The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 45 – Baccano!


Some anime series are interesting because of the art, the characters, the direction, or the setting. In the case of the series examined this week it is the storytelling.

Perhaps it is not surprising that the series Baccano! (Italian for “ruckus”) has an interesting story because it began as a series of light novels and they are still being made today. Having begun in 2003 by Ryohgo Narita, over 20 volumes have been written, but sadly none are in English yet. The anime version is available though and the story is mixture of a wide range of genres: crime, action, period drama and fantasy amongst them.

Most of the story takes place in 1930s Prohibition America. The primary focus begins New York City in 1930 where a young thug called Dallas Genoard steals something from a man called Szilard Quates. He at first does not know what it is, but soon Dallas finds himself being chased by all kinds of groups: the Mafiosi in form of the three Gandor brothers, the Camorristi represented by Firo Prochainezo, and two eccentric thieves called Isaac Dian and Miria Harvent are just some of them. It turns out however that Szilard is an alchemist and what he was stolen is an elixir for eternal life, something he first created back in 1711.

Later between late 1931-early 1932, the Gandor family are in the middle of a battle with a rival family over territory, so one of the brothers, Luck Gondor, gets another adoptive brother, assassin Claire Stanfield, to travel to New York on a cross-continental train called the Flying Pussyfoot, only for the train to be hijacked between two rival gangs.

The series follows these and other storylines, as told to by various characters and from different viewpoints. You might think that Baccano! is all rather confusing, and to be honest it is. You have all these characters and all these different plot points to remember. Luckily the title sequence of the series names all the characters which do act as a useful reminder.

However, the plot is made even more complicated by one other unusual method the series plays out. The anime tells the story in a non-linear narrative. During an episode a scene will start with a black screen with the location and year on it, the scene plays out, then you will cut the next black screen with similar information. An episode may start in New York in 1931, but then you will cut to a different set of characters in California 1930, and some of the episodes go back to 1711 and the original creation of the elixir.

Perhaps not surprisingly this method of storytelling has attracted the praise of many reviewers and critics. Not only that, you have a wide mixture of writing styles to draw on that all take place in the same episode. One moment who will be with Isaac and Miria the thieves, whose scene is often comedic and very funny. But then you will switch to the Flying Pussyfoot where all-out gang war is ranging, thus you have a much more action-packed scene.

If there is a problem, other than the fact the plot is at times very complex, is the shortness of the series. There are over 20 volumes of the original novel, but the anime series is only 16 episodes long. What we need is either a new series adapting more recent editions, or at least an English translation of the books, but this is very rare.

But the episodes that do exist are still fun. Baccano! is intriguing, amusing, exciting, and overall fun series.

Baccano! is available on DVD from Manga Entertainment. The entire series is also released online via the Funimation YouTube channel in both subtitled and dubbed forms for free.