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Twelve Days of Anime #9: Baccano!

12 Days of Anime 2012   09   01

“What do we do with all this money, Issac?”
“We make a sequel, Miria!”

You’d think that the premise of prohibition-era-mafia-meets-immortal-alchemists-in-a-pulp-epic would be enough to sell this show. But alas, somehow the world doesn’t seem to quite agree, going by the lackluster reception in the five years since it came out. Too weird? Shame. We accepted high schoolers having Jackie Chan-esque brawls for discounted supaa packed meals, didn’t we? And I unabashedly loved every moment of its choreographed glory. But NOW! Since Moomba came around knocking about this twelve days shebang, it’s a rare chance for me to speak up on anything I wanted, and what better than a shout-out for one of the best shows no one ever watched?

Yes, I know it’s a hyperbole and it didn’t do all that bad, SHUSH.

Being able to write this post meant I was spoiled for some incredibly great, personal choices, oh believe me. Animes that’s had a personal impact on me and my watching habits, shows that made some profound statements, like Birdy Decode, Dennou Coil, Eve no Jikan, The Tatami Galaxy-Oh god someone stop me. But days of deliberation somehow came back to this very show that I first thought of, one that did a particular Ruckus!– yep, a particular Baccano! in my anime-loving heart. And since its Christmas, we could all use a bit of that lively party ruckus. There we go, obligatory and poorly conceived Christmas tie-in, I’VE DONE MY PART, and let it not be said otherwise. So ladies and gentlemen I implore you: in the downtime of this festive season, if whenever you’re not partying or watching the Christmas special of Doctor Who again and again and again with your bowl of custard fish fingers in hand – but then really, why wouldn’t you be? – take the time and give Baccano! a shot. And of course, any other anime that my fellow writers may have also recommended to you. And whatever we’re continuously blogging. Gotta keep up them appearances, you know?

12 Days of Anime 2012   09   02

“Why isn’t our sequel selling? Issac!”
“Miria!”

2007’s Baccano! is the criminally underrated brother – quite literally – to 2010’s breakout hit Durarara!!, and both were adapted from Ryohgo Narita’s light novels by almost the exact same Brain’s Base team. Hell, Baccano! fans would’ve noticed the incredibly fan-servicy cameos of Miria and Issac in one of Durarara!!’s episodes. To pile on the similarities, both stories had a strong narrative focus on the interplay of its characters, and near the heart of the story is a great mesh of themes between the mundane, the supernatural, and delightfully, the insane.

So the difference in success have always been a irritable point to me, because – forgive my utter disregard of objectivity here – I vastly preferred Baccano! between the two. Don’t get me wrong, I love both shows, but what’s a fan without bias? Still, looking there, where did Durarara succeed with the fandom and Bacanno faltered? Perhaps the snazzy setting of contemporary Ikebukuro was more widely appealing than the atmospheric (but rustic?) 1930s New York? Maybe the difference was in the narrative format? Baccano’s storytelling didn’t quite lend itself all that well to an episodic nature after all, in spite of my love for it. Simply bad timing to have aired in a packed summer next to Gurran Lagann?

12 Days of Anime 2012   09   03

The main character says hi.
Not the guy, you fool, the fedora.

But I digress. This isn’t a retrospective analysis on both show’s success (or lack thereof), but simply Baccano! 101 and about why I love this show. Many of the strengths Durarara!! had as a series apply here, and I quote Divine’s Durarara!! series impressions: “The huge cast of characters alone give an immediate impression of that and is a bit daunting at first, but once you get into it and realize how everyone’s stories are intertwined to form a bigger one, it’s really cool seeing it all come together.” It’s one of the key pillars of Ryohgo Narita’s narratives, and the man is a genius at spinning a layered tale out of the interplay of a ridiculously large cast, a colorful group of characters that’s oft-wildly eccentric. From an Italian mafioso to a mute assassin, an immortal shota to a Bonnie-and-Clyde duo, the cast shines with a variety of inspirations pulled from western pulps, anime tropes, and even the era itself. It makes each character feel wonderfully unique, and like Durarara!! there’s bound to be a couple you’ll immensely enjoy. I’m still surprised by how much detail they actually managed to jam-pack into a single cour, because everyone, even the extras of the show, gets just the right amount of characterization and development. Nothing particularly deep mind you, but cast management is handled with such finesse that you’ll never feel anyone was lacking.

