At a glance, it’s immediately clear that Baccano! is definitely a unique series. Based on an award winning light novel series by Ryohgo Narita, and animated by Brain’s Base, this series takes place in a rarely, if ever, used setting for anime: Prohibition Era America in New York. For once, the characters aren’t high school kids, but mafia members, thieves, and criminals. The series follows four different settings: the ship Advenna Avis in 1711, New York in the year 1930, a transcontinental train called the Flying Pussyfoot, in the year 1931, and New York again in the year 1932. While the cast of characters in each time period is different (though some also show up in the other time periods), which may be a bit off-putting to some, the interactions between this diverse cast make for an excellent show.
From an artistic point of view, Baccano! is really top notch. The character designs are neither over the top and outlandish nor are they bland. In fact, the designs showcase the eccentric cast of characters without much exaggeration at all. Background art is stunning. The animation team really captured the style of 1930’s New York, and it shows; from shots of the Brooklyn Bridge, to Grand Central Terminal, to even normal streets with trains running overhead, the scenery stays true to the spirit of New York during the 1930′s. Not to mention, action scenes are vivid and dynamic, with fast and smooth movements, partnered tastefully with nostalgic effects such as guns, smoke and explosions to rather realistic levels of blood and gore. However, I do have two complaints. In some scenes, 3D backgrounds are used, which may not have been the best choice, as they seem a bit awkward and out of place. Also, some settings can get so dark that the scene itself is partially obscured. This may have been an effort towards realism in the series, but for me it differs too much from the luscious beauty of the other scenes. Even so, when everything comes together, Baccano! is a visually visceral experience and an amazing treat, and while it has decent amounts of gore, it is a diamond in the rough from one of the smallest studios in the industry.
Sound is also excellent. From the opening theme, which is reminiscent of the big band style that was popular during the Swing Era, to the relaxing J-ballad ending theme, to the jazz soundtrack itself, Baccano!’s sound directing team clearly knew what they were doing. The sound effects are standard fare; not bad, but not particularly noteworthy. Voice acting is top notch, surprisingly for both the Japanese and English cast. The Japanese voice actors are great matches to their respective roles despite the fact that it’s not all-star per se, and the English dubs are just spectacular. The dub features highly enthusiastic voice actors and (faux) New York accents that add to the authenticity of the feel of the Roaring 30′s. Some may scoff at the idea of a Texan trying to imitate a New York accent but, I still feel like the dub actors did a great job.
The story is quite weird. As I’ve mentioned earlier, there are four timelines. However, even within these four timelines, there are several subplots running around, many of which seemingly have no relation to each other at first. To add even more confusion to the plot, Baccano! employs probably one of the most anachronistic storytelling styles ever. All four timelines run concurrently, with frequent jumps. So frequent, in fact, that you’ll get one every five minutes or so. Baccano! doesn’t even follow this pattern too often, either. And to add further confusion, the events of each timeline aren’t even told in proper order. It’s like Haruhi’s broadcast order, but made worse with several jumps in a single episode, and multiple timelines. As a result of all this, it’s almost virtually impossible to understand what’s going on for the first three episodes or so. However, that’s not to say the storytelling is done haphazardly; while confusing, the story still has very convincing starts, buildups, climaxes, and ends. In fact, even if someone was somehow able to untangle Baccano’s plot, I would still say it’s more entertaining jumbled up: trying to pick up the jigsaw puzzle pieces and put everything together is a lot more engaging than having much of the plot spoon-fed.
The cast of characters is, without a doubt, the highlight of the show. You have mafia members, thieves, assassins, lunatics, gangsters, train conductors, mechanics, and other unusual characters. All of them seem to be caricatures of their professions, but the ridiculous nature of many of the characters never cease to entertain and amaze. The characters often collide with each other: these clashes provide crazy amounts of fun, since one never knows what to expect. For instance, what happens when a highly skilled assassin and a killer lunatic meet? These situations pop up often, and as a result, provide great amounts of enjoyment. Since the series is only 13 episodes (with three specials after), one of the only complaints is that many of the characters simply don’t have room for growth. However, in the case of this show, and it’s screwed up order, it’s hard to have any development, period. Additionally, since you’ll be discovering new things about the characters episode after episode, many of the characters simply don’t need growth. In fact, for much of the cast, it’s great if they stay the way they are.