Monday, September 26, 2011

Anime Review: Baccano!

Today we’re looking at an anime that was suggested by a reader I know only as “Naturealmondco”; they listed it as one of their favorites and I certainly had heard of it as its pretty dang popular.


Baccano! was originally a Light Novel series written by Ryohgo Narita and drawn by Katsumi Enami that began in 2003 and is still ongoing (Uh oh…).  An anime adaptation was produced by Brain’s Base in 2007 and FUNimation Entertainment released it in North America in 2009.    It’s a shorter series; originally thirteen episodes with a three episode OVA released later (In the American release they were all packaged together).  It’s no secret that this is an acclaimed anime series, one of the best rated ones of the last decade, but I hadn’t seen it yet at all and everything I heard about it I’d pretty much forgotten about.   So the question is did I agree with everyone else or was it an overrated, overhyped mess.

Full review after the jump.


(Some of) The cast of Baccano!
God help us all...
In 1930 a mysterious old man is working on a substance that could drastically alter the course of human history, however his affairs get entangled with gangsters and thieves and his plans are quickly derailed.  In 1931 on the transcontinental train, The Flying Pussyfoot,  several groups seem to be trying to take control for different purposes in the most violent ways possible. None of them realize that a monster is on the train waiting to strike. In 1932 Eve Genoard searches for her lost brother, not suspecting the terrifying secret behind his disappearance.  The Vice President of the Daily Days, Gustav St. Germain, and his assistant Carol examine these incidents while trying to piece together where the story truly begins and who is the main character.

The thing you’ll likely first notice about this show is that it’s a story is not told in a linear fashion.  All three storylines above are told concurrently.  All three stories are related, even if it’s immediate obvious, and feature several of the same characters.  It’s extremely confusing when you start out on the first episode because of this. Along with the huge cast and narrative jumps it will continue to be a bit hard to keep with everything.  As I understand it several of the Light Novel’s stories were used in this anime and they decided to switch back and forth between them rather than show them one after the other.  You might understandably be turned off by the fact that it will feel like you’ve missed a ton of episodes but to that I say stick with it because the vast majority of the questions you have at the beginning of the series will be answered by the end.  The more episodes you watch the more things start to make more and more sense and there’s a lot of “A-ha” moments that I really, really liked.  This is partly due to the strength of the writing of the plot.  There’s lot of complexity to it, sure, but there’s also a ton of really well done twists and reveals that literally shocked me or made me stand up and yell from the unadulterated awesome.  This is also partly due to the strength of the characters.

Firo and Maiza: Vicious, blood thirsty gangsters.  Probably
The cast is huge and almost anyone you see talking is at least somewhat important; it’s a true blue ensemble with no one being a central lead.  It’s intimidating but surprisingly the large cast all mostly all well developed. There are ton of interesting characters ere and somehow, within merely 16 episodes the anime manages to make you care about them or otherwise have an emotional attachment to them (Like terror).  There is a wide range of personalities featured in this show which makes finding a character you really like very easy.  The plot, as I mentioned, can be confusing but it is action packed, off the wall crazy, over the top, funny, and at times terrifying; and yet it all works extremely well.  This is one of those shows that had me on the edge of my seat nearly every episode and was eagerly awaiting the next installment.

The artwork was mostly good, although every once in a while there was a hiccup in the animation and sometimes things may have looked to so great.   In general though this is one of the better looking cartoons I’ve reviewed.  The music is really jazzy, which is appropriate considering the era which most of the how takes place.  The opening theme song, "Gun's & Roses" by Paradise Lunch, is also one of the most notable of the anime I’ve seen from the 2000s.  The English dub is AWESOME!   I know there are certain anime that are known for having really good English tracks but I think this show may be one of, if not the best, examples ever made.  The characters are so well acted, even going so far as using appropriate accents, that in a lot of ways it makes this anime.  When I was a kid I was one of those guys who hated hearing English tracks but I have to say that it’s so good that I really can’t imagine listening to the original Japanese.  FUNimation’s dubs are usually good but they take it to a whole new level here.

Ladd Russo: Joker-level homicidal insanity
There are some negatives.  The ending of the first thirteen episodes felt pretty nicely wrapped up and felt very conclusive despite the fact not every plot was wrapped up.  Had that been the end of the show it actually would have been a pretty satisfying ending.  Weirdly the OVA episodes answer the things that lingered from the TV show but were filled with so many sequel hooks that the series, literally at the last minute, ended with the same problem as The Sacred Blacksmith and Black Blood Brothers: it feels like there’s a lot more plot that I’m not going to get to see.  I could just go read the books I guess...except, oops, they haven’t been released in this country.  Also this is an extremely violent cartoon and the squeamish might be uncomfortable with what happens.  Hell, I was uncomfortable.

Baccano! is awesome!  This anime has everything: action, drama, strong characters, good visuals, and great acting.   No body of work is perfect so there are some annoying things here and there but at the end of the day they don’t matter.  This is one of the best anime ever made.  It has skyrocketed to the top of my favorite series list.  Although I was clearly a big fan of Eden of the East and Darker than Black neither of those show, fantastic as they may have been, had that special something that I look for in shows I love without condition.  But Baccono! does.  I have been trying to limit the amount I say about the show itself because this one of those times you want to go into it knowing as little as possible.  At the risk of giving too much away this show is basically Pulp Fiction meets Highlander set in Prohibition Era New York.  If that doesn’t sound insanely awesome to you then I feel extremely bad for the half-life you live.  For everyone else I highly, highly recommend this show.  Watch it twice.

I don't want to spoil who or what this creature is
But it is the greatest thing in the history of awesome
Baccano! gets 5 out of 5 Adorable Pandas.


Pros 

-Great characters

-Well written plot

-Good animation

-Well done action scenes

-One of the best English dubs of all time

Cons 

-The plot can be confusing

-The violence can put some people off

-Ends by setting up for more stories that won’t come


If you have any suggestions or requests for an anime review let me know in the comment section or shoot me an e-mail at betaisdead@gmail.com.

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