When was the last time that you were stuck in a traffic jam and looked around you, only to find all the other drivers’ expressions mirror yours exactly? The frustration, the annoyance and the exasperation plastered all across their faces, each telling a story of their own, as loud horns blare in the background. The irritated young fellow next to you might be rushing because he has a huge presentation to make in front of the office’s senior officials. The middle-aged woman in the minivan behind you might be furious because her son got into trouble at university and they were calling her over when she was in the middle of her favorite soap opera. The old man just ahead of you could be on his way to the hospital and might be extra jumpy today because the doctors called to tell him that they finally found him a donor. (edit: word for this is "sonder")
Everyone has their own story. Baccano is an anime that realizes that all too well and decides to puppeteer different people with different personalities, ideals and aims into making one blockbuster series that will have you throwing roses on stage as the curtain closes. It’s anime like these that I shove down people’s throats when they say it’s a medium for kids.
Set in the 1930s Prohibition Era of America, it often shifts its focus to events that take place in New York and even unravels the mysteries that happened on a ship in 1711. The story, told through multiple points of view, revolves around the adventures and atrocities of the passengers aboard a Chicago train called the Flying Pussyfoot (yuuuup). Keeping up with the train's name, the characters are colourful - alchemists, thieves, assassins, landlords, mobsters, immortals, chemists, monsters, delinquents, information brokers and many more fascinating characters. Sheer ruckus ensues when their security is compromised and they all set out to carry out their individual missions. And so it begins - stories, with no clear ending or beginning and no specific protagonists, but just methodical mayhem.
The story starts off by giving you a glimpse into the everyday life of (most of) the characters and it does so all at once. And by that, I mean that you have a few minutes denoted to each of them and all this information at one shot can be confusing, if not a complete turn-off. This might be the major reason for people putting down this anime as the initial three episodes are an overload of what is considered “unnecessary” information. But, here’s the thing: Don’t.
Once it gets going, the show effortlessly glides from one perspective to another, seldom leaving you confused, weaving order out of the initial chaos. For an anime with twelve main characters and an assortment of side characters, that’s quite an achievement. The same goes for the time/place shifts. There is just something always happening on screen, be it a funny conversation or a deadly fight. Thus, the flow while smooth for the most part might be a little jerky due to the variation in character. Seeing a gun fight being interrupted by some comic relief is mildly frustrating, but upon retrospect, it seems like the kind of thing that makes the serious scenes more intense.
The characters themselves are truly refreshing. One of the most recurring characters in the show are Isaac and Miria, who are entertaining to say the least. Watching them prance about and mindlessly cosplay is hilarious. Initially frustrating, most of the characters do grow on you. We also have a Heath Ledger-esque Joker in Ladd Russo, a psychopathic hitman who's just unmissable. Just going through the varied type of characters must make you wonder how long it must’ve taken the producers to prepare the script, which happens to be very well done. Analyzing the characters (or even mentioning them!) any more would be a serious disservice for people who are reading this review without watching the show.
Brain’s Base spared no expense while producing this show. They sent their artists to America to study the locations so that they could recreate them as realistically as possible. And it was a wonderful investment indeed as 1930s America looks exactly like it should – dusty, grand and mysterious. The backgrounds are detailed very well and buildings in different areas look completely different from each other. The characters themselves are drawn neatly with light shades of water colors. When Ladd gets angry, you can actually notice the blood rush up to his face. The emotions of all characters are done very subtly and artfully. When one of the characters breaks his hand, you can see the bone fragments in the flesh around the forearm. That’s how good the animation is.
The soundtrack is pretty difficult to judge. The OP, Guns N Roses, is a jazzy piece of classical American music, which is pretty fun. There's even a tiny recap squeezed in the middle of the OP. I always love it when anime mess around with the OPs. Addition of some more thematic tracks could’ve definitely kicked things up a notch.
There is hardly any character development, but with 12 main characters squeezed into 13 episodes, what do you expect? The cast, which up until now was an asset, turns into a liability towards the ending. It’s hard to give all of them a decent epilogue and some of your favorite characters’ futures will be left unexplored. Thankfully, the 3 episode OVA wraps things up rather neatly.
Baccano is a bloodbath and its monstrosity rivals that of Elfen Lied. You will be subject to witnessing some horrifying and disturbing scenes such as a face thrust into the rail tracks from aboard a moving train and hot tongs being used to gouge a child’s eyes. Suffice to say, this ain't for kids.
[ THE WRAP-UP ]
Baccano is a 13 episode rollercoaster that will take you on the train journey of your life. The mood of the 1930s is captured perfectly and is presented in beautiful light-shaded animation that instantly transports you into the Prohibition Era America. The unique method of multiple-perspective storytelling is groundbreaking and very enchanting. The first couple of episodes are mildly infuriating because of the constant perspective shifts, however, this is all evened out in the next few episodes and you get into the thick of things really quick in this otherwise fast paced anime. There are the usual culprits, such as mood ruiners, an unsatisfactory ending (fixed in the OVA that follows) and bland soundtrack, but nothing that even comes close to ruining the overall experience. With an intricately designed plot and an intriguing set of characters, it does not fail to impress.
Masterpiece or classic? Eh, debatable.
Gives you a rush like very few shows can? Definitely.