Twenty characters, two nonconsecutive centuries, one giant story.
1711 – A shipload of alchemists sailing on the Advenna Avis summon a devil that gives them the Grand Panacea, the prevention and cure to every human ailment – including death. Where the elixir and the immortals wind up after that is anyone’s guess…
1930 – The Prohibition is in full swing, and the transcontinental train The Flying Pussyfoot rides the rails from Chicago to New York, but with three gangs all fighting for the cargo, and a monster on the loose, hopefully no one bought a round trip ticket. A year afterwards, a girl searches for her missing brother. The year leading up to the ill-fated train trip, underworld families fight a turf war. All throughout, two happy-go-lucky thieves act on their every whim.
|It is incredibly hard to summarize Baccano! (Italian for “loud noise”) for the very reason of the above summary’s first sentence – there are around 20 “main” characters – all of them figuring prominently in the story – and each and every seeming sub-plot they’re involved in is connected together, but somehow each plotline doesn’t lose its distinction in the overall story. Sound confusing? It is. But Baccano! helps things along by weaving its satisfyingly elaborate plot web together with threads of solid writing and characters that shimmer with fantastic art, appropriate period-styled music, and gorgeous animation.So really, how confusing is “confusing?” That depends on the attentiveness of the viewer. On top of following the stories of 20 characters, the episodes also unfold in a non-linear fashion. However, as long as you watch it closely enough to generally know what all the loose ends are (on either side, no less), the show will connect them in time. Sometimes it will give you the end, then the beginning, then the middle; for others it will give you the middle, then the beginning, then the end – really, every possible combination is explored. Don’t fear, though – what does progress linearly is the irony and the suspense. It plays things out of order to really ramp up the entertainment factor, and as is mentioned in the final episode, that’s really the point, isn’t it? And entertain it does! The show is a consistently long string of flashy (and bloody!!!) fight scenes, morsels of mystery, suspenseful plot points, and insightful moments of backstory. The only time the show lets up is when it needs to give some exposition for the sequel OVA arc of episodes that exist only on the DVD release of the show, but still tie in to everything else.
The meandering nature of the plot also means that there’s a lot to go back and see on second viewing; actions taken or lines said by characters that hadn’t yet been introduced that just don’t click in the big picture the first time through suddenly jump out at you. The show is also so entertaining that it would be worth watching over and over again even without the added layers to uncover.
The characters in Baccano! are diverse and, for the most part, distinct. It’s a great help that the opening credits reinforce who most of the main players are – 17 of them, name cards and everything. There are a couple other important characters that appear in it that don’t get a name card, and at least one that doesn’t appear in the credits at all. They’re also an amalgam of interesting personalities – you’ve got a couple serial killers, a suicidal woman, a mute, a living doll, a megalomaniac, cruel mobsters, a pyromaniac, an overly emotional bootlegger, two hilariously carefree (and careless) thieves… and the list goes on. It’s not that they develop very much over the course of the show, either – it’s just so much fun watching them interact. That’s something else the show does well – character interactions. When personalities collide across plotlines, they do so in interesting ways that just feel natural. Actions are followed by sensical, even if surprising, reactions.
Superficially, this show is absolutely top-notch. The character designs are distinct, interesting, and just really well-done. They’re animated in the truest sense of the word, just slightly exaggerated in such a way to enhance the essence and feeling of whatever they’re doing. The soundtrack is comprised of exactly the kind of music one would expect for an action show in a 1930s setting – mostly groovy jazz numbers with some slower stuff for lower-key or high-class moments. The voice acting is well-done, too. There is nothing of particular note in the Japanese dub, but the voices are solid across the board. The English dub of the show, however, kicks things up a notch by adding Chicago and New York accents to some of the characters. This would be a fantastic additional touch if it weren’t for some awkward, unnatural wording in the English script.
Baccano! is one of the most consistently enjoyable anime-watching experiences I’ve ever had. My visceral appetite was sated by the violence (there are immortals – they can handle it), my thinking cap was on for all the mystery and lingering questions, it was funny, it was dramatic, my eyes were pleased, and my foot was tapping. Simply put, Baccano! is an anime firing on every possible well-oiled cylinder.