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 (16 if you count the ones released on DVD and not aired) 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.
After experiencing the first volume, I can honestly say that Baccano! is a complex anime. It's a show that packs in a ton of exposition within the first few episodes and it expects you to "get it" in a short amount of time. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, because the show has plenty of depth and is quite entertaining, but it definitely requires that you watch it a second time just to be sure you picked up all of the details. But what exactly is the show all about?
The series is set in Prohibition-Era America, and it's difficult to pinpoint an exact year because the show tends to use time as a plot device. It shows you different storylines and perspectives from various points, and eventually merges the tales into one. With nearly twenty characters vying for the role of the lead there's quite a lot of stuff to pick up. Standout characters include Carol and St-Germain who seem to be standing outside of the events trying to determine who is leader. The players include thieves Isaac and Miria, Camorra family members Firo and Maiza, Czes, the Gandors, an alchemist named Szilard, and a whole slew of others. Quite honestly it's too confusing to list everybody even after watching the second volume. Let's just say that there's a lot of people to get to know and a lot going on, but there are connections between everyone. I'd liken it to the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon small-world thing.
The first volume brought a few storylines together throughout its four episodes. Episodes one through three told the distinctly different tales and slowly but surely we saw them begin to converge. Everything revolved around events happening on a train known as the Flying Pussyfoot and in the fourth episode the plots kind of merged together. It was a fascinating payoff to an otherwise confusing introduction, and it is one of the main reasons I likened this show to being unlike anything else out there. The first installment showed potential for masterful storytelling, but how does the second stack up?
On this installment we once again receive four episodes which use time jumping like its going out of style. Everything still takes place between 1930 and 1932, but with more characters and background to fill in things continue to be complicated. At the center of everything are Isaac and Miria, who continue to be the uplifting and energetic component of this show. They stand out from all the death and destruction happening around them and it's quite entertaining to see how they've influenced events based on the lives that they've touched.
The crybaby, Jacuzzi, gets a lot of airtime in this volume as well and his character is fleshed out quite a bit. He and just about everyone else on the train discovers something known as the Rail Tracer, which is basically a bloodthirsty monster who starts killing people on the Flying Pussyfoot. With passengers dropping like flies, people being kidnapped, and all manner of proverbial crap hitting the fan Baccano!'s second volume is a cluster of insanity. Right up to the end you'll feel like your head is spinning and once again, when you finish the volume you'll want to go back and connect more pieces you may have missed.
Full of different storylines, multiple characters, and a timeline of three years Baccano! is one convoluted anime. You know what though? It works. The show has an incredible energy that keeps you on the edge of your seat and the manner with which the storylines converge is fantastic. There's so much depth here that just watching the show one time through is simply not enough. You have to invest time into this series, and it probably wouldn't hurt to take notes, but all around it's a solid production that deserves to be checked out. Don't let this one slip you by!
Baccano!'s second 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 more clean animations and trailers are available on the second installment of Baccano!. Another audio commentary is available as well. This one is for the episode "Everything Starts Aboard the Advenna Avis", which is the episode where we learn about the history of the immortals. This English commentary is pretty good overall and there are some snippets that help clear up some of the plot, but there's also a fair amount of banter and jokes as well.
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.