There’s a lot that can be aimed at the anime series Baccano! Schizophrenic, fast paced, action packed, comedic, supernatural. It flies between several parts of a timeline so much you’ll lose track when you realise you’re seeing things out of order. You have to go with the flow and hope for the best!
The backdrop is 1930’s America; high rise times of the mafia and tommy guns. These don’t factor into the story a huge deal other then, yes, it appears they’re all criminals in it – although most of the cast don’t seem to actually do much in the way of crime, and it certainly isn’t the focus of it. However it does add something to have a non-Japanese, fedora-wearing time – it is classy, and some of the music is very fitting, including the introduction theme which in itself is quite brilliantly done.
The actual supernatural part, although not revealed how it works until later in the series, surprises you right in the first episode (here is that surprise!) that some of the character are immortal and can’t die. It is…interesting, and while not particularly delved into too much philosophically or morally, for better or worse it drives some of the plot along; after all, eternal youth is obviously something everyone would want, right?
It is a series that decimates the leading protagonist trope too. The series stars plenty of offbeat characters; amusingly many are quite unhinged and almost all are cheerful (except the real bad guys of course). To counter this are a lot of much more normal characters, who in their own way are enjoyable to watch, but have more toned down personalities. Having such a large cast, while sometimes confusing, allows for a whole load of interesting situations to arise, with some very coincidental meetings. Obviously these meetings make up a large part of how the plot evolves.
To top it all off, and causing much of the mayhem in a very Laurel and Hardie way, are a couple – who are completely cheerful and insanely stupid. They’re a treat to listen to in Japanese – the voices just are brilliant (you’d have thought a series set in America would have a good English voice cast too!). They do the most outlandish things, double-commenting and bring good comic relief to the series. Even with what happens, it never gets melodramatic and comes off as quite lighthearted.
The plot and series as a whole suffers a bit from the rather wacky pacing it uses; slipping between around 3 different stories; one pre-Train, one on a Train and one post-Train. This is actually called out immediately in the first episode (along with the lack of main character), so you do understand that it is meant to be that way.
Each story thread contain overlapping characters; you’re never quite sure (until the end) the exact progression of events, but the pre-episode summaries are short and sweet enough to keep you informed. The cast is also rather large – just check the intro credits. This can be confusing having it move around so much with subplots in plots and mini-arcs within arcs, but it keeps it moving – you’ll never be bored at least, and you keep getting surprised – the plot doesn’t fill up with cliches and subverts a lot of typical plots with rather outrageous circumstances. Each time it shows you a shot of something really strange happening it simply raises the interesting question of how that happened, which happens a lot! It quite likely would have worked fine in chronological order, but was an interesting take on telling a story in a strange way.
The final thing to say perhaps is that, while Baccano! is fast paced and enjoyable, if you don’t like the characters just don’t bother; the first few episodes set the scene well enough, along with some rather gory violence to boot, but the basic plot perhaps by itself isn’t too enjoyable with it being very disjointed. To me, I might have preferred a series with no supernatural stuff, since the parts without it were possibly the most interesting and 1930’s America is rarely visited in animation, but since I enjoyed it might well have been poorer if that was lost. Give it a shot if you in any way like fedoras too 😉