And because of the varied nature of its cast, Baccano! is able to reach across a pretty broad genre spectrum in its branching narrative, including the Western pulp it gleefully takes inspiration from. While hitmans and psychopaths carve their way to Tarantino style hyper-violence and black humor, others in the cast tell a story that’s more “traditional” anime melodrama, and there are even character stories reminiscent of crime dramas like The Godfather. Issac and Miria gets special mention, the comedic tour de force who can dictate the dynamics and tone of the scene just with their mere presence.

12 Days of Anime 2012   09   04

“Say hello to my little friend!”

It brings us to the part about Baccano! I unequivocally love, it’s inspired narrative. Rare it is we get an anime – hell, any kind of show basically – that embraces a form of storytelling as unconventional and brilliantly conceived as this. The first few episode will leave anyone puzzled, oh I’ll bet. Disjointed events presented from one moment to the next, some of the oddest transitions ever, and a general sense of what-the-fuck-is-going-on!? Before long, you pick up that there’s three/four separate timelines, each with its own story. Give it one or two more episodes and you’ll notice these narratives have been building off each other in perfect synchronization, with each story leading in and out of tantalizing cliffhangers multiple times an episode, so much so you’ll be wishing they’ll stop jumping around and show what happens next in whatever timeline you’re currently at. But don’t take it as a bad point. It really is some incredibly clever scripting which allows the anime to basically run on a constant high, and there’s a surprisingly deliberate structure to the narratives that gets increasingly clear the further you watch along, before it all culminates in a definitive climax.

And then, and then! There even the presentation, about the most faithful an interpretation of prohibition-era New York as you’re ever going to get in anime.

Yes, I know it’s the only one. SHUSH.

Really though, Baccano! gives a sense of believability to the setting in a way I hardly see in anime. The art direction a huge reason of course, with the palette and designs capturing the aesthetics of the era extremely well. The cinematography takes its inspirations to heart and shines with an an acutely pulp movie quality. And from the first moment Guns & Roses – no, not the awesomest rock band ever – played in that opening, the era-appropriate jazz score caught my heart. It’s a shame Yoshimori Makoto doesn’t do this gig more often, because his work on both Baccano! and Durarara!! were fantastically fitting.

Contrary to the alternatives I’ve considered for this post, Baccano! really was quite the simple anime. I’ve got no deep, meaningful insights extrapolated for you here. Hell, I only watched it three years after it first premiered, and even then no one had anything deep to say about it. Okay, again with the hyperboles, but still. What I’d say it is, is the definitive example of pulp done right in anime: Pure, unadulterated high-quality entertainment, with a sharp wit to it. Just like the best of Tarantino’s, and really, that’s all it needs to be.

Incidentally, my post-watch statistical analysis – or just asking anyone I know – shows an approximately 83.67% purchase rate of fedoras. I’ve worn a fedora since.

12 Days of Anime 2012   09   05

Still waiting on that epic crossover. Or, you know, a sequel to either. Your move, Brainbase.

December 16, 2012 at 4:00 pm
48 comments »
  • December 16, 2012 at 4:08 pmAkai

    If more people knew about this gem and liked it this much, then a sequel would actually be more than just a pipe dream. It’s such a shame that it ended where it did, because there’s so much more to adapt.

  • December 16, 2012 at 4:24 pmdeathtogenericshows

    I admit this is one of the rare Japanese anime shows I preferred English dub over the original with subs. I consider the dub to be superior and perhaps maybe the background is strictly set in western setting and for once, dubbing acting was quite good. It just feels much more authentic with all the various english accents and stuff, which you can’t get with Japanese voices.

    • December 16, 2012 at 4:25 pmdeathtogenericshows

      EDIT: perhaps “because” the background…

    • December 16, 2012 at 9:57 pmStranger

      Ditto. Same with Black Lagoon.

      If the show is supposedly set in a Western world (and not just cowboys, I mean), the dub had better be damned good.

    • December 17, 2012 at 12:05 amphawq

      I’ve found that Series that either aren’t set in Japan, or don’t put much focus on its culture, are generally more likely to get a decent english dub.

