their stories will cross paths most definitely.
...with a little anime flair of course.
The art is something of perfection, from the minor details in the shadowing and brutal violence left on victims, to major details like the painted streets of 1930's New York City. You can tell there was a large team summoned to make this 13 episode epic. Where it shows the best though are all the action scenes, where the movements are fast but smooth at the same time, and gun shots come complete with flash and gun smoke. Blood splatters in all different directions, teeth and bones can be torn apart and you can point them out as they're flying in the air. It's all just simply amazing. Art would be a perfect only if they wouldn't add some poorly placed 3D backgrounds in some spots, and if certain parts weren't so overly dark. The darkness ruins some of the beauty of a few scenes and its a shame since this is a show where everything it shows is a visual treat.
The sound is second to none. The op is classic, and I love how they meld the last episode synopsis with the opening theme. But this show would definitely not be as cool without the jazz styling, piano solo's and everything else in between. Every scene has an amazing amount of environmental sounds running at the same time and definitely sets the mood. If you watch it a few times I swear you'll hear something different every time. This is easily one of the few shows best enjoyed on a good surround sound system on high.
The characters are out of this world. Some plucked off of gangster flicks, some plucked out of action flicks, and some straight out the anime stock. With a cast of characters this large, you're bound to find a favorite one or have fun pointing out what RL actors they resemble or portray. Their voice acting is also top notch, I even enjoyed the annoying characters voices as well and thats rare. The crazies were my favorite overall though, just how they managed to sound so insane without it being annoying but rather fun was rather cool. My only gripe is the "comedy relief" of the show. Why do 'serious' shows such as this require comedy relief? Sure its fine to have to relieve the viewers from all the masochism throughout the show. But i don't think they should have given so much air time to the comic relief as they did.
This show is basically a 4-hour Tarantino-esque movie, if you remove the credits and extra recollections that get the viewer back on track. Overall its a perfect sized anime for a Tarantino-esque story. Any longer and the viewer will get tired of the mixed up style of story telling especially with the attention span of people these days. Think of it as "it will get exponentially complicated if this series went to 26 episodes. Although i would be all for a brand new story if Narita Ryougo made it. But only time will tell. It would have been cooler if they kept anime without all the anime 'hoodoo' and tried to make it a serious anime. But like the Japanese say, "It can't be helped."
Baccano! is a series with a huge fanbase who see in it as a wonderful ensemble of colorful characters, complex web of interwoven plots and wonderfully jazzy soundtrack.
If nothing else, they’re right about that last part.
To the series’ credit. It’s certainly ambitious and refreshing. A story taking place in America during the Prohibition Era and juggling the stories of around a dozen different characters spread across no less than 3 separate time periods, spiced up with alchemy, magic, urban legends and immortal gangsters. Definitely something you don’t see every day.
Ultimately though, the greatest concept still needs to stellar execution to really shine. It needs a compelling narrative that knows where its headed and why, it needs to be inhabited by characters worth caring about and the content generated from a combination of those 2 needs to be presented in a properly thought out fashion.
‘Baccano!’ fails miserably in those areas.
The first major failing is the narrative. Baccano! is a series that presents its events in a non-linear fashion while at the same time jumping between the points of view of several different characters. This is a style of narrative that some works have used to great effect. Baccano! doesn’t. There’s no rhyme or reason to the way the series juggles its narrative threads and it soon becomes obvious that the answers to the major running questions will only be answered towards the end while everything leading up to it is pure stalling. Bottom line is that Baccano! is convoluted for the sake of it rather than having a fitting thematic reason for it.
This is made worse by the characters. They’re all, to be blunt, horribly written one-dimensional caricatures whose entire personality and motivations can be deduced from their first 5 seconds of screen time. A handful of them gets something resembling a back story and rather forced attempts at development but the majority of them is there to demonstrate their 1 defining quirk only to prance off again while the focus shifts to another character ad nauseam. Worst offenders are Isaac Dian and Miria Harvent, an eccentric couple of energetic thieves whose every conversation follows the exact same pattern. Made all the worse by Miria’s awful shrieking voice. Jacuzzi Splot, a shy ‘gangster’ who cries over anything and everything, is yet another example of such a terrible character. Made worse by the fact that he’s eventually made to look ‘badass’ in a way that’s so forced it’s impossible to believe, seeing as there was no character arc building up to it.
What further hurts the characters is how interchangeable many of them feel. What fundamental differences are there between Clare Stanfield, Dallas Geonard and Ladd Russo? All 3 are violent nutcases who’ll murder someone for no reason at all. What fundamental differences are there between Chane Laforet, Rachel, Lue Klein and Enis? All 4 are emotionally subdued women whose role in the story is defined by an obsession over a single guy. Isaac and Miria? For all intents and purposes, a single character. The series’ blatantly covers up a lack of depth with sheer volume. Similarly to how the narrative constantly shifts focus to prevent viewers from realizing how bland most of the content really is.
The third and final major issue with the series is the way it presents its content. Its portrayal of gangsters is so offensively glamorized that it puts ‘The Godfather’ to shame. It becomes outright laughable when the series introduces us to a character named Dallas Geonard who we’re supposed to view as a villain even though other characters acting the same are portrayed as slick badasses. Violence is used with such frivolity and frequency that it’s devoid of any narrative significance.
In contrast, I’ll briefly discuss a scene from the movie ‘’Pan’s Labyrinth’’. There’s a segment early on in that film where the main villain smashes a man’s face in with a wine bottle. It’s a powerful, important scene on several levels. It not only establishes both the character of the main antagonist as well as the tone of the film, it’s also shot in a chilling yet explicit manner that underlines the brutality of what is shown.
Baccano!, by contrast, is loaded with violence that is much more extreme than what is shown in the scene I just mentioned. There’s even a scene similar to the aforementioned one where a character beats a man to death with his fists. Only in this case there’s no impact seeing as we’ve seen him commit violent acts before. And that’s not even getting into the almost comical way that it’s presented. There’s no dramatic significance to any of it due to how frivolously it’s portrayed. This is made worse by how characters will opt to use violence for the vaguest of reasons. Many characters get hurt and killed over the course of the story but there’s never a reason to care. And once again the anachronic storytelling serves as a way to cover it up.
One can’t deny that the series has a unique style and a refreshing setting. The soundtrack is also wonderfully jazzy while animation is very solid with a number of fun action sequences. This, however, does nothing to remedy the glaring flaws: the non-linear storytelling is a cheap gimmick, the characters obnoxious and 1-dimensional, and the glorification of gangsters is downright offensive. There are powerful stories that feature non-chronological narratives or extreme violence. But these elements alone aren’t what makes them great. When taking an unconventional approach to a story it’s imperative that you think about how to best make it work. This is something the creators of Baccano! fail to realize.
Dictionary.com defines the word ‘ruckus’ as ‘a noisy commotion’. That’s a perfect way to sum up ‘Baccano!’ (merely the Italian word for ‘ruckus’). A ruckus that attempts to pass itself off as an opera.
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