Baccano! Review

Gokudo played a role in getting me into anime past Dragon Ball and Pokemon.  And Fullmetal Alchemist interested me and provided a scene that to this day, remains one of my favorite out of all the media that I have consumed.  But Baccano?  That is what sealed the deal for me, and serves as a pinnacle in terms of unconventional storytelling, managing over a dozen characters simultaneously, and providing a bunch of cool ideas that are now ingrained into my line of thinking.  Helping kindle my love of the 1930s/1920s aesthetic, and the idea of immortal characters to keep their stories going on.  But that was back in late 2009, and it is still very wonderful, read as I try to describe something that I love!


Baccano (Dub) Review:
Length: 16 Episodes
Studio: Brian’s Brain/Funimation

As I stated in my introduction, Baccano does not follow a traditional story structure, and prefers to jump between several scenarios, groups of characters, and time frames.  Complaining it can be very difficult, since there is a lot of smaller plots that are going on with each character, but they tend to stay in one general time frame, or the brief skip is normally just a one time thing.  But what is the story about?  It is about a train traveling from Chicago to New York with a cult who wants to kidnap the wife and daughter of a Senator, fighting a bunch of psychopaths who want to watch the world burn  It is about a conflict in the mafia, mostly caused by the actions of an aloof brat.  It is about the oldest man on Earth trying to replicate a formula for immortality that was granted to him and several others long ago.  It is about a newspaper trying to piece together what is going on by selling information.  And it is all framed together by a very large ponce and a little girl who he treats like rubbish.

Normally, this would sound schizophrenic and odd, but after the first four or so episodes, you tend to have a firm grasp on what is going on, and you really just want the story to stay at one point for just long enough to wrap it up.  I don’t see what is so bad about doing a Tarantino thing, and focus on a bunch of short stories that happen around the same time, and then move to another perspective, but now we need to add multiple time frames.  I can understand having it this way so that we get to know all of the characters, and don’t need to rewatch it to get the most enjoyment out of it, and it does somehow, and I will probably never figure out, feel natural in its progression.  And at the very least, stuff happens very regularly.

But, this show revolves around the characters more than anything, and while there are many, many bit roles that I enjoy, such as all the people at the Daily Day, especially Sugarcube as a one note character.  I find that it will be easier just to talk about the 17 that the intro talks about.  This story lacks any main protagonist, so it will be more fitting than with my Squid Girl review.

Following the order of the intro, since it works well enough, we begin with Isaac and Miria, who I would describe as a good natured and hilarious version of Bonnie and Clyde.  They serve as the most emotional characters in the show, always having a smile on their face, and delivering a performance that could be considered to be hammy, but the characters are already as hammy as a pig, and I love them for that.  These are the kinds of people who steal from the Mafia to prevent robberies by giving it to the people in the streets.  In the intro, they steal candy by dressing up in a pumpkin mask for Isaac, and as Santa Claus for MIria.  In terms of comic relief, they are pretty much the best, and they somehow manage to get into both the creation of an elixir of immortality and the train robbery plot.  I try to limit myself on saying this, but I would love to see these two going on their 80 or so adventures where they steal museum doors, and dress up like actors to amend for their previous greedy missteps.  But I think what kills it is just their energy.

I will go on record by saying that Baccano has one of the best voice casts ever, there may be one or two off lines, but considering how there were a lot of new actors who got their first role in this series, it is amazing that it is not just great, but absolutely amazing.  From what I heard, this series had the largest amount of auditions that Funimation ever had, with 140 people just trying for 18 of the roles.  I could go on about the excellent job done by everyone, but I’d rather just spurge out now and declare that everyone brought their A-game, and the show does feel like a stylized gangster piece set in 1930s America, purely by the way it sounds, let alone the dialog with well placed lingo.