    • December 17, 2012 at 11:59 amAsobi

      Hear hear, the English dub on this show was phenomenal, but I’d point out one single exception: Issac and Miria. As good as their English counterparts were it was very hard for them to top the hilarious double-boke act brought by Masaya Onosaka and Sayaka Aoki.

  • December 16, 2012 at 4:35 pmOBAMABASEDGOD

    I absolutely love this series. The atmosphere this series brings is amazing. The dubs are pretty good too! A must watch for those who enjoyed drrr

  • December 16, 2012 at 4:54 pmKevin Yamagata

    Pretty much agree with the whole article. The first episode is surely confusing, but after the last episode, suddenly it all makes sense.

    Also,
    Show Spoiler ▼

  • December 16, 2012 at 4:56 pmunknown2

    I love this Anime and Light novel series. I actually started reading Light novels thanks to Baccano.

    However, this type of anime sells more to foreign watchers than Japan. Thats too bad because if Japan made more anime like this, they would invest more from foreign sources.

    Hyah-ha!

  • December 16, 2012 at 5:00 pmewok40k

    A band of cultist-terrorists, a mobster gang, a pair of scatterbrained thieves, an undercover journalist, and a psychopathic killer with a twisted sense of humor enter the same train… and an Show Spoiler ▼

    immigrant kid…
    to say that hilarity ensues, is understatement…

  • December 16, 2012 at 5:20 pmPasserby

    Is it true that no one watched Baccano? Crying shame. It was barrels of fun.

    One problem of Baccano, I think, is that it doesn’t really lend itself to weekly watching. Marathoning it is much better. That way you’ll spend more time actually watching the show and less time trying to remember “when were we, again?”.

  • December 16, 2012 at 5:30 pmrockmanjoe

    A great show with both style and substance.

  • December 16, 2012 at 6:39 pmrochichan

    I really wish I knew people that had watched Baccano! It was a great series, and I enjoyed it very much… <3

  • December 16, 2012 at 6:44 pmgrey

    awesome post asobi, your words really do the series justice. i feel like rewatching over the break after reading this now. :D

  • December 16, 2012 at 6:52 pmNierTevra

    baccano’s sorta like an animated version of a guy ritchie movie…so many enticing character intricately weaved together into an incredible story…its an absolute masterpiece…

    i’m expecting SAMURAI CHAMPLOO in the remaining days :P

    • December 16, 2012 at 8:03 pmkingofconquerors

      yup, i’ve always drawn that kind of a comparison every now and then when explaining this anime…

      i believe the Opening visuals were pretty inspired by Snatch”s title card…

    • December 18, 2012 at 12:42 amLuxor

      That’s actually what my first thought was, especially if you compare the opening to Guy Ritchie’s Snatch:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-xNqj7S54E

      Seriously, it’s like the animated version, as you guys said.

  • December 16, 2012 at 6:52 pmStereoman

    I have actually not seen this anime yet, but your post is so well-written and convincing so now I’m going to give it a chance!
    Ahh, my “currently watching” list will always be too long…

    • December 16, 2012 at 8:04 pmkingofconquerors

      u should, i personally thought it was better than durarara!

    • December 17, 2012 at 11:55 amAsobi

      Awww, that’s the best compliment I can get, if my post succeeded in convincing you to watch it. :)

  • December 16, 2012 at 7:01 pmpasserby2

    I think you’re downplaying baccano’s popularity

    On MAL it ranks as #26 highest scored TV series (which is higher than durarara), and #46 in number of viewers. Not #1, but pretty respectable still. Not that I disagree with recommending it.

    • December 17, 2012 at 11:52 amAsobi

      Sssshh, you’re spoiling the master plan of getting more people to watch it with its underrated cult classic hook. ;)

  • December 16, 2012 at 7:22 pmDa5id

    This show is like, the definition of a cult classic in anime.

    At least it will be in a few more years.

    • December 16, 2012 at 7:43 pmDa5id

      And technically, since Isacc and Miria are in both shows, they’ve already had a crossover. Though it would be cool to see the other immortals.

