“Don't let nobody tell you there's no future in a life of crime, because some rackets can last forever. But we'll get around to all that immortality jazz later. A mafia turf war is raging on the mean streets of the Big Apple, a place where regular joes bounce between backdoor booze joints and the breadline. But this caper ain't about a simple gangland brawl. It's about hoods who can't seem to die proper after catching a bullet or five between the eyes. Sadistic hit-men and the dames they love, mad bombers going boom, monsters going bump and soul sucking alchemists bootlegging an elixir of eternal life. Just remember, Baccano! ain't about beginnings and ends. It's about the twists and turns, bub. Paths don't cross in this story - They collide. Every Dick and Jane plays the lead and it's gonna be a bumpy ride.” – The description of Baccano on the back-of-the-box set, and probably the best back-of-the-box description there’s ever been.
A few years ago, before I became enlightened and engrossed by anime in general, I would have said that for a show or film to be good it needed to have a linear narrative that was both intriguing and well-executed, good character development, and an ending that tied everything up nicely that the audience could all understand and enjoy. Fast forward to today, and I sit here wondering how I was so foolish and simple-minded back then; ignorant of other methods that stories could be told. Overtime those beliefs I had about what fundamentally makes a show good were challenged and proven wrong as I started watching more anime, but no other anime had an influence on these thoughts more so than Baccano. Because Baccano had almost none of those initial beliefs, yet was praised by so many anime fans. So, I watched it, and what Baccano did was it took those beliefs, and shredded them till they were unrecognizable, splattering them with animated blood before burying them six feet into the ground. Yes, it is that good.
Baccano is a 2007 anime adaptation of a series of light novels, made by Studio Brain’s Base who were behind the making for shows such as Durarara!!, Blood Lad and the Natsume’s Book of Friends series. Baccano is made up of 13 episodes (16 including the OVAs) and revolves around alchemists who have learned the secrets of and gained the power of immortality… but the show is about a New York turf war between rival Mafia families… as well as a group of madmen who hijack a train… and it also includes a girl searching for her lost brother. As you can see, Baccano is not your average run-of-the-mill anime. Baccano is made up of numerous plots that are crammed into 13 episodes and the show bounces between these different storylines taking place at different times and places. It is told in a non-sequential style and because of this, one could easily imagine this show turning out as a massive clusterfuck. Thankfully, Baccano is clearly no clusterfuck; all the individual stories told intertwine to create a larger, overarching story. And the way Baccano juggles both the characters and subplots matches the ridiculous tone and energy of each of these arcs, leaving us with an insane, mental and downright fun show that is as well-written as it is enjoyable.
With how much is going on in Baccano, between all the plot lines the premise throws at you and the scattered timelines, it would not be difficult to see how this can make the show difficult to follow and understand or even want to give the show a try at all. However, to counteract these issues one might initially have, Baccano’s first episode is used as a guide to help viewers comprehend what the show is all about. The first episode looks at two characters who are looking at the different storylines that take place within the show, acting as both an introduction and a spoiler to each storyline as it practically tells you how each one ends. They show initially how the overarching story looks to outsiders under first impressions; a clusterfuck, full of action, black comedy and violence that are all pretty entertaining on their own, but are meant to entice one how such a clusterfuck ever happened. Looking at this deeper, the first episode is used as a means to challenge conventions through most stories are told, questioning why audiences should believe that the beginning of a story should take place at the beginning of the timeline. It is after the first episode where the show unravels the initial mess shown at first into the numerous plot threads and characters Baccano contains. And overtime, common plot threads emerge and confusing pieces to the puzzle come and fit together to tell the eccentric masterpiece that is truly what Baccano is.
Baccano is usually known as the Pulp Fiction of anime and it is clear why. Both have non-linear narratives that exude this essence of coolness about them, all while being packed with dark humour, violence, guns, blood, wit, grit, slick dialogue and more that make these kinds of shows break the mould and stand apart from every other story told. One could think of the show as a 4-hour flick directed by Tarantino; it’s a good time. It’s filled with many references, cinematography and directing techniques you would have commonly found in the West before the turn of the millennium. In fact, Baccano overall feels more American than Japanese, and for someone like myself, who has watched many Western works throughout my life, this show is definitely one of the more relatable works in the anime industry. It’s actually surprising to me that to my knowledge the West has not even attempted to adapt Baccano into a live-action TV show or a series of films. Oh well, this is already great as it is.
Another great thing about Baccano it that it has great pacing throughout the entire series. No episode in this show feels like it wasted time that could have been used elsewhere more effectively or that it should not have been made in general. Everything that happens in the show is of crucial importance to the many subplots this show contains. With only 13 episodes that this show originally had to work with, the lack of filler and overall quick pace matches the overarching tone of the show and the unique style of storytelling Baccano has even further. The show is dense, yet continues to be this high-octane ball of fun that is appealing to many diverse types of anime fans. The writing continues to stay tight and fast-paced as opposed to a similar show, Durarara!!, a 24-episode TV series that attempted to recreate what Baccano brings to the table, but ultimately failed to do so due to falling apart in the second half. Baccano is initially 13 episodes long and stayed compact and intricately woven all the way through, with the show being so large and successful, that it was allowed 3 more episodes to follow up on some of the subplots. These are commonly known amongst fans as Baccano Specials, which will be brought up later.
If you were to ask someone who has been Baccano what the show’s biggest strengths are, they would probably tell you either it’s non-linear storytelling or cast of characters, and what a great cast this show has. You see, for a show like Baccano, a show full of stories barely connected, that jumps from story to story, it would be difficult to properly establish a main protagonist and it would not make sense to have one in this show. Baccano does away with another common element of conventional storytelling by having no proper main protagonist and instead being composed of over a dozen main characters, where each are given enough focus and development for all to be considered fully fleshed-out. Rarely any show that runs this short is able to pull of such a large cast of characters so well, but Baccano, of course, pulls it off to near perfection. Every aspect these characters have, from their personas to their dialogue are all executed exactly as needed for this show.
