Joining the ranks of FUNimation's latest hits such as Claymore and Darker than Black, Baccano! stands out as being very different. For starters the background on the show comes from a series of light novels dating back to 2002. Five years later Aniplex produced a 13 episode animated version of the series, and for what it's worth the show turned out to be kind of popular. Granted it didn't make a huge splash, but it was good enough to warrant attention on this side of the world. How does the first volume of this show stack up?
Well, let me just say right off the bat that Baccano! is a complex show that seems to be squeezing a lot into its time frame. In the first four episodes sparse details are thrown our way to give us a little look at the picture, but ultimately the introductory installment feels a tad overwhelming. That's not to say that it's a bad thing mind you, but rather that the series feels like it could have done with some more time to let us get accustomed to it.
I suppose you could say that the whole affair begins back in 1711 on a ship when a demon gives a group of alchemists an elixir for eternal life. This is kind of the catalyst that sets events in motion, but oddly enough the series itself takes place centuries later during Prohibition-Era America. It's a world filled with thieves, lowlifes, the mafia, high society, bums, and murders. In other words it's a charming place, though for anime it's quite a unique setting as far as the time period is concerned. All of the other pieces just kind of fall into place within the construct of the theme.
The root of the story, at least in the first four episodes, takes place on a train called the Flying Pussyfoot. Throughout the first volume, the series jumps back and forth between four distinctly different storylines spread across the span of 1930 through 1932. The first three episodes account for each year and in the fourth the three plotlines come together in a very compelling manner. It's a deftly executed form of storytelling that is complex and requires you to be invested in the show. In other words if you're not paying attention to what's happening then, well, you're going to miss the train as it were. Adding to the complexity of the opening moments of this show is the introduction of nearly twenty important characters. Getting them all done is virtually impossible, but as long as you watch carefully and let it all seep in, you'll be fine.
There are several key players in the show, though a few stand out more than others, such as thieves Isaac and Miria, and Camorra members Firo and Maiza. In all honesty if I were to list all of the characters and what their roles are in the show I think my head would explode. This is not the kind of series where you can pinpoint details and expect the reader to get a good grasp of the story. Instead, I'd say this is the kind of show where the set up and atmosphere is every bit as important as the characters. With that in mind Baccano! continues to show the darker side of the world and presents the cost of immortality, especially among a large group of people. It's a show filled with power struggles, unpredictable events, and unlikely alliances that may inevitably lead to betrayal.
This first volume of the show is an incredible piece of work. In all honesty I can't tell where the show is going, but I will say that the journey seems to be the point more so than the destination. It's so hard to see where the series is going because after these four episodes, we still don't really know what it's all about and whose who. The three episodes that set things in motion at different points in time and places start to come together in the fourth. It definitely feels like it's all building up to something though, and hopefully in the coming installments we'll get a clearer picture of just what that something is. For now I'd consider it recommended. The show definitely has a unique sense of style, the characters (though too numerous) are interesting, and the story has the potential to be very engaging.
Baccano!'s first volume is presented on DVD with an anamorphic widescreen transfer. The quality is pretty good, but it's definitely not the best we've seen from FUNimation. There is a bit of noise in the transfer and it's definitely a little too grainy at times. Some interlacing is also an issue that crops up and is noticeable from time to time. Other than these flaws the rest of the show looks good. Character designs are attractive, the animation is decent, and the show benefits from an all around solid production.
The show's audio is presented with Japanese 2.0 stereo and English 5.1 surround. Both tracks perform admirably with regards to the technical quality, though obviously the 5.1 has a slight edge in that department. The music is more engrossing, the sound effects have a bit more presence, and all around the light sense of immersion helps the series. The dub quality for both is good as well, and in all honesty I didn't really have a preference. The English cast does ham it up a little more with some accents and whatnot, but for the most part the actors don't cross too many lines.
Some trailers and clean opening and closing animations (Awesome music by the way. The theme is very reminiscent of Cowboy Bebop) are available here. There is also an audio commentary with some members of the English crew for the fourth episode. As far as English commentaries go, this one was pretty good. The crew has a lot of laughs as they watch the episode, but they also give some nice insight into recording the series. They don't provide any outstanding information, but what's here is entertaining enough to watch.
Baccano! is a fascinating show that instantly stands out. The premise alone should be enough to turn heads. I mean, how many times have we seen an anime about immortals getting together during the Prohibition Era in America? Um, none. That's not the most impressive thing about Baccano! though. The manner with which the production team brings all of the distinctly different storylines together is insidious. They basically have nothing to do with each other and throughout the episodes you'll see little threads that will eventually tie everything together. This is one that requires watching multiple times just to catch everything that's going on, and I'm definitely interested in seeing where it's all headed. Consider it recommended.