Director: Takahiro Omori
Writer (of original light novel): Ryohgo Narita
Animation Studios: Brain’s Base
Version Watched: Dubbed (Funimation)
There are a number of stereotypes and tropes associated with anime. They pop up again and again because they’re an easy formula to follow and people tend to enjoy watching shows they feature in; they’re comfortable, familiar and entertaining for a lot of viewers. If you’re a little sick of “the usual” though, as I’m sure some of you are, Baccano is probably what you’re looking for. There are a couple of factors that prevent it from reaching greatness in my eyes but it was certainly entertaining to watch and I don’t hesitate to recommend it.
Set predominantly in the United States during the 1930s, Baccano’s story revolves around the events occurring on a certain train: the transcontinental Flying Pussyfoot. Or perhaps it would be better to say that is simply where all of Baccano’s storylines cross. The show jumps between a plethora of separate, smaller stories, with the Flying Pussyfoot simply being a common point between them. Unfortunately, the switching between storylines happens so often that the first few episodes are more confusing than entertaining as you try to orient yourself to what’s going on when and who’s who. While you soon manage to grasp a vague idea of what’s going on, the story jumping continues for the entirety of the series with a frequency that makes it hard to become invested in any one set of events. Still, the storytelling itself is undeniably good and almost makes up for the jumbled way it is presented.
Whether it be the eccentric thieves set on righting their past wrongs, the bomb-making and alcohol-brewing gang whose leader is a snivelling crybaby with a heart of gold and balls of steel, or the black sheep of a mafia family who loves nothing more than killing unsuspecting victims and revelling in their pain, Baccano is different from whatever you’ve seen before. One of the oddities about the series, however, is that they’ve managed to imbue some of their characters with immortality without it ever becoming a really major feature. I mean, that fact that they’re immortal is thrown about repeatedly but it never really seems important because those characters aren’t treated any differently from the others. In Baccano, immortality is just a part of another one of its many stories waiting to be told. I’m not saying it’s either a good or a bad thing, just that it’s interesting. As a side note, Baccano has some incredibly brutal scenes that are handled very well; the shock factor is used to complement all of the other aspects of the scene rather than being a feature in and of itself.
As you may have guessed, the large number of storylines Baccano follows means that it also features a large number of characters. While some of the characters have very strong personalities and are entertaining to watch, others show up so infrequently that it’s hard to remember who they are or what they have done previously. There are also three or four mafia families that are mentioned repeatedly, and despite having just finished the series I’m not sure I could tell you which one is which. While most of the characters have a predominantly serious nature, there is one pair that plays the part of comedic relief with such cringe-worthy yet hilarious antics that you can’t help but like them. With all of the killing and less-than-honorable happenings going on that one couple make for a very welcome and amusing series of breaks from the action.
Having watched the dubbed version of the series I feel the voice acting is worth commenting on. While I personally am not acquainted with how 1930s American accents are supposed to sound, the character and variety brought to the table by Baccano’s voice actors is truly admirable. Though I’m sure the sub is also well done this is one case where I’m glad I chose to watch the dubbed version as I just can’t see the setting being brought to life as well by Japanese voice actors, especially because the localisation team has done an amazing job translating the original script into recognisably colloquial language that would have been used during that time period. The animation, while not quite good enough to be called spectacular, is also very easy on the eyes, with particular scenes like when immortals regenerate after death being particularly well done. Characters’ designs and expressions are worth mentioning as well for their uniqueness and quality that really aren’t what you would normally expect from anime.
Summary – If nothing else, Baccano’s production quality is excellent. It won’t wow you with flashy graphics but the attention to detail, especially in the dubbed version, is phenomenal. The story, while being all over the place, is worth watching even if the relatively small scale of the events means they won’t exactly keep you on the edge of your seat. The inconsistencies in event and character importance prevent any real sense of immersion in what’s going on but don’t stop me from recommending this series. Baccano is different from anything you may have seen before.
Score: 7.5/10 – Enjoyable