But where’s the main character?
With most focusing on high kicks, robots and cat girls, it seems that anime that gives audiences something significant to think about are few and far between. However, Baccano! (based on the series by Ryohgo Narita) subtly deals with the idea of perception and the role it can play with stories.
As if that wasn’t enough, it takes a deeper look at the underlying flaws (and thus beauty) that stories have in general. Much like the pop culture icon Pulp Fiction, the series deals with the concept that every person involved in a series of events sees things differently, and this series has a LOT of people involved in the story. Not only does it show one event from a number of points of view, but it also reveals the consequences and causes of the events simultaneously, making it a show that is not for the weak of heart. Still, the series reveals something that, while rooted in the subconscious of any audience, is not something that is commonly focused upon. Essentially, the person telling a story is flawed.
Baccano! takes place during the prohibition era (1930s) and revolves around a variety of characters, including eccentric thieves, mafia hit men, bootleggers and even immortal alchemists. It’s hard to sum up the series as it jumps around a timeline that originally exists between 1930 and 1933 (and eventually 1711), but the series follows the people involved in a train robbery gone bad and the events preceding and following it. Primarily the story focuses on a group aboard the train called The Flying Pussyfoot as it makes its trek from New York to Chicago.
As fate would have it, two groups decide to rob the train on the same night, including a group of cultist in black tuxedos and a group of mafia-employed sadists in white tuxedos. While neither one counted on the other being there, the bizarre group of characters on board throws an even bigger wrench into the works when they decide to fight back.
What makes the series so enthralling is the fact that it doesn’t have a main character. In fact, the entire series starts with a man explaining to his young companion that stories seldom do have main characters. Instead, the anime jumps around between about 18 or 20 different characters, all of whom have a variety of endearing characteristics (although the Assassin Vino/Claire Stanfield, voiced by Jerry Jewell, has proven to be the fan favorite over the years), some of which have nothing to do with the train robbery.
While at first, this gets incredibly confusing, the series slowly rights itself over the course of its 16 episodes. While other anime like Ghost in the Shell might deal with philosophy with much more depth, this series takes a much more subtle approach, disguising it in storytelling, which proves to be a much more tactful and effective method of getting an audience to start thinking for themselves. Sure, it might be slow at parts, but that’s only because the viewers have the opportunity to pick their favorites from a menagerie of characters, proving that this series has something for everyone.
While the extensive cast is much too great to list, it has to be mentioned that all of the actors do an incredible job in the series. Baccano! is filled with classic Yonkers accents and fast-talking characters, capturing the feel of classic films from the 1930s and 40s. Not only that, but the flashbacks to the Italian alchemists seem to throw themselves wholeheartedly into the characters. While at times the dialogue is a little stiff as it investigates the somewhat claustrophobic subject of semantics, the numerous actors pull it off without a hitch, even in spite of the somewhat ridiculous ways they have to throw around their H’s and G’s. Even if you aren’t a fan of the period speak the characters sling around, it will quickly grow on you, and by the end of the series, it will seem completely natural, causing the real world to seem almost out of touch.
Though it has a brilliant presentation, Baccano! is a series that seems to hold its power in its initial effect. The fact that it causes viewers some slight confusion is a plus as it randomly jumps around the timeline, almost as if dancing. After the first viewing, there might not be much of a desire to revisit the anime. But for those who haven’t had a chance to sit through the series, it offers a slightly more subdued alternative to the action-heavy shows that seem to grace the genre. Though drawn-out, this anime is a solid choice and a welcome break.