Baccano! – Review & Analysis

“Baccano!” is a thirteen episode series that finished airing in Japan in November of 2007.

Baccano starts up with an upbeat, jazzy tune and an introduction naming the cast in quick, ten second spots. It’s an enjoyable opening sequence and is symbolic of the colorful (to put it lightly) sorts of characters that fill the world Baccano. I don’t usually enjoy, or even watch, the openings for anime for a couple reasons. 1) Whether I like the opening or not is entirely dependent on the song choice. After all, openings are little more than short music videos. And 2) quite often openings are jam packed with inherent spoilers about the relationships of the characters. You know how annoying it is to figure out who the love interest, best friend, bad guy, and even what the basic premise is a minute and thirty seconds into the very first episode? I don’t want to learn all that from a music video. It’s a good thing that Baccano’s story isn’t so cookie-cutter to be laid out so easily like that as would be typical for a generic anime. No, far from it.

I’d best get this out of the way because the comparisons are unavoidable and if anyone’s ever told you about Baccano, it’s likely this came up. Baccano is not an anime version of Pulp Fiction. In terms of actual story content, Baccano is very different than Pulp Fiction. However, the influences are undeniable and I won’t be able to avoid talking about the similarities between the two. Both are infused with organized crime, though neither use that element to drive plot. Rather, it’s used to flavor the environment/characters and becomes little more than a statement of the natures of people the characters are. In the beginning of Baccano I spent much time trying to memorize the names of each mafia family and their relations to one another only to discover that none of it really mattered in the big picture. The crime syndicates merely act as a vehicle for the characters. This is as opposed to a film like “The Godfather”, the mother of all mafia movies, where the roles are reversed: the characters are a vehicle for the story of the crime syndicates and their relationships with one another.

The narration is told through a series of non-linear, random but interconnected coincidences in the vein of Pulp Fiction. As the plot progresses, it becomes something of a “seperation of six degrees” type of thing. Though the stories of the characters are told separately at first, they’re all connected to one another through something of a “he’s the friend of a friend of a friend”; or rather, in this case, more like “he’s the friend of the guy who was killed by the hitman who works for”….you get the idea. Baccano rarely focuses on a single character for too long, which put me off at first. I had a few concerns with that, the first being that I might not get to know the characters as well as I would like. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case. Even though each episode covers a different set of protagonists, all of them are constantly popping in and out of each other’s stories. There’s a steady flow of character development for everyone equally and you’ll continue to learn about them regardless who the focus is of the episode.

For instance, the first set of protagonists we learn about are Isaac and Miria, a quirky comedic duo. While there is no traditional central character for Baccano, I would consider them the heart of the anime. I had immediately grown attached them and feared something would be missing in the next episode as the focus shifted but I was pleasantly surprised to see them make their reappearance as cameos. Now although this shift in focus transitions smoothly and everything starts coming together nicely, as a result of these switches come atmospheric changes that make the mood of Baccano inconsistent and differ greatly from one episode to the next. Some episodes are filled with light-hearted banter while others are very dark and purposefully resemble a horror movie. This could be jarring for some people as it messes with the pacing.

My other worry with these shifts in character focus was that I might not like a protagonist of a particular episode. After all, for many anime only a few characters are given a decent amount of depth that warrant their own episodes and the others are left as typical archetypes. For an anime filled with this many people, I wondered how much depth could they spread around. Apparently plenty. I realize now that those are the anime that are truly good; anime where you not only care about the main characters but everybody around them as well. It also helps that they have great character designs and are pleasing to the eye. The art style is very crisp, clean, and modern, I really enjoyed it. Admittedly, though most of the designs are distinct, you might still have trouble differing each of the characters from one another in the beginning because of the huge cast. Had another, more mundane style been used, this could of easily been more of a problem. In addition, the excellent choice in the Japanese voice actors help in distinguishing all of them. The casting was absolutely spot on in this series and the actors really bring the vibrant individuals to life. The culmination of all these ingredients make the characters one of the best aspects of Baccano and is one of the selling points of this series.

And I’m including Baccano’s psychopathic, bloodthirsty killers in that statement. Who would of thought? Certainly not I because I’m usually find those types of characters irritating, unrelatable, and are usually there simply to be “the bad guy”, the guy you’re supposed to hate. To me, that’s the sign of a failed character, one that comes off as flat and two-dimensional. Their only purpose is to drive plot points and to fill time by blabbering on about ridiculous philosophies for 10+ minutes, as these archetypes often do. This could of been a big issue for me because several of the main characters in Baccano are the types of crazies who love to babble on about life philosophy.

Yet Baccano managed to pull it off, brilliantly so. Never before have I been so thoroughly entertained watching some psycho hop up and down in a pool of blood spouting off nonsensical things. Each of these killer-types have a very real vibrance to them, adding a depth you wouldn’t usually see in such characters. To be fair, none of them are truly in the vein of the aforementioned bad guy archetype, they only appear to be so at first glance. They’re all given sympathetic or admirable traits as you learn more about them. That’s not to say that Baccano is without it’s central “I hate that guy”, and I suppose every story needs one of those.

Overall, Baccano has high production values and the animation is great. Ranging from the way the characters move (you haven’t seen nothing until you’ve seen a grown man happily skip down a hall covered in blood) to the action sequences. Baccano has a lot less action than you might expect, however, the few fights there are come across as superbly choreographed. The battles can be very fantastical with iconic “damn that was cool” kind of moments that you only get from anime. Or the Matrix. Baccano is also surprisingly gory, the type of gore you’d expect from a vampire anime or the sort. Take the level of violence in Pulp Fiction and magnify that by ten for an accurate picture of what you can expect. Granted, the truly gruesome stuff is implied and happens off-screen…for the most part. The world is exaggerated with enough hyperbole that it won’t disturb you on the level one of those old school, Ninja Scroll-type anime might but you will definitely be doing some cringing.

At it’s base, Baccano is a terrific character driven drama with supernatural and mafia elements as a backdrop, although the former becomes more important than the latter and a key part of the motivations for many of the characters. Describing Baccano so clear cut like that, you might think, “Oh okay, I get it”. But it’s no where near as simple as that description with numerous aspects of Baccano being a unique rarity amongst its peers. While the actual story itself isn’t amazing in and of itself, the excellent execution of how it’s told that makes it stand out and is one never before seen in an anime.

Rating: A



4 Responses to “Baccano! – Review & Analysis”

  1. kasumikaoru Says:

    “While there is no traditional central character for Baccano, I would consider them the heart of the anime.”

    I could not agree any more. Even though there are so many intriguing characters in Baccano!, I felt very attached to both Isaac and Miria immediately after their introduction into the series. To me, this quirky duo reminds me so much of the drunken alcoholic from Black Cat. (His cameos were pricelessly random.)

    I have such high hopes for this series; I truly hope that it delivers. I can’t wait to post my own review of Baccano! once I have finished, but I must say that this review was immensely thorough. Wonderful job!

  2. Tinkiness Says:

    Baccano is indeed quite a sensational experience. It’s really rare to see good stuff coming out of the industry nowadays, whether the story came from an external source or not… but Baccano was very well done, animation and/or otherwise~ ^^

  3. I love this site, being a guy new to anime.

    Please post more.

  4. […] post info By japanNuke Categories: Baccano! Tags: Baccano anime, reviev: […]

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