Getting back on track, we have Firo, and Maiza, members of the Martillo family, a group that experiences one of the happiest endings that involves fire in some capacity.  Firo originally viewed as main character-ish by the framers who only appear in the beginning and end of the series, since he does not do much until the end of the show.  Firo is really just a kind guy who can kick some tail, helping out those in need, and doing so without getting a scratch on his rockin’ green hat.  And while I do not like to spoil much, we learn very early on that some characters are immortal, and one of them is Maiza, who has some massive demons in his closet, and still manages to be a good person despite being alive for two and a half centuries.

He sadly doesn’t get a lot of screentime, which could have been greatly used to have him shine light on the time he spent wandering the world.  Maybe he could have been in multiple wars throughout time and never fired a bullet after the one he killed in the Revolutionary war.
We then have the Gandor brothers, Keith, Berga, and Luck, who all do… Gangster things?  We really do not dwell on these guys, since their whole mafia business with the Martillo family is pretty friendly, and they are not looking at the other families.  There is little reason to include three of these guys in your character based intro, when the two newspaper brokers have more personality than all three of these guys put together.  They do serve as a backstory for one character, but they’re very spoiler-tastic.

We then have Szilard, an immortal who is trying to create an elixir that can bestow immunity to any permanent physical wounds, and prevent the aging of a body.  Now, I love this show’s representation of immortals, not only because despite their immunity to permanent harm, , but the fact that the temporary harm still houses some great weight.  And while I am confused on how certain aspects work, like how the parts of the body all come back together, so what if they just put someone’s head in a metal box?  WIll they grow a new one, will the head deconstruct to the atomic level and squeeze through the dense cluster of atoms that make up the box?  But the actual character of Szilard is the only character who I can call a villain in this whole show.  He is relentless in his quest to create this elixir and to find all other immortals, but we never know his ultimate goal.  This can be due to the fact that there are only 13 episodes, and a 3-part side story continuation, but it actually just makes him more interesting than anything.

Szilard also has an assistant known as Ennis.  She sadly does not do much other than remain a fairly selfless person who is abided to do what Szilard commands.  Now, the actual explanation is pretty weak, and brings up an entire bucket of plot points that are nearly as interesting as the immortals’ struggles, but is only mentioned in the final section of the storyline she appears in.

Next, we have Lua and Ladd Russo.  Lua is an emotionally dead woman who Ladd carries around, like a trophy in an attempt to remove her love of life, so it will be diminished in a blood filled gush of sorrow when she experiences stockholm syndrome, and is murdered by Ladd.  Oh, I’m not spoiling anything, all of that is given away in the first three episodes, which I consider to be fair game in a review.  However, Ladd Russo is, to be frank, a psychopath who sees killing to be just another game, and those who do not even consider death when a gun is pointed at their temple are the bonus points.  He is cruel, brutal, childish, and an absolute blast to watch, he skips when he hears gunfire, and goes on a killing spree while dressed in white.  But it is the Joker effect, you know that they are awful people, but they are having so much fun, that it is hard to call them cruel or just plain old evil.

With a dart toss, we shift to Chane, who I cannot really talk about, since she does not start to play a role until about the tenth episode.  All I can say is that she is a mute that is great with knives, wrapped up in a black dress, but does not exhibit anything near the glee for killing that m’boy Ladd has.  And after a brief recap for things that this episode is directly following up, we dash to the duo of Nice (pronounced like Niece) and Jacuzzi.  I normally talk about the character design with the actual characters, but here’s the thing.  Most characters are pointless to describe, since they are just a bunch of white guys in suits and gals in dresses.  Don’t get me wrong, they are very distinct, but describing it would just take way too long.

Back to Nice, she is a young woman with scars all over her body, and eyepatch, and oddly a pair of glasses.  She has a love of explosives, and looks for an opportunity to use them, but comes off as fun loving, rather than a psychotic pyromaniac, she is just a decent person who likes to blow stuff up and sell liquor during the prohibition.  But she is really just working for Jacuzzi.  He has what is referred to as a sword tattoo on his face, but it always looked more like a curved knife to me.  Anyhow, Jacuzzi comes off as a wimp, crying at the drop of a hat, and panicking at an old fairy tale.  But let’s just say that he becomes a completely loveable character once you see how he reacts in the face of danger.  I really do love him, mostly because he shows how a criminal can still be viewed as a just individual.  Heck, most of these characters do.

