Baccano!

2 out of 5

Directed by: Takahiro Omori

I can’t recall, exactly, how I wandered to watching Baccano!, but some association led to it, and I was excited to dig in. …Three blunderbuss attacks of episodes later – reviewers would like to remind me that the series’ name is Italian for ‘ruckus’ – and though the appeal of a Prohibition-era, non-linear, dark, supernatural-tinged comedy was still intact, I did not feel at all equipped for watching the show. It was too jumpy; too cluttered. My anime education would need to continue a bit longer, I decided, to determine whether or not Baccano! was truly for me.

A Crunchyroll and Funimation subscription later, trawling MyAnimeList boards for more shows to add to my ever-growing viewing queues – some years had also passed – I started watching Durarara!!, and loved it. Something niggled, though: wasn’t this familiar…? As well it should have niggled, since Durarara!! the anime had much in common with Baccano!: the source material was from the same writer (Ryohgo Narita), the anime from the same director (Takahiro Omori) and writer (Noboru Takagi) and studio (Brain’s Base) and featuring more amazing music from (Makoto Yoshimori). One would easily assume that if’n you liked one…

Alas, dem assumptions. I came close to hating Baccano! towards the end.

Strictly from an anime perspective (I haven’t read either manga), the structural setup is shared: many characters; a timeline that loops around on itself so that we see events before understanding their causes or effects; elements of the super-real; violence that’s played off comedically, while occasional bumping into perma-death stakes. Unfortunately, the core difference is that Durarara!!’s plot becomes gripping the more you’re immersed, and its characters fascinating; Baccano!, meanwhile, reveals all of its moment by moment cuts forward and backward across the years 1930, 1931, and 1932 to be utterly pointless, and the only characters that emerge as moderately amusing are a pair (Isaac and Miria) who exists solely to be naive Benny Hill-ized sources of amusement.

We are following several gang families – and some isolated thieves – as they network around, variously, some stolen magical liquid, a train disaster, and a missing family member. The non-linearity is undoubtedly meant to offer up some insane visuals of people getting riddled with bullets, then miraculously coming back to life – their blood literally sucked back up inside, nice and neat – which is Baccano!’s supernatural proxy to Durarara!!’s headless rider – and then loop back around to help us understand what the hey-diddle-diddle is going on, but they clue us into that fairly early, and nothing else much matters thereafter. I can’t think of a clear reason for extending the train sequence – certainly the main focus of the majority of the episodes, which members of our various factions clashing bloodfully aboard The Flying Pussycat – nor juggling us through the mob families’ grudge-fueled interactions; we do not gain any further insight on those up-front visuals beyond seeing why someone ended up at point B after point A, or how character C is related to character D, but these are just blips of information, cluttering up the 16-episode attempt at narrative as noise.

And briefly regarding the latter: too, too many. I kept expecting – and then hoping – that the endless list of characters to whom we’re introduced in the title credits would come into clearer resolve, but not-a one does; they are all rather one-dimensional ‘good’ or ‘bad’ types, with a collective five minutes of screentime to prove their need to be there between cutting back and forth to people running around the train or getting shot and resurrected for the Nth time.

That hope admittedly lasted me through a jag of episodes, but past the midway point, doubts seeped in, which grew to annoyance by series end, forcing myself through the last few episodes just to see if anything was remedied…

The music was good. The opening credits are fun. The animation is quality. And I’m interested to read the series to see if something just didn’t translate, but that first sensation I had – too jumpy; too cluttered – ultimately held true, and once the “shock” of the show’s undeniable energy wears off, it holds true to a point of detriment.