Thursday, February 28, 2008

Baccano! Welcome to the Underworld

This is the funniest, strangest, darkest anime I've ever seen this year. It's also the craziest. And because of that, it made it to my top ten list of fave animes of all time.

The re-watch value is awesome. Of course, the way the story is told, you are bound to want to go back to the very beginning just to make sure you got it all down. That's Baccano!

Note that baccano is Italian for "noise" or "ruckus" but Rhyogo Narita, the author of the light novels on which the anime is based on, translates it to "stupid commotion." Either way, it's the kind of exciting, pulp fiction-ish show that is guaranteed to leave you at the edge of your seat.

Well, to start off, this anime has four settings, which is just perfect since it tells four independent, yet interlacing stories, at the very least: 1711, on board the ship Advena Avis; 1930, mafia-controlled New York; 1931, on board the transcontinental train, Flying Pussyfoot; 1932, Hudson River area between New York and New Jersey.

And if you think that's already a lot for a 13-episode series, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Baccano! is almost pulp fiction...but the way the entire series goes, it is actually more along the lines of penny dreadfuls, filled as it is with gratuitous elements like violence and crime in an oneiric setting. While Baccano! has a highly entertaining and fast-paced plot, what makes it stick are the eccentric characters who propel the story along.


Baccano! has perhaps the largest cast of characters for a single-season anime. And each one of these characters have a story told in the most extraordinarily crazy way possible -- mafiosi, assassin, sadist, masochist, delinquents, gangsters, news reporters, immortals, alchemists, homunculus, idiot name it!

But I think my favorite is the pair of idiot thieves, Isaac and Miria. They provide not only comic relief but are also the prime movants in the story when you think about it. Their success as criminals is largely due to the fact that their plans are so outrageous to warrant logical consideration.

For one, in each one of their crimes, they wear costumes so outlandish and eye-catching that witnesses tend to dismiss them as performers rather than the perpetrators of a crime. For another, they steal the kind of stuff that "normal" thieves wouldn't: an absurd amount of chocolates, a museum door, and gold from an actual mine during the California Gold Rush.



Baccano! Spiral Melodies Animation Soundtrack @ Amazon
Baccano! DVD 2 @ Amazon
Baccano! DVD 3 @ Amazon
Baccano! DVD 4 @ Yes Asia
Baccano! DVD 5 @ Yes Asia
Baccano! DVD 6 @ Yes Asia
Baccano! DVD 7 @ Yes Asia


As for the story? It's told in non-linear fashion -- that is, it basically side-steps logic and completely ignores the chronological order of telling story. Employing the style of interlacing, a "segment" of the story could cut off at the most crucial point in order to pick up a seemingly unrelated event that happened miles and years away, before returning once more to the original plot and shocking you entirely as the whole thing explodes in your face.

But all the confusing elements aside, it all begins in 1711 when a group of alchemists who, seeking immortality, decide to summon a "demon." Their wish is granted, but as all stories about people desiring immortality goes, it does not end up well.

Now, fast forward to late 1930s where our favorite thieves have come up with the bright idea of "robbing the earth." They spend about a year, digging for gold in some abandoned mine shaft, when they receive a melancholic letter from Ennis in New York, thanking them for what they did years before.

The letter prompts the duo to leave California and go to New York, except for one problem: they have no money. Isaac then decides that they are simply going to do a train robbery on their way over there. However, once they get to the city, the duo, dressed as famous baseball players, end up stealing money from a gang, before boarding the Flying Pussyfoot.

There, they meet a group of delinquents, led by the cowardly, cry-baby Jacuzzi and the explosives expert, Nice, as well as a gang of psychos from the Russo Family dressed as if they're going to attend a wedding and a black-clad orchestra group, who are actually fanatics of the immortal Huey Laforet.

What follows next is massacre and chaos at their finest. The anime portrays gore with film noir-ish sentiment -- that is, there is an abundance of blood and hardboiled violence happening right in the middle of an elegant dining room of a classy train for the elite. And amid all this graphic, strange, ambivalent and cruel depiction of criminals and their victims are flashbacks of equally chaotic times of warring New York mafia interlaced all throughout.


The result is a kind of screwball comedy of the oddest kind. The characters are frequently over-the-top, which lend them a ludicrousness that, strangely enough, puts them a notch above sleazy. The story itself is over-the-top: immortals and mafia and the most brutal and mind-boggling train robbery in the history of...well, err, train robberies.

To say that Baccano! is an action-oriented anime is putting it nicely. The material, however, achieves insanely effective results more because of its underworld mystery and pulp fiction characters. And it is told in such a way that would make you think like "too much is happening all at once," which makes for a faster pacing and more action.

But don't get me wrong, though. For all these heavy-sounding words, the treatment of Baccano! is actually light so that viewers are more apt to see this as either a comedy or a particularly entertaining crime fiction, something that the jazzy OP theme by Paradise Lunch aptly reflects.

Either way I like it. You should give it a try.

Anime Official Site (Japanese)
WOWOW Official (Japanese)
Wikipedia Article