Baccano Series Review: Ambition, Immortality, Murder and Mayhem

Overview:

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

Review:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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UQ Holder Episode 12: They Finished The Fight But Not The Story

Review:

Last week they left us with a fight between Tota and his friends and Negi and his friends in the stadium and this week kind of concludes that fight. Kind of as in the bad guys leave but that’s about all the resolution you are going to get in this series.

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Still, if you are watching this show because you enjoy girls having their clothes blown off, this episode gives you a whole bunch of naked girls. Also lots of bangs and kabooms, shouting, characters being emotionally unstable, and occasionally the main character remembers he has a sword. Basically this ended how it started. It isn’t an unwatchable mess but it isn’t particularly good. I’ll get around to a series review soon.


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UQ Holder Episode 10: Tota is a…

Review:

I really love how shows go from telling us nothing, to revealing something and then every single character in the show just openly talks about that thing as if it was always obvious (by the way that was sarcasm). ACCA did the same thing when Jean’s past was identified and suddenly everyone just kind of openly discussed it with each other and with him even though prior to the reveal to the audience everyone had been so closed mouthed about it. Where ACCA would get a pass though i that the reveal was kind of clever in the first place whereas UQ Holder just seems to continue its trend of stuff happens because it does narrative path.

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After the reveal last week that Tota is actually a two year old clone (that explains his behaviour) he’s trying to come to terms with that and everyone is now wanting to discuss his grandfather with him. of course they all have incredibly fond memories of him and it is so unfortunate that he has now been taken over by an evil entity (though the audience has not yet been told what said entity is after or why it is evil so we really don’t have any reason to care other than a few of the older characters seem to think it might be a problem).

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We have a contrived fight sequence with Tota getting beaten down, before his friends call out to him rallying his strength so that he can finally hit his opponent, which leads to the ‘it’s a girl’ reveal, before she chuckles and the real big bad appears and it looks like it is all over, but then Evangeline swoops in to save the day, and then both the bad guys and good guys side-kicks rush in and… how many clichés were they planning on shoving into one sequence?

Whichever way, this episode was decent. No original thought whatsoever and only passable delivery, but it was passable and all of those clichés exist for a reason and they are kind of exciting to watch unfold even if the overall narrative is eye-roll worthy.


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UQ Holder Episode 9: What Does Anyone Expect From an Episode Called “Love, Baths and Vigorous Exercise”?

Review:

This episode begins and ends with Tota seeking answers from Evangeline and getting at least one decent revelation by episode’s end. Which I’m guessing is meant to make us think the rest of this is worth our time.

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I’m just not sure I’m in for a random bath sequences with B list characters who seem to only exist for scenes like this. I’m not sure when Tota acquired full harem status but it has been building for awhile. The issue is, the various love interests don’t actually seem to have anything to do with the main plot that keeps getting sidelined while the girls literally fight over who gets to wash Tota’s back.

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Even Kuroumaru, who actually used to be interesting, has been reduced to love struck maiden getting involved in stupid fights that serve no purpose given the protagonist remains oblivious to anything going on around them anyway. And when the whole thing is resolved by nothing changing you start questioning why you just gave the sequence nearly twenty minutes of your life.

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I don’t actually dislike this show, I just don’t see much point to it. It feels like you could recut the plot points of the story and end up with about one episode worth of material at this point.


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UQ Holder Episode 8: Curious

Review:

The fight plays out after last week and we get a few twists and turns but mostly just immortals of various sorts hacking, leaping and pounding on each other with some magic thrown in because it kind of looks cool I guess. I was surprised that the UQ Holders actually came out ahead on this fight but even then, it isn’t like they won much.

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It is hard to take Fate seriously because he is trying so hard to be a bad guy and it is almost as though the plot is screaming that he’s actually just a mis-understood genius. I’m like him to just be a villain but I somehow don’t think that’s where this will go.

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I guess if you like immortal characters fighting before playing question time, there’s something to enjoy about this episode. It isn’t actually bad as we do seem to have progressed forward, but it wasn’t exactly memorable, even with the chameo from Tota’s apparently not-dead grandfather.

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UQ Holder Episode 7: The Girl Who Cries Incompetent

Review:

This week we learn about Kirie and her particular brand of immortality (though I’m going to call this one a cheat because she isn’t immortal – she’s just able to avoid death through time travel, though I wonder if she’s actually as young as she looks or if there is something else going on). Anyway, we learn about a guy named Fate something-or-other and that he is after Tota so after many resets Kirie manages to convince Tota to follow her plan and they all get ready to capture Fate. And it goes about as well as expected even though we haven’t actually seen the outcome yet it is more or less a given that this is all going to go to hell very quickly.

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Tota is an idiot. That has been clearly and repeatedly established, though he’s the kind of idiot that isn’t overly annoying so we’ll just move on. There is however a clear difference between being an idiot and being incompetent and if you ask me the label of incompetent belongs to the time traveller who gets herself killed nine times before she even manages to execute a plan, and to be honest the plan is pretty rubbish even before we find out why it isn’t going to work. It was never going to work.

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So basically this episode is set up and laying ground work for a fight that may or may not be over quickly next week. My money is may not because as much as it looks like Tota and the group should be toast, they’ll probably surprise us with some resistance and maybe they’ll even get to run away. I’m betting on them getting a severe beating and Tota being taken though. Better plot progression if that happens.

The question then becomes why on earth would anyone want to kidnap Tota. The guy is an idiot. An immortal, part vampire, possessing some bizarre power… but still an idiot.


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UQ Holder Episode 6: Surprisingly Sweet

Review:

Early on in this episode I kind of had one of those moments where your stomach just kind of flops as you realise that things are about to go downhill. The revelation the Kuromaru is neither male or female and has a choice and probably has a crush on Tota just opened up a whole range of really distasteful scenarios that I didn’t really want to sit through. And, it isn’t that I was trying to run this show down, it is just that given they sneezed girls’ clothes off earlier in the show and haven’t shied away from bath scenes and random clothing destruction, this fear was kind of grounded on precedent.

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Surprisingly enough though, the show actually treats this scenario mostly decently and we end up with a relatively sweet date sequence between the two characters with Kuromaru pretending to be a female cousin. The fight sequence in the second part of the episode was also pretty entertaining.

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So while this episode didn’t blow my socks off, I was pretty happy with how it went and this show continues to be pretty decent to watch even though it isn’t exactly amazing.


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UQ Holder Episode 5: More Secrets

Review:

The fight from last week continues and naturally they both get in over their heads until the orphan boy comes back to defend them. I don’t know why so many writers think this is a good idea for a scenario. The two super powered immortals just got totally wiped out (one sealed and one literally cut in two and pinned to the ground) and yet the totally powerless boy will somehow think it is smart to run into the middle of that fight. More importantly, immediately after, both the previously incapacitated heroes will suddenly be able to move/fight again. Really?

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I guess it is one of those things where we’re supposed to just accept that their determination and will power allowed them to overcome reality but to be honest it always seems like a bit of a cheat.

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That said, the fight between Tota and the werewolf is pretty cool and for once Tota actually came off as kind of cool. He did demolish an entire building in an arm wrestle though but that was quite a bit of growth for his character in a short space of time. However, just in case we were thinking he’d grown up the final sequence has him saying something stupid and being bashed into the ground for it because that is apparently hilarious no matter how many times it happens.

This show remains okay. Not good or bad. It just kind of is. I would suggest a younger audience would probably have a great deal of fun with it, but the sheer amount of fanservice would make it hard to recommend to that audience so it ends up being a bit of an odd show as I’m not entirely convinced who would enjoy all parts of it.


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UQ Holder Episode 4: Immortal but not Unstoppable

Review:

Seems like we’re finally getting to some fun with this show. The exam is over and Tota and Kuromaru are sent on their very first mission. Though Evangeline just had to raise a death flag for them (even though we know they aren’t serious given they are firstly, immortal and secondly, the main characters).

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Despite that, the episode does start reasonably slowly, but once things get going they don’t stop. Even Tota’s do everything with your feet training was actually kind of fun to watch because you were kind of waiting for things to get serious.

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And then the bad guys show up. We’re not really given any kind of motive for their actions other than the general some people don’t like slums so lets burn it down, but given the main group are defending an orphanage full of kids I guess they aren’t really wanting us to see the other side of this argument. Plus, the bad guys all look like bad guys. You’ve got the blind swordsman, the wolf, and of course the shadow creep.

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Naturally the episode ends on a cliff hanger but I’m pretty happy with how this unfolded and am looking forward to seeing how this all gets turned around.


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UQ Holder Episode 3: Immortal Girls and Monsters

Review:

I have to wonder what this show actually thinks is its selling point. The action, while fun and all, isn’t particularly well animated and since pretty much every character of note is an immortal there is pretty much zero tension or reason to actually be concerned about the outcome. They try to alleviate the lack of tension by adding an artificial time limit for a test, but really given the basic narrative structure there was no other way for the test to end, so again, zero tension.

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If we looked at it from a comedy point of view, to be honest it is somewhat lacking. Not dreadful mind you, but there’s definitely better action/comedy shows out there if that’s what you are after. And the fan-service this week kind of vanished, so if that was your draw you are going to be out of luck.

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Mind you, none of this stops the episode being watchable enough. It just isn’t anything special and the show as a whole isn’t anything special. As I’m deciding my final watch list over the weekend, I seriously question whether this one will stay on it.


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