Baccano

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Baccano

Postby bakamatt » Sun Nov 27, 2011 9:46 am

In defiance of the old cliché, I’m always pleased to run into a show that is none of “giant robots, magic girls, and tentacle porn.” Which certainly describes Baccano.

(Not that any but the most ignorant still buy into that cliché, but I wonder what percentage of anime are mecha, mahou shoujo, or violent hentai these days.)

Baccano starts with the premise that a group of people aboard the sailing ship Avenna Avis in 1711 gain access to an alchemist’s immortality potion. For no apparent reason, by 1930 most of those people have become gangsters in New York, and some of them have come into conflict, in the city and on an express train from Chicago with the implausible name Flying Pussyfoot. There are some peculiar aspects to this immortality: those who have used it can devour each other, including memories, at a touch; and they must use their real names when speaking to one another.

I find “noir magic in Prohibition America” a compelling concept; I’d like to try reffing it in an RPG campaign some day. (It’s not that far a jump from the Lovecraftian milieu, which I have reffed.) But Baccano’s implementation is kind of scattershot; it does most things mostly right, but is freighted with some odd pretentions.

Of which the biggest is the timeline, which skips between 1711, 1927 – 1930, and, in one brief but memorable instance, 1971. Sometimes we get a card telling us which period is being shown, sometimes not; sometimes it’s obvious we’ve switched times, sometimes not. That, in conjunction with a big cast of which many of the males are easy to confuse, makes for a story that requires some effort to follow; I didn’t always succeed in doing so. This business of hopping around your timeline can be an effective way of telling your story, but it requires a strong story and skillful storyteller, and neither in Baccano were quite up to the challenge. Which is a shame: their intention was to present the viewer with mysterious scenarios and then gradually reveal what was going on, and had they really pulled it off, it would have been something grand.

This is a sometimes very violent story, featuring some unpleasant people. Many characters suffer very nasty fates, sometimes on camera. And these are sometimes juxtaposed with silly scenes, particularly those featuring the goofy thieves Isaac and Miria. You need to have a tolerance for gore, and for rapid shifts of mood.

As I’ve already suggested, I found things hard to follow sometimes. There’s a framing sequence featuring a little girl and “Mr. Vice-President” that suggests their omniscience; I don’t see what purpose it serves. We’re also told that there are two versions of the immortality potion; one is inferior, but that never seemed to matter. There are at least three factions fighting for control of the Flying Pussyfoot, but I’m not sure what any of them were actually after – there was something about a corrupt senator. And this "true names" business is rarely relevant.

But, ultimately, none of these were serious impediments to my enjoyment of the show. It accomplished enough of what it tried to be a lot of fun; I’m tempted to just turn around and watch it again with the expectation of getting a lot more out of it the second time. It’s an attractive production, higher-budget than some. Aside from the rapid mood shifts, the pacing is sound. Action scenes mostly work, with lots of fights on the outsides of rail cars. I’ve already complained that a lot of the males are easy to confuse, but there is an entertaining assortment of cast members here and I was beguiled by no less than four of the women: Miria, Chane, Nice, and especially Ennis.

Why is it so much easier to complain that compliment? Let me be clear: I liked Baccano, do expect to re-watch it, and have put it on my list of potential shows to indoctrinate anime newbies. I’m sorry it didn’t do better at what it tried to do, but what it tried to do is laudable enough for a three-quarter’s success to be a win.
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Re: Baccano

Postby TectonicMuse » Wed Nov 30, 2011 2:16 pm

I watched the first episode of this and found myself completely baffled as to what was going on. It's good to know it wasn't just me, and hopefully it'll be easier with the backdrop you provided. Thanks.
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Re: Baccano

Postby tychocat2003 » Sat Dec 03, 2011 10:33 pm

I gotta say, Matt, you bury the one critical point you make in the fifth paragraph, and you wrap the rest of the review around apologizing for it.

In a review, you don't have to praise everything. In fact, that dilutes what you're saying. To my mind, you should be able to point up what you liked about it (if anything) and then what you didn't like about it (if anything). That way, a reader ought to be able to make up their own mind as to whether they'd like or dislike what you're reviewing. IMO, a reviewer is not trying to convince a reader as to a point of view.
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Re: Baccano

Postby Kitschensyngk » Mon Jan 02, 2012 1:50 pm

Some of the best anime I've seen have re-watchability. You can watch them again and again and STILL notice stuff you missed the first time. Cowboy Bebop was one such series for me, for instance - some things I didn't get until I bought the remastered DVD set