The cast is a mishmash of all kinds of personalities and tropes found throughout Western entertainment. The only characters that are able to transcend the different arcs in Baccano are Isaac and Miriah, two burglars that are in love with each other. Both are oblivious to a lot of what happens around them and are the comic relief of the series that surprisingly never got old. From the New York turf war is Firo Prochainezo, member of the Martilla family mafia who is incorrectly dubbed the main character initially, due to possessing many traits that make up your average shounen protagonist. There’s also Keith, Berga and Luck Gandor, in charge of the Gandor family mafia. Moving to the Flying Pussyfoot (the name of the train), we have Jacuzzi Splot, who leads a gang that also doubles as bootleggers with girlfriend Nice. Jacuzzi is basically a whiny bitch that develops into a likeable badass by the end. There’s Chane Laforet, a silent assassin who leads a group of men in black suits whose motives are unclear until later in the show. Ennis, a homunculus that has no freedom of thought or emotion until she begins to understand human emotion. Of course there’s Ladd Russo, over-the-top psychopathic hitman of the Russo family mafia that happens to be the common favourite character amongst many Baccano fans and it is not hard to see why, as his love for killing and monologues make him one of the more interesting personalities. There’s also Vino, an assassin who I won’t say any more about due to spoilers. There are many more characters I could mention here, but this should be enough for you to understand that this show is abundant of interesting and likeable personalities. The only character I disliked in this show was Graham Specter as he is more or less a weaker version of Ladd Russo, however he is still entertaining to watch and does become important towards the end of the OVAs so there is no really need to complain. All in all, Baccano gives every main characters depth, a back story and a little bit of flair that makes them all so great!
Because there are so many important characters to the overall story of Baccano, putting names to faces can be a difficult task despite the difference in character designs, especially when the show jumps around stories so often. Thankfully the show’s opening renders that problem nearly obsolete. The opening lists of the names of 17 (I think) characters that are considered main characters in the show, which is useful in remembering who some of the characters are when starting an episode. The OP also show characters together as the opening twists and turns its way using clever transition through the cast, sequenced in a way that is as fun and blood-pumping as the actual show is. The insanely catchy jazz tune that is played alongside it matches the scenes so well and makes this opening on of my favourite and one you will never want to skip. Only problem I have with it however is that it gives too much attention to characters that barely matter to the characters, whilst giving next to no introduction to other, more important characters. But other than that, it is excellent. As for the ED, it is nice to listen to but honestly you are probably going to skip it every time to get to the next episode since this show is like a drug.
The overall soundtrack continues the vibe the opening gives off, comprised of a number of Western-themed and jazz-inspired tracks to fit both the historical setting and the upbeat tempo the show always has. Probably the best jazz soundtrack in all of anime, second only to Cowboy Bebop. Baccano no Theme in particular is a great track on its own that is played many times throughout the anime and never got dull, being an anime OST that I believe everyone should go out of their way and listen to at some point. The sound of this show overall is just excellent, especially the English dub. Personally, I prefer dub over sub when watching, but also understand that a lot of dubs are terrible. But in the case of Baccano, it is must-watch for the same reasons that Hellsing Ultimate and Cowboy Bebop need to be watched dubbed. All the voice actors give a terrific performance that match the New York setting as well as both enhance and distinguish between the personalities of every main character in the show.
The animation for Baccano is like a perfect fit for this show despite being almost a decade old from the time that this is being written. Colour was used very well in this show, from the bleakness of the alley streets of New York to the bright, colourful and lively environment inside with characters as joyous as they are insane, to even the most minute of details on the faces of Ladd Russo’s victims. But the action is where the animation it at its best. Gun shots are authentic, teeth and bone break and fragments flying across the screen, character movements are fast yet fluid and blood splatter is everywhere… it’s great. While there were a couple moments where the animation was off-putting, like with a couple of 3D backgrounds and at times the scene was too dim, overall it is another part where Baccano is fantastic.
Regarding the Baccano Specials specifically, these extra episodes picked up on some of the plot lines from the original series that, despite being wrapped up well, were not properly completed helped to further explore these stories and introduce some new characters, whilst further developing other characters that were already established. The specials did not measure up to the quality of the original TV series, with the non-linear storytelling being almost non-existent in these three episodes. However, the cast is still strong and the trouble they get into after the fallout of the TV series is still entertaining, keeping these episodes worth the watch and a nice addition to the franchise in general. These specials also show more cool interactions between characters and clues as to where the stories will go from there. Sadly, those hints are nothing but cliff-hangers as nothing from the light novels was ever animated after the Baccano Specials ended. The anime only covers 4 of the 21 released novels. But the Specials did give some resolution to the anime, conveying how the stories in this show do not necessarily end. While other shows would try and create an ending that brings closure, Baccano just throws these incredible characters into the audience’s faces that makes one want to imagine what would happen to them. While it may not be the ending that most people wanted, it is an ending that suits Baccano, complementing the blurb of this show: ”Baccano ain't about beginnings and ends. It's about the twists and turns, bub.”
Baccano is a non-stop action thrill-ride and is a shining example of the kind of exhilarating narratives that anime is capable of. Both the plot and characters are enough to make this show stand out from the crowd, but the way it blends all the craziness that takes place throughout the show so soundly that makes Baccano one of the greats that this medium has to offer. It is a masterpiece of storytelling, proving that pure quality entertainment can be just as influential to viewers as thought-provoking shows with deep themes and messages.