  • December 16, 2012 at 8:01 pmkingofconquerors

    i watched this show once on Animax wwhen i was still an elementary grader, but i couldn’t get into it…it was only after my buddy gave me digital copies of Durara! episodes were my eyes open to the brilliance of Ryoga Nihta’s brainchild..and when i found out this was from the maker of Baccano! i decided on pickin’ up again and now it’s one of my favourites!!! (i afterwards gave my baccano! episodes to the said buddy who bestowed upon me Durara! and he also liked it!!)

    i personally liked Baccano! more than durara! because it was less shounen-ish (i think that’s the reason baccano! is less sucessful, but i personally liiked Baccano!! more since it took bold chances)

    great post Asobi!!!!

  • December 16, 2012 at 8:10 pmJhacks

    “Baccano!, and watch it on English dub…but stop on 13 episodes and a watch the rest after a day or two”, is the first thing I always say to anyone who is just starting to dive into the Anime world and ask me the question, “Give me a great Anime to watch?”

    • December 18, 2012 at 11:03 amcarz

      Agreed.

      Pretty much anyone who asks me for an anime I shout BACCANO! without a thought. It’s still probably my favorite. I would die if they actually produced a sequel.

  • December 16, 2012 at 8:25 pmFidelCashflow

    having not read the light novel(s?) i’m of the opinion that ending with just one season seems appropriate. it didn’t help that the episodes after the “proper” finale didn’t pack the same punch as the main story. all of the characters’ arcs reached pretty satisfying conclusions. one of the most ironic things to me was how one of the main themes of the anime was on the nature of storytelling and assigning an ending and a beginning are pretty arbitrary yet the ending felt incredibly definitive (also one of the few shows i’ve watched that nailed the ending).

    also asobi, i’d love to hear your thoughts on eve no jikan and the tatami galaxy… pretty sure those 2 plus baccano round out my favorite 3 anime i’ve seen so excellent taste i must say!

    • December 17, 2012 at 12:16 pmAsobi

      Excellent taste indeed, good sir! Here’s just a short blurb just for you so kindly:

      Eve no Jikan – a brilliant meld of classic anime drama with a non-traditional exploration of the 3 robotic laws. I really want to see more slice-of-robot-life!
      Tatami Galaxy – The whimsy in the show is infectious. This is a show that really knows how to have fun while delivering a very focused and relatable narrative about choices and self-realisation. Dare I say, Endless Eight done right? ;)

      Maybe, just maybe. One day, I’ll get my chance to expand on these. Hope these do for now!

  • December 16, 2012 at 11:26 pmHagiri

    Haven’t watched this one yet and a friend of mine has been telling [bugging] me that its quite a good series.
    I’ll give it a go during the holidays since its probably sitting somewhere in 1 of my Hdd~

  • December 16, 2012 at 11:39 pmYalvyn

    Still waiting for SS2.

  • December 17, 2012 at 12:35 amAccess

    I didn’t like it the first time I watched it.
    On the second go through recently things were much clearer, though I have to say I still don’t like the disjointed way of storytelling.

    I still don’t see why some people go all crazy over it, but I actually enjoyed it the second time around.

    • December 17, 2012 at 3:53 amDango_Warrior

      I’m not crazy over the non-chronological way the stories of the characters were told. But for me, the way it succeeded in doing it is one of the reasons why it’s special.

      While not told in chronological order, the way it was arranged made the series (excluding the specials) flow in a way in which it builds up gradually and climaxes at the end part, which is good and wouldn’t be achieved if it was told in chronological order.

      It also made the series have a sort of mystery feel to it since you are given just enough info to speculate, and are slowly given more as the series progressed. The most important reveals, the ones that connect the individual stories, are placed in the 2nd half, making the ending feel like a proper ending. And the series was able to do it while still being entertaining in its build up because they made the right choices in how to arrange the events. And also because because the characters were entertaining.
      Other people might disagree with me though.

      • December 17, 2012 at 11:23 amKJacket

        Agreed, they even had that knock down dominoes episode that kinda symbolized the “plots with different starting points, some join together and it all ends”

        Japan was saying how it’s cuz overseas people relate more with the setting so it seems to be more popular here but I think it’s also cuz it’s been 5 years since airing

  • December 17, 2012 at 2:34 aminaban

    Definitely something of a hidden gem in the world of anime. Excellent post though, Asobi. Hopefully your post will encourage readers here to experience the same feelings you and plenty of other fans have felt when enjoying this series.