We then flash to Eve and Dallas Genoard.  Eve is the most traditionally good character in the show, but her brother Dallas, is the second most villainous character in the show.  Eve does not do a whole bunch, but she never does anything bad either, she is simply searching for her brother, who has been missing for over a year in her storyline.  She fills a traditional female gender role, and does pray a lot in what I feel is a plot point in the light novel, probably revolving around the granter of the immortality, but is glanced over in the show.  ALso, she looks to be about 14, when I think she’s supposed to be 20, based on the picture of her and Dallas when they were the same height.  Speaking of Dallas, he is all and all a crook, who swaggers about New York with his crew of delinquents, beating up people who bump into him, and steal their money, since he lost most of his.  He does get his kamuffins, but that seem way too harsh, even for a jerk like him.  Eve says that there is good in him, but we only see the two together once, and the good in Dallas does not come out.  This is probably due to the manga, and does not diminish the story’s quality, since everyone does reach a certain degree of soldier, even though it really just stops, rather than ends.

We finish up with Czeslaw, a young boy who we learn early on, has been granted immortality for over 200 years.  He serves a nice bit of emotional weight, and really shows the negatives of immortality based on how much his innocence was destroyed, and how he used his appearance to manipulate events.  He is not as large as other players that I could mention, like the Rail Tracer, and Rachel of the Daily Days serves as equally important role, but children are great for one thing, and that is make things look all the darker.  Being an immortal, Czes does die a lot, and seeing a child experience things still holds something that should always be held, actual weight to the violence.

But touching the story for one bit, there is a very sour note that I must address, it involves the ending, but there are really no major spoilers in it.The duo of framing devices are now inside of the actual story as it is happening, which does not make a lot of sense whenever you try and think about it, since they are reporting events that have happened, as they are happening.  But one of them says that stories should not have any beginnings or endings, since every bit role has a story of their own, and so did their parents, and so do their children.  It makes sense, but it implies that stories of the other kind, with a definite beginning, middle, and end, are somehow wrong.

In other words, this show ends on some prick who is a disgrace to monocles, disregarding every story that is not still being written, until everything in the universe goes away, and all of the other universes in that dimension, and has it go back to the beginning of time, and details every single person’s life.  That is just dumb!  If that were the case, nobody would ever live, they’d just make the lives of everyone in a universe that has either been established, or they established themselves.  I wish that this character was real so I could smack him in the face and tell him that idea is just moronic.   At least it truly ends with Isaac and Miria redistributing the wealth in a hope to prevent several robberies, while shouting Merry Christmas.

In a quick wrap up, I find the animation and music of this show to both be very fitting.  The jazzy soundtrack works well, and does mix in some very well used ambiance for some of the darker bits, but they never get too deep into the dark territory.  As for the animation, it fits and has a good mix of making unique facial structures of characters, but still have them look very human.  The style is hard to describe, but it still looks like anime, although the poppiness of the most typical style has been held back, and it is very easy to view the characters as actual people.  I also found the setting to be very realized, the outfits, furnishings, and settings has a very nice feel to it, invoking the most positive aspects of one of the worst times in American history.

But as a whole, Baccano is still the barrel of fun that I recalled it being.  The characters are the heart of the story, and all but two of them I can safely refer to as genuinely good people despite their criminal activities.  The idealized period between the first and second world wars is always something that I am interested in, and everything makes it feel very realized, but never too over the top.  There is a much more grounded plot that does invoke fantastical and fictitious elements, but it stays very fun even though one of the best characters love to kill happy people.  There is a lot that could go wrong, and the plot is very near mean spirited at times, but it ends very happily when you take the preachy crap out.  The production values are fantastic, and every character’s voice has been selected to a near fault.  Despite a very jumbled structure, Baccano stays together, and loses little to nothing.  It is rare when I can say that something is unique, tells a great story, and is a lot of fun, but Baccano does all of those things, and comes out smelling like roses.

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