Written by Bananaowns
Images courtesy of Brain’s Base & Funimation
There is something intrinsically interesting about any piece of fiction about organized crime. My mind instantly goes to my favorite Scorsese film, Goodfellas. Anything about the mafia is just laced in drama and character. Despite these works focusing on some less than savory individuals, the audience has a tendency to root for these characters. These types of shows also bring with a certain historical interest. Specifically, the various time periods can become just as important as the characters themselves. Anything set in the 1930’s instantly piques my interest. That’s one of the reasons why The Untouchables remains one of my favorite films; prohibition-era stories are endlessly fascinating. So when I heard of Baccano!, an anime that decided to tackle a mob story within this setting, I was instantly interested. Another light novel adaptation, Baccano! features a large cast of characters, with the story largely focused in prohibition-era United States, albeit with a supernatural twist. The 16 episode run is an absolute treat for any fan of anime. I am Bananaowns and this is an Otaku Youth anime review.
Baccano! tells the tale of an action packed train ride on the renowned Flying Pussyfoot, or at least that’s where a majority of the plot is focused. The story of Baccano! actually jumps around quite a bit, ranging from a few years in the past to a few hundred years in the past. However, the story always seems to return to the ill-fated train ride. These story jumps largely serve as a means of providing backstory to the large cast of characters. In a structural sense, this can cause the overall plot to be relatively confusing early on, as the time periods can jump dramatically. One scene might take place after the train ride and the one immediately following might take place before. I did not really grasp the larger implications of the plot, until I was about seven or so episodes in. Given the significant amount of ongoing plot points, it can be difficult to track story progression in each situation. This initial confusion could be very off-putting; it almost made me drop the show. However, those who decide to keep watching Baccano! will be rewarded immensely. The plot could be described as similar to that of a puzzle. Initially, the viewer is just presented with a bunch of pieces, but as the series progresses, the pieces do fall into place.
The plot focuses on a variety of crime families and outside factions, as they compete for turf and settle debts, often with tommy guns. The most interesting aspect involves how these various factions deal with certain people with supernatural abilities. These supernatural abilities serve as the overarching connector between the various plot threads. In the end, Baccano! sets up an interesting mafia story, with an added element of the supernatural. The first 13 episodes are an absolutely amazing run of episodes. The many twists and turns of the plot make these episodes very captivating. My problem largely lies with the last three episodes. These serve as an epilogue of sorts, tying up the few plot threads after the initial 13 episode run. These episodes are really not that interesting. The situation with the Flying Pussyfoot is done by this point and a majority of the large cast is left sitting around and playing with dominos. This might be due to the last three episodes being released as OVA’s on the DVD releases of the series. These episodes lack the charm of the first 13, although the final episode does end the series very well. Overall, the entire 16 episode run is worth watching for the plot.
I have absolutely no idea how to begin to describe the cast of Baccano! other than the fact that it’s humongous. There’s Isaac and Miria, the light-hearted couple, who are also thieves. These two receive quite a lot of screen time and could be perceived as annoying by some, given the subject matter of latter episodes. However, these two are very endearing. By the end of the series, it’s impossible to not love their idiotic optimism. There is also Jacuzzi and Nice’s gang of thieves as well. Jacuzzi is a crybaby with a heart of gold, but will not hesitate to come to action. Nice is an explosive expert and Jacuzzi’s girlfriend. The story also sees in the introduction of the cult of Huey Laforet, with the major character being Chane Laforet, his daughter. Chane possesses an intense loyalty to Huey, to the point where she gave up her voice to protect his secrets. There are also a large amount of members from a variety of mafia families. The Russo family contains the psychopathic, Ladd Russo, a hitman who possesses an intense love for violence. My favorite character is Firo Prochainezo, a member of the Martillo family. Firo is an insanely likeable character. He possesses an innate charm and innocence, but is not above kicking some ass.
This is just a fraction of the characters of Baccano! There are just so many characters, that I could probably fill an entire review period just going over the characters. This is also a problem, at least early on. Baccano! suffers from a problem that is also present in Fate/Zero. The amount of characters makes it extremely confusing to follow the plot, especially when you consider the variety of time periods present in the show. It took quite a few episodes before I began to have an understanding of which character was from which family, organization, or even time period. This could be a potential problem for early viewers as well. With how much time it takes to get everything straight, people who are not initially impressed by the first couple of episodes could drop the series. The amount of characters is overwhelming. However, much like with the plot, those that stick with the series will be adequately rewarded. The plethora of characters would be more of a problem, if they were uninteresting, but that is not the case. Every one of the characters is interesting in their own way and each one significantly alters the plot. This show has the best ensemble cast of any anime.
The animation of Baccano! is one of the weaker aspects of the show. The animation quality is fairly average overall. Certain scenes showcase diminished animation quality, but it’s not bad enough to alter my enjoyment of the show. The animation of the many action scenes is pretty good. The characters possess a fluid movement and the scenes are choreographed excellently as well. The characters are also animated well during dialogue, with their expressions being a highlight of the animation. This series really excels in the set and character design. The 1930’s design aesthetic is gorgeous. Prohibition-era New York City looks dark and drab. My favorite set piece is the Flying Pussyfoot. Between the variety of cars and the overall look of the train, the scenes on the Flying Pussyfoot are some of the better scenes of Baccano! Each one of the characters possesses an absolutely great design. My personal favorites being the variety of the wardrobe employed by Isaac and Miria. Besides this, I do not have much more to say about the animation quality. It’s mediocre, but the design aesthetic is great.
The sound design of Baccano! is handled very well, with the highlight being the amazing voice acting. The voice actor for each character does a tremendous job of bringing their respective character to life. For an ensemble cast, there is only one voice actor that is very weak. The voice actor for the Senator, is not up to the same level of quality as the rest of the cast. His performance is just bland and uninteresting. It almost sounds like the voice actor was bored as he recorded his lines. In terms of sound design, the variety of sound effects are handled very well. The sound effects of the guns are especially impressive. In regards to the music, it is phenomenal. The jazz pieces employed by the show perfectly encapsulate the prohibition-era setting. The soundtrack really adds an extra level to Baccano! The intro song alone perfectly encapsulates the tone of the series. Overall, the voice acting and music are great.
Baccano! is a great anime that covers a subject matter that I absolutely love. However, it is not perfect and that is due to the large cast of characters and the attempt to adequately cover them all. This leads to the issue of the rather confusing and fragmented story early on in the series. It takes quite a long time to have an adequate handling on the various settings and the large cast of characters. Those who do manage to overcome this hurdle, will be treated to a roller coaster ride of an anime. Despite the large cast, each character is fleshed out very well and is ultimately interesting. The show possesses another flaw concerning the rather mediocre animation quality, but this is offset by the excellent character and background design. The sound presents phenomenal voice acting and a great selection of jazz music. Baccano! really is an entertaining watch and is a rare gateway anime. It is a perfect series for those that are unfamiliar with anime in general. Baccano! earns my stamp of approval. Join me again next week for another anime review.