Anime Reviews: Baccano!
Simultaneously following three entirely separate stories is no small feat, but Baccano!'s stylish visuals and lively cast make it a feat worth striving for.
Production: Brain's Base / Aniplex / Movic
Series Length: 16 episodes
Air Dates: 7/26/2007 to 5/28/2008
Age Rating: 17+ (strong violence, dark or disturbing thematic elements)
Summary: Our story begins in 1930, or does it? Maybe it starts in 1931? Or 1711? It centers around Firo Prochainezo, or does it center around Isaac Dian and Miria Harvent? What about Ladd Russo? Or Jacuzzi Splot and Nice Holystone? The main focus of the story lies in the story involving a three-way hijacking of the transcontinental train, the Flying Pussyfoot, in 1931. But then again, maybe it's the disappearance of Dallas Genoard in 1932? Where does that leave the series of mafia skirmishes in 1930, then? Whatever the event, whenever it is, and whoever's starring in it, this is a story which has no beginning, and most likely no ending. Or what if it does? This is a story with provocative psychological musings and poignant observations on the nature of man. Or maybe it isn't. Whether you find the answers to these questions or whether you find meaning and truth within is entirely up to you.
The Good: Ridiculous yet fun characters; slick atmosphere; simultaneous storylines and involving plot threads keep the action interesting
The Bad: Keeping track of so many characters and events may cause Spontaneous Head A-Splode
The Ugly: Who names their kid "Jacuzzi"?
Oh my, where do I even begin with Baccano!? How CAN you begin with Baccano!? I went into this series expecting a fun action anime, but I ended up simultaneously flabbergasted and delighted. Never before have I seen anything so gory yet so positively joyful at the same time. As you may have guessed from the summary, this is an extremely tricky anime to pin down with words, but dammit, I'll try!
First off, you can't start any discussion about Baccano! without talking about the characters, and holy crap are there a lot of characters; I'm talkin' Fullmetal Alchemist numbers, here. Just from the opening, you can tell how many characters are present here, and those are only the major characters! Well, most of them. And they're all lovable in their own way, which is a monumental task for an anime this short. Whether you're a fan of the farcical humor of Isaac and Miria, or the almost American Psycho-esque insanity of Ladd, or maybe Jacuzzi's straight-laced cowardly valor appeals to you--chances are, you're going to find something you like in at least one character. You know, if you're just really hard to please.
The atmosphere and music go hand-in-hand with the characters, giving us a veritable cornucopia of 30s gangster film bliss with its color palette of greens and browns and yellows alongside a soundtrack comprised of jazzy tunes. We've also got over-the-top action sequences reminiscent of old-school gangster films, with shootouts in speakeasies and onboard high-class trains, with the occasional fistfight, too. For added flavor, the English dub goes through the trouble of having its voice actors perform in (what seem like) authentic accents, whether British or French or Brooklyn or whatever, giving the series just that last little push from being greatly entertaining to completely engrossing.
Of course, all of this effort would be for naught had the story not been as entertaining as it was. Without giving too much away, Baccano! is essentially Highlander set in the 1930s, and that by itself would've been enough, but the series follows three different storylines, all of which take 13 episodes to complete (14-16 start and end a fourth story), simultaneously. This style of storytelling is actually quite genius, as it prevents the series from being a roller-coaster ride of "Setup, Rising Action, Climax, Ending, Setup, Action, etc." by making it so the setups all happen at the same time, the rising action likewise, and so on. It also helps that, when the timeline does shift, we get a few seconds of recap or dialogue to remind us of the situation, and so it becomes easy to remember what's going on. Well, easier.
And thus, we confront the only real problem with Baccano!: if you're one of those people who are easily overwhelmed, or even mildly easily overwhelmed, this series will bust your balls hard unless you watch it several times or take notes. Not only do you have upwards of two dozen main characters to remember, you've also got 3 radically different stories going on at the same time in every episode. If you're not making an active effort to keep track of everything, you'll have a hard time. While the payoff is a huge load of fun and a bunch of memorable characters, you'll have to ask yourself if you're willing to make the leap. If you ask me, I'd say it's worth it, because it'd be your loss if you didn't.
Like I said at the start, it's hard to put Baccano!'s charm and appeal into words, and it's equally as difficult to talk about objectively--which is fitting, seeing as how part of the show's underlying theme is that everything is subjective. Of course, another underlying theme is that body horror is funny when you're immortal, but that's less important. And even then, that can spark some interesting discussion, but long story short, if you're looking for some gory good fun to kill about 8 hours with, then you'll hardly find a better way to spend it than this.
Final Score: 9 out of 10. While Baccano! certainly possesses an intimidating number of characters and story arcs for its size, it sure as hell knows how to have a good time with each and every single one.