  • December 17, 2012 at 2:41 amShugima

    coincidentally, i just watched Bacanno this week. It really got me interested in more. The show really gives me what i want in anime the most: interesting charachers.

    From the start with the director and the child, who were discussing where to start this kind of story, the all around linking of the story by Isaac and Maria in such a silly way and the general crazyness of the whole cast made me smile the whole way.

    Even episodes 14 too 16 where great, although not really needed. It gave the show that little bit of extra fanservice and warmed the fans up for a potential second season, although they clearly left it out in the open.

    Although, with around 15-20 volumes of the novel you might as well start reading them, since it is still ongoing.

  • December 17, 2012 at 5:53 amMatt

    Two of my favorite anime’s, i really enjoyed them. Though i am more of a fan of Durarara, since i watched it first, but i do appreciate Baccano as well. Its just a wild fun ride :)

  • December 17, 2012 at 5:59 amf4ctfinder

    I really have to question why they didn’t make any sequel for this. I mean hey, It’s a great series(imho I enjoyed it more than its sibling, Durarara!), it received a high rank on MaL, episode feedbacks are all positive. Come one, probably one of the reason why I sometimes hate anime(though no no no, I don’t hate animes, I love it) is probably because it leaves you craving for more in the end, only to find your self that that craving won’t be satiated, soon.

    • December 17, 2012 at 12:23 pmAsobi

      Well, the thing is reception back in Japan wasn’t all that hot, a real shame.

      But even in the english community I constantly found myself facing people going “Whaurrrrr?” when I bring up Baccano!. I know statistically, it didn’t all that bad with the community, but I seem to find a general lack of awareness myself.

  • December 17, 2012 at 11:05 amdanpmss

    This anime….
    Its just.. perfect!
    I can describe it with other words, seriously(“A real masterpiece”, maybe XD)

  • December 17, 2012 at 1:25 pmshadowalker

    the main reason i didn’t watch this anime when i came across it was, because most sites gave a lousy and disheartening description of the show, but now i think i’ll take look.

    • December 17, 2012 at 9:12 pmcassz

      I had the same experience; the summaries on anime database sites do not do the show justice, and it was only after seeing the high ratings that I was intrigued, wanting to know what all the hype was about. Do check it out – I hope you enjoy it!

  • December 17, 2012 at 2:19 pmJusta_Dream

    Great job with this post Asobi!!! Baccano is definitely an amazing anime! I loved it so much that I bought it on DVD and when the Blu-ray came out, I bought that too! Yep, the sets sitting on my shelf prove my love lol Anyway, hopefully your post gets way more people into this if only to appreciate the work that was done.

    P.S. I actually didn’t buy a fedora but not from a lack of trying… turned out not to be my style lol

  • December 17, 2012 at 3:15 pmcshin9

    I liked Baccano! better than Durarara!! too. Though I watched Durarara!! first, so I may not have been used to that type of storytelling then. I thought Durarara!! was too serious.

  • December 17, 2012 at 9:06 pmcassz

    It’d been a few years since I first watched Baccano!, but I rewatched it over the last two days because of this post. This time, though, I watched it dubbed after hearing its praise, and I was pleasantly surprised by the voice acting (I think I prefer it!). I thoroughly enjoyed the rewatch, and I can see myself rewatching again a few years from now, so thanks for the nostalgic post!

  • December 18, 2012 at 8:42 amba dum tish

    > vastly prefer Baccano over Durarara

    High five.

  • December 18, 2012 at 5:26 pmNikki

    Baccano > Durarara. Better characters, better plot, just vastly superior.

  • December 21, 2012 at 5:22 ammelbelu

    hey
    i read ur post, and watch it in a whole day.
    what a jem
    i really enjoy the characters and the way the story was told, it was superb.
    i felt in love with every single character, man and the story..
    IT HAVE ALL. blood, inmortals, love, psychos, girls, silly people, smiles….what more can you ask?

    The way the story develop was magestic. Since the beginning you have to pay attention to every scene, every dialogue, every scenario, to real feel the emotion, to make a strong connection with the show…for me, every episode had a climax.
    i think thats what make a good anime in a LEGEND ANIME, that every episode riches its climax.
    thanx for the recomendation
    i appreciate very much