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. Based on the award-winning light novels of the same name, Baccano! follows several events that initially seem unrelated, both in time and place, but are part of a much bigger story—one of alchemy, survival, and immortality. Merging these events together are the kindhearted would-be thieves, Isaac and Miria, connecting various people, all of them with their own hidden ambitions and agendas, and creating lifelong bonds and consequences for everyone involved. [Written by MAL Rewrite]
Baccano! is a series with a huge fanbase who see in it as a wonderful ensemble of colorful characters, complex web of interwoven plots and wonderfully jazzy soundtrack.
If nothing else, they’re right about that last part.
To the series’ credit. It’s certainly ambitious and refreshing. A story taking place in America during the Prohibition Era and juggling the stories of around a dozen different characters spread across no less than 3 separate time periods, spiced up with alchemy, magic, urban legends and immortal gangsters. Definitely something you don’t see every day.
Ultimately though, the greatest concept still needs to stellar execution to really shine. It needs a compelling narrative that knows where its headed and why, it needs to be inhabited by characters worth caring about and the content generated from a combination of those 2 needs to be presented in a properly thought out fashion.
‘Baccano!’ fails miserably in those areas.
The first major failing is the narrative. Baccano! is a series that presents its events in a non-linear fashion while at the same time jumping between the points of view of several different characters. This is a style of narrative that some works have used to great effect. Baccano! doesn’t. There’s no rhyme or reason to the way the series juggles its narrative threads and it soon becomes obvious that the answers to the major running questions will only be answered towards the end while everything leading up to it is pure stalling. Bottom line is that Baccano! is convoluted for the sake of it rather than having a fitting thematic reason for it.
This is made worse by the characters. They’re all, to be blunt, horribly written one-dimensional caricatures whose entire personality and motivations can be deduced from their first 5 seconds of screen time. A handful of them gets something resembling a back story and rather forced attempts at development but the majority of them is there to demonstrate their 1 defining quirk only to prance off again while the focus shifts to another character ad nauseam. Worst offenders are Isaac Dian and Miria Harvent, an eccentric couple of energetic thieves whose every conversation follows the exact same pattern. Made all the worse by Miria’s awful shrieking voice. Jacuzzi Splot, a shy ‘gangster’ who cries over anything and everything, is yet another example of such a terrible character. Made worse by the fact that he’s eventually made to look ‘badass’ in a way that’s so forced it’s impossible to believe, seeing as there was no character arc building up to it.
What further hurts the characters is how interchangeable many of them feel. What fundamental differences are there between Clare Stanfield, Dallas Geonard and Ladd Russo? All 3 are violent nutcases who’ll murder someone for no reason at all. What fundamental differences are there between Chane Laforet, Rachel, Lue Klein and Enis? All 4 are emotionally subdued women whose role in the story is defined by an obsession over a single guy. Isaac and Miria? For all intents and purposes, a single character. The series’ blatantly covers up a lack of depth with sheer volume. Similarly to how the narrative constantly shifts focus to prevent viewers from realizing how bland most of the content really is.
The third and final major issue with the series is the way it presents its content. Its portrayal of gangsters is so offensively glamorized that it puts ‘The Godfather’ to shame. It becomes outright laughable when the series introduces us to a character named Dallas Geonard who we’re supposed to view as a villain even though other characters acting the same are portrayed as slick badasses. Violence is used with such frivolity and frequency that it’s devoid of any narrative significance.
In contrast, I’ll briefly discuss a scene from the movie ‘’Pan’s Labyrinth’’. There’s a segment early on in that film where the main villain smashes a man’s face in with a wine bottle. It’s a powerful, important scene on several levels. It not only establishes both the character of the main antagonist as well as the tone of the film, it’s also shot in a chilling yet explicit manner that underlines the brutality of what is shown.
Baccano!, by contrast, is loaded with violence that is much more extreme than what is shown in the scene I just mentioned. There’s even a scene similar to the aforementioned one where a character beats a man to death with his fists. Only in this case there’s no impact seeing as we’ve seen him commit violent acts before. And that’s not even getting into the almost comical way that it’s presented. There’s no dramatic significance to any of it due to how frivolously it’s portrayed. This is made worse by how characters will opt to use violence for the vaguest of reasons. Many characters get hurt and killed over the course of the story but there’s never a reason to care. And once again the anachronic storytelling serves as a way to cover it up.
One can’t deny that the series has a unique style and a refreshing setting. The soundtrack is also wonderfully jazzy while animation is very solid with a number of fun action sequences. This, however, does nothing to remedy the glaring flaws: the non-linear storytelling is a cheap gimmick, the characters obnoxious and 1-dimensional, and the glorification of gangsters is downright offensive. There are powerful stories that feature non-chronological narratives or extreme violence. But these elements alone aren’t what makes them great. When taking an unconventional approach to a story it’s imperative that you think about how to best make it work. This is something the creators of Baccano! fail to realize.
Dictionary.com defines the word ‘ruckus’ as ‘a noisy commotion’. That’s a perfect way to sum up ‘Baccano!’ (merely the Italian word for ‘ruckus’). A ruckus that attempts to pass itself off as an opera.