During the early 1930s in Chicago, the transcontinental train, Flying Pussyfoot, is starting its legendary journey that will leave a trail of blood all over the country. At the same time in New York, the ambitious scientist Szilard and his unwilling aide Ennis are looking for missing bottles of the immortality elixir. In addition, a war between the mafia groups is getting worse. On board the Advena Avis, in 1711, alchemists are about to learn the price of immortality.
– From MAL
Baccano is one of those anime that the first time you try and watch it, you would be easily forgiven for dropping mid-episode 1 and walking away. The opening episode is incredibly dry and confusing as it has two characters discussing a range of apparently unrelated events seemingly trying to find a connection between them or a main character for the story. The dialogue is slow, you have no context for anything they are discussing, and all in all it is probably one of the worst opening episodes I have endured for an otherwise very competent anime.
What makes it worse, is that after having watched the anime through, the opening actually makes perfect sense and on the second and third watch of the series you begin to think the first episode is actually rather good, and that is probably a mistake. I remember it took me nearly four goes before I watched this beyond episode 1. It then became something I couldn’t stop watching and ended up falling in love with, but that first episode is tough to get through. Still, endure it and you will find a story that ends up hitting all the right notes even if it takes its time to get there.
Part of what makes the first watch through of this series challenging is the sheer number of characters and that you are jumping through time and locations as three stories are told almost simultaneously but the links between them aren’t all that clear until you are fair way through the narrative. Adding to the confusion of the main storylines are characters like Isaac and Miria (who are amazing) that simply float through every other characters’ story at some point though they don’t actually have all that much to do with the main stories that are going on. Their presence is completely necessary to everything that happens, and to draw certain ideas and characters together, as well as to move several key plot points along, and yet they are almost oblivious to the story the audience is trying to follow as they flit about in their own little world. It makes them amazing but confusing.
With so many characters it would be easy to write off a lot of them as one-note and given the majority of the story is set in a world of gangsters and we see the usual tropes getting pulled out and marched onto screen, that could be a fair complaint. However, there’s a lot going on in this story and even seemingly simple characters sometimes offer a little bit more than meets the eye when you stick with the show. Then there are the pivotal characters within the plot that have been given a lot more depth. While they don’t get a lot of screen time individually, they leave a lasting impression.
The show does a number of things to help the audience out with remembering who is who and what their role is. The most obvious is the opening, which outside of being awesome to listen to and entertaining, introduces each character in their element and also draws a lot of the relationships for the audience. Watching the opening can really help early on in the series if you are feeling overwhelmed by the number of faces and names being thrown around. However, outside of that, the majority of the characters stay within their plot. There are connections to the other stories being told, but with the exception of Isaac and Miria, very few of the other characters cross between storylines until the very end when things kind of come together. This means that you can usually remember when and where you are based on which group of characters you are currently following. Also, that boring first episode, actually does give you a lot of the set up if you manage to pay attention to it.
One thing I really liked about the story was despite the fact that Ladd Russo is most definitely crazy and violent, the story doesn’t try to paint those opposed to him or anyone as heroic. Self-interest reigns supreme for almost all of these characters and their actions reflect that. While sometimes characters are cast in a more heroic light, the anime itself largely refrains from pushing anyone into that hero or good guy role. That doesn’t mean that their aren’t likeable characters in the story. There are many characters you may end up really loving. However, even Isaac and Miria are thieves and everyone else has plenty of blood on their hands.
Ultimately, Baccano is one of those stories that it is best to try yourself and make your own mind up about so I’m avoiding going into any specific details about the plot. It is violent and quite gory in places so it probably isn’t for those who dislike blood and violence. However, that upbeat opening song isn’t just for show. Despite some dark subject matter, this show is a bundle of fun to watch and one that sticks with you after viewing. I definitely recommend a second viewing of it though because everything is more fun in this show the second time when you know where it is going and aren’t struggling as much with character identification.
I’d love to know your thoughts on Baccano if you’ve seen it.
Thanks for reading.
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