A Review About an Anime Featuring American Gangsters, Eccentric Robbers, & an Afternoon Train Ride
Baccano! is all of this and more. Animated by Brain’s Base, Baccano! is a 13 episode anime (16 if you count the OVA’s included on the DVD’s) sporting a highly stylized presentation, unconventional narrative, and highly dynamic and engaging characters; Baccano! is an anime that any fan of the medium can’t afford to miss out on. If you haven’t seen this one yet, then you are in for a real treat. Let me tell you why.
Perhaps the best place to get a grasp on why Baccano! is so great is to start with its characters. Being largely a character driven narrative, a majority of Baccano!’s cast demands the viewers attention and interest as the anime unfolds. The cast is fairly large but that doesn’t hurt the anime like one might first think. Overall, each character has their own spotlight in each scene while still managing to play well off the other cast members. However, there are a few weak links in the anime, but nothing that is horrible.
Unlike most stories, pegging a main character really isn’t possible. Perhaps it’s the charming Firo Prochainezo, one of the youngest members of the Martillo family. Maybe it’s Ladd Russo with his overwhelming love for violence and commanding nature whenever he’s on screen. Or instead, the crybaby Jacussi Splot who leads his own gang comprised of interesting individuals. Either way, it doesn’t matter. That’s part of the draw of Baccano! the main character is whoever the viewer wants the main character to be.
Instead, let’s start with the cast members that really standout. Ladd Russo is probably one of the most engaging psychopaths I’ve seen in any mediums. Right away it is apparent that this guy is nuts but he’s strangely likable. Each scene Ladd is in, he manages to somehow make murder and other heinous acts seem almost whimsical.
Other than Ladd, I absolutely adore Isacc and Miria. These two are a pair of eccentric robbers who are largely meant to provide comedic relief throughout the narrative. That being said, they are still key characters and are by no means simply window dressings like they would be in a more typical series. In fact, these guys get a fair amount of screen time that result in of some of my all time favorite moments in the entire series. They easily have viewers laughing at their antics while still contributing to the overall plot.
As for characters that aren’t as great, Dallas and Ennis are some of the least interesting characters. Dallas plays more of a supporting role in the series, mostly so we can have this standard gangster plot to follow. He gets more of a focus in the novels but for the anime he’s just kind of there in order to have a few key events have a logical justification in the narrative. Ennis is a main character but she just isn’t all that interesting. She manages to have some redemption as the anime runs its course but I just never felt as engaged by her character when compared to every other cast member.
The rest of the cast does an excellent job and is interesting, but they are about what one might expect. Each character has their own charm and personality that draws in the viewer. While some characters may seem weak or boring initially, by the end most of the cast is well fleshed out, interesting, and engaging. On the whole, this is one of the strongest casts I’ve seen in an anime.
Thinking on it, perhaps the best way to approach Baccano!’s uniqueness is to instead discuss the narrative itself. As apposed to the typical story, Baccano! elects to instead go against the statues quo and tell its story out of order. Not only this, but the story itself also spans centuries. The question then, where to begin the story?
Instead, the story is delivered to the viewer by jumping all across the timeline. This does an excellent job of piquing interest, but has the downside of being fairly confusing for some viewers. As long as the anime is paid attention to, nobody should have trouble following it, so be sure to devote your full attention to this one. Trying to explain the narrative past this would not do it near the justice it deserves so I’m not going to give it a summary but instead relay my thoughts on the narrative as a whole.
Baccano!’s narrative is clever in that it really isn’t all that complex or even always logical, but what it is, is always is fun. This is mostly due to the character driven nature of the anime and how everything is presented. It all oozes style and manages to really capture the Western gangster vibe it’s going for. Telling the narrative out of order is also a better move for the story long-term. While it may be confusing for some initially, the payoff is well worth it. The anime creates a sort of puzzle to solve, having the viewer definitely wanting to know how things got from point A to point B. Seeing everything play out and having the holes filled in this way was quite satisfying and certainly a unique experience.
There are also some supernatural elements that are tied in extremely well. As any viewer will quickly find, some characters are immortal. While this could have easily allowed for some groan-worthy writing and lack-luster outcomes, Baccano! avoids falling into these traps expertly. Another thing that’s of note here is that the immortality aspect of the narrative doesn’t overshadow everything else, it’s just a part of the narrative, not the sole focus.
If there is anything that I would say is a flaw of the narrative outside of the potential problems of a nontraditional narrative style, is that the anime can give too much up too quickly for those who are astute enough to piece things together correctly. I’d give some specific examples, but to avoid spoilers I’ll just say that episode 1 is probably the worst offender when it comes to this. Regardless, even if you piece things together quickly for Baccano! the real enjoyment is in seeing it all happen, how the characters interact, and in its unique presentation. If you are looking for something unlike anything else, then this should be enough to sell the show by itself.
The animation for Baccano! was handled by Brain’s Base who is known for such titles as Durarara! (fun fact, this is Baccano!’s sister series), my personal favorite, Mawaru Penguindrum, and several other highly regarded titles. This isn’t to say everything they work on is fantastic but in the case of Baccano! the effort is obvious right away. From the opening alone, you can judge the whole show. In fact, the opening is such a good gauge of quality in terms of animation, music, and style that if you enjoy that, you likely will enjoy the show.
While I’m on the subject, just give the opening a watch. I’ll wait.
See what I mean? If you liked that, then no question, watch the anime. From the opening it’s also obvious the influence Western media played on the anime itself with the Quentin Tarantino style character introductions. It all just screams style here and it goes a long way for making Baccano! that much better.
This brings me to the subject of music. If you liked the OP, then expect more of the same for the actual show itself. There are a fair amount of jazz and “fun” tracks during Baccano!’s run so fans of this style of music won’t be disappointed. For those who don’t fancy this music, there are some other tracks that are softer. Either way, the background music never draws attention away from the action on screen which is fantastic.
Normally, I wouldn’t make such a strong statement, but watch this show dubbed. Even if you don’t like dubs, this is one you should watch dubbed for two major reasons: 1. Thematically, it makes way more sense for the characters to speak English and 2. Everybody has appropriately cheesy Hollywood gangster accents. I tried watching an episode subbed, and while it isn’t bad, it certainly doesn’t capture the feel of the show in the same way that the English dubbing does. It adds that much more to the presentation that it would almost be a sin to watch it any other way.
That’s all there is to be said for this one. Baccano! is truly fantastic. Unsurprisingly, I am going to give this one another 10/10 with a Seal of Excellence, reserved for shows that are a must-see for any fan of the medium. Baccano! more than earns a deserving place in any collection with its distinctive style and unique viewing experience; there really is no other anime like this one out there. Unfortunately, this series went out of print earlier this year in North America so you can’t buy or stream it. I don’t know about anyplace else in the world though. If you have the opportunity to watch this, jump on it. Seriously, don’t let this one get away from you.
I know I gave the last ABC entry a perfect 10 our of 10 with a Seal of Excellence, but they both deserve it and I hope we can keep the train of quality shows going! If you want to check out the first ABC review for Anohana you can do so by clicking this link here. Be on the lookout for the next voting round where a “C” anime will be chosen next.
Bonus OVA Short Review
The three OVA’s are pretty great. They compose a full story arc that just keep the Baccano! party going. If you have the opportunity to watch them, there is literally n reason to give them a pass. They do expand the ending a bit more but they don’t fundamentally change anything the original 13 episodes did either. Overall, they are very enjoyable and just as fun, so watch ’em.
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