Opinion Prone

My opinions, let me tell them to you.

Review: Baccano!

June 16, 2008

Never before has so much madness been crammed into so short a series.



STORY – Surprisingly, Baccano!’s story — or really, I should say stories — is very straightforward. It’s just takes a while to realize how simple it is because of its crazy non-linear storytelling and ridiculous onslaught of characters. Indeed, this is definitely one of those series that I’m going to have to watch a second, or even third time, in order to pick up all the connecting threads that run through the thirteen episodes. I’m a big fan of things told in a non-sequential fashion though, and while the scenes change frequently enough to be incredibly confusing, it serves to move things along quickly, insuring that there’s rarely a dull moment (and even if there is, it won’t last long at all). It definitely won’t appeal to everyone, but I think it’s worth it to have to rewatch something like this a few times if needed — after all, that only means that its definitely got your attention.

Storytelling and pacing aside though, the story itself I found to be a very exciting and unique blend of genres. Prohibition era (or approximately so) America is not a common setting for an anime, nor is an entire cast of American characters. Alchemists and the mafia don’t generally mix either. It’s a very eclectic bunch of subjects to say the least. Other reviews have likened Baccano! to a slew of film noir and pulp fiction films, but I’ve personally not seen very many of them (not because of lack of interest though) and thus can’t compare very well. Still, there are similarities in style that I can pick out between the series and the few I have seen. Sin City comes to mind rather quickly, what with its multiple casts of characters and heavily exaggerated/stylized violence.

“Baccano” has been translated into meaning “noise” or “commotion” in Italian, a very fitting title for this series. Dozens of perspectives spin several stories, coincidentally connected. The only real downside to this chaotic presentation is that it makes room for a lot of plotholes and unresolved subplots and subsubplots. A lot of secondary characters’ stories feel unresolved or completely useless at the series’ conclusion. I have mixed feelings about this mostly because the lack of a solid conclusion contributes both to a sense of realism and the way the stories are “packaged” within the series (a newspaper company is recollecting it). It’s interesting, but it definitely means you’ll be left with questions. That said, I would not vote to lengthen the series. Thirteen episodes might seem a little short when there’s so much going on, but it’s actually the perfect length to me — any longer and it would have felt drawn out and forced. Ironic, I suppose, but this series breaks a lot of traditional boundaries and so traditional expectations don’t really apply in a lot of cases.

All in all though, you’re definitely in for one hell of a train ride.

CHARACTER – Oh, man, where do I start? The characters in Baccano!, more than anything else, make up a large part of the series, especially considering how closely they’re all connected to the overarching story. Because of their sheer number, and because of the varied genres that have been tossed into the mix, there is an incredible range of characters. From outrageously outrageous thieves to badass mafia under-bosses to conniving, immortal old men to beautiful, mute women to traumatized little children, there is a character for everyone to take an interest in, to sympathize with, to cheer on, and to hate. Some of the characters are perfect representations of their archetypes, and others are far out in the left field. It’s crazy (and most of them are crazy too).

Unfortunately though, while almost all of the characters are fun and amusing to watch, I would venture to say that there are just too many of them. I could not count all of the “main” characters on my ten fingers, though, of course, “main” is difficult to define in a series such as this. But really, having more than a dozen characters running around, each with their own story, gets very confusing, very fast, especially when you factor in the arbitrary-seeming jumps in time, space, and story. Names and faces become difficult to remember, especially the tangle of mafia families and their relationships to each other. It also becomes hard to keep track of who knows who and when since groups of characters meet at different points in the timeline (you see why I say this is probably a series you’ll need to watch more than once to understand all of).

Finally, once again because of the sheer number of characters, very few of them seem to show real depth or development throughout the series. Some of them overcome obstacles or face setbacks and challenges, but their personalities and core beliefs don’t change. I suppose its probably an impossible wish for a series such as this, and it may even be a distraction that would unbalance the even plain all the characters stand on, but a well-developed character is one expectation of a traditional series that I’m finding difficult to discard. But yes, since this is a rather unconventional series, its an unreasonable expectation for me to have, and I hold nothing against it.

ARTSTYLE & ANIMATION – At first glance, there’s really nothing exceptional about Baccano!’s art style, but after a while, after you see a few of the gorier scenes, you kind of notice that they treat the raw violence a little different than usual. While people seem to lose limbs and body parts too easily to be realistic at times, the rendering of their injuries is incredibly sophisticated and impressive. Seriously, a severed arm never looked so good! Additionally, the backgrounds and character costumes for the entire series show demonstrate the wonderful depth of research that went into the series’ creation — New York of the early forties is wonderfully convincing with appropriate fashions adorned on characters and so on. The interiors as well are pleasingly accurate — the insides of train cars, bars, and mansion homes are all fantastic. For an anime set in an unfamiliar time, it’s really great to see that they did indeed take the time to look stuff up.

Also, it was really awesome seeing them weave the previous episode (or episodes) sypnosis into the series opening. It’s refreshingly creative and lengthens the amount of time devoted to the actual episode, which is significant considering how much happens in every episode.

MUSIC – I love Baccano!’s music. From the very first time I heard its opening theme, I knew it was going to be one fantastic soundtrack. Since Cowboy Bebop’s foray into jazz, I don’t think I’ve seen any other series utilize that unique music choice. The jazz in Baccano! is energetic and upbeat, perfect for the mood of the series, not to mention wonderfully appropriate for its time period and setting. Beyond the opening song, Baccano! employs some really awesome Psycho-esque violin tracks that heighten suspense and drama, not to mention thrashing pianos with tension-filled broken chords abound. The ending theme is notably different from the rest of its music being a more traditional-sounding Japanese song, but its slowed melody and contemplative mood works well as you should definitely devote some time after each episode to sorting out and processing everything you just saw.

VOICE ACTING – With such a formidable cast, it would be incredibly difficult to have outstanding voices across the board. Still, Baccano! seems to do a pretty good job — none of the voices are shoddy by any means, though yes, some of them are quite normal and unspectacular. (I was most impressed by the fact that none of the female characters seemed to have that characteristically annoying voice. You know what I’m talking about.) Of those that do stand out, the voices for Isaac and Miria are at the top. This is probably due in part to their incredibly eccentric personalities, but their voices just fit them perfectly. Baccano! has yet to be licensed Stateside, but I’d definitely be interested in watching the dub should one ever be produced, especially since all of the characters are indeed American.

OVERALL – I won’t lie. Baccano! presents itself as a very confusing and complex series, and at times, it can be frustrating trying to decipher what exactly was going on and to remember who the hell everyone was. Despite this though, it somehow remains very entertaining to watch. There is a perfect balance between action-packed and “cool-down” scenes, and there is rarely a dull moment in between the crazy characters and crazy storylines. I’m going to go watch it again now.