Let’s talk about Baccano.
Baccano is a shounen light novel series adapted into an Anime written by Ryohgo Narita, set primarily in Industrial America. Baccano tells the stories of a large number of different people and factions, and how they all intertwine to form a collective story. ‘Baccano’ means ‘Ruckus’ in Italian, and the nature of the series reflects this name very well. There isn’t really a ‘main character’ per-se, but rather, many different characters, each with their own story to tell. The stories focus on a wide variety of themes, from the comic relief thief couple Isaac and Miria and their seemingly purposeless escapedes, a group of immortals bent on killing each other, to the mysterious incidents of the mythical Rail Tracer. It has a bit of everything, but it’s not for the faint of heart, as the show has some very dark and graphic scenes that will cause a large portion of the anime-viewing demographic to look the other way. But for those who can appreciate a mature, well-rounded anime with heaps of meat to chomp into, you may find something to enjoy in this gem.
“Depending on who you place in the same situation, the characteristics of said incident change kaleidoscopically. In other words, there is one incident. However, there are as many stories explaining it as there are people involved in it.” -Gustav Saint Germain. A bit of Meta within Baccano.
The story is told through progressively unveiling the stories of the different groups in unchronological order. Most of the events in the story are held within the years 1930 to 1932, and most of these characters and stories are somehow connected to the Flying Pussyfoot incident, a mysterious series of murders that occured on the transcontinental train. The story keeps panning between events before the incident, after the incident, and most importantly the incident itself. The incident aboard the flying pussyfoot could be considered the ‘present’ of the story, as it’s told mostly in chronological order, and everything else revolves around it. Given the huge cast of characters, it would take way too much time to examine every single character’s individual stories, but I can give a brief rundown of the main points the series revolves around. The beginnings of the collective story can be traced back to a few centuries ago, when a group of people discovered the power of immortality. The information telling how to obtain that power was kept in the mind of one person however, and aside from many incomplete attempts at replicating the effect, none have ever really gained immortality since then. The immortals also have the power to ‘devour’ one another, gaining all of their knowledge and memories. This is the only way to kill an immortal, and so a bit of a war between the immortals continues centuries later. One part of the story follows one of the immortals’ quest to devour the one who possesses the knowledge to gain immortality, so he can bestow it upon others. Another side of the story follows an unrelated character who gets caught up in the aforementioned conflict, and ends up mysteriously disappearing, leaving his younger sister to try to find and save him. Then there’s the eccentric thief couple Isaac and Miria, a comic-relief duo who spend their time stealing from people (often stealing the most odd things in hilarious ways), who themselves end up caught in everyone else’s troubles, yet still manage to stay happy and spread their happiness on to everyone else. All of these stories, and many more, connect with the Flying Pussyfoot incident. A group of psychotic killers who wish for nothing more than to murder people for their own sick pleasure, a faction of cultists wishing to honor and assist their immortal leader, a group of lone rebels acting on their own trying to be heroes, a mysterious serial killer acting out his own view of justice, and many more. Baccano has a bit of everything, and trying to piece all of these individual stories together and seeing how they relate is half the fun of Baccano.
I must say, it’s pretty uncommon to an encounter an Anime with a historical Western setting that pulls it off this well. Baccano is one of those few Animes that just feels right watching in the English Dub (which by the way was very well voiced), and I can almost imagine the light novels passing off as western novels were they released in English (purely speculation). Many of the themes of Baccano produce an experience common to both modern and vintage western action cinema, yet it retains many of the elements we love about anime as well (see: the unrealistically epic fight scenes). As I aluded to earlier, this series is very heavy on the gore. Some of the graphical scenes give off an unsettling feeling similar to Higurashi. Sometimes the darker scenes are accompanied with overtones of black humour. It’s a surprising contrast to the light-hearted humour of Isaac and Miria, but I guess they’re there to prevent the show from becoming an emo fest. They have that same effect on the characters too, one of the episode subtitles even stated “Isaac and Miria Unintentionally Spread Happiness Around Them“. And yet, they somehow end up being perhaps the most central duo to the plot in the whole story. They seem to know just about everyone in the cast in SOME way.
On that point, the diversity of the characters is pretty amazing. With our happy-go-lucky duo here and their ability to completely change the the feel of any given seen with their presence alone, we have other characters which bring their own personal emotions to the plate and influence the story. Whenever Ladd Russo appears in a scene, you know there’s gonna be a bloodbath, and you always get that awkward feeling whenever you see just how much he loves killing. Whenever Huey and Chane Laforet make an appearance in the story, things always become very solemn and dark. Jacuzzi Splot is more of a good-natured crybaby, and his presence can make any seemingly ordinary scene become a depressing one, or a very tense scene become that bit more mellow. Graham Specter is the psychotic sophist that spends every breathing moment either breaking something (or someone) apart, philosophising about life, or most often a mix of the two. Szilard Quates is the big bad, the Gandor family (Luck especially) are the cool mobsters with a value for honor and trust, Elmer Albatross is the happiest man in the world who wishes nothing more than to make everyone smile, Eve Genoard is the sincere young lady with a good heart who believes in miracles. And then there’s the Information Brokers, the characters who exist to investigate all of the stories in Baccano and try to make sense of them all, offering an objective and informative viewpoint. The higher-ups could even be considered the meta-characters of Baccano, acting the part as the reader and writer, and shedding light on many of the questions and themes that Baccano proposes, trying to make sense of the whole ruckus of the continuity. For a viewer with a taste for intellectual stimulation, piecing together the puzzle of Baccano has been quite entertaining, and it gives the series heaps of rewatch value. This is one of those texts where you’ll get more out of it every time you experience it, and I’m always thankful for that in Anime.
Final thoughts? Baccano is a very well-written Anime series with heaps of depth and a wide variety of interesting characters, all with their own unique stories and plenty of depth to themselves. I think Baccano sets a great example of what every good narrative should aspire to be; a collection of accounts and stories which intertwine and accumulate into one grand narrative, just like a mirror of real life. That in itself is a meta-theme aluded to by Gustav Saint Germain and Carol themselves. It’s almost difficult to compare to most contemporary Anime, it did a very good job distinguishing itself from the popular works of the time, and it’s gained it’s own huge following as a result. Bravo, Ryohgo Narita. It’s my first time witnessing your skill, but you’ve proven yourself exceptionally. I look forward to discovering if Durarara holds a candle to this already very high benchmark you’ve set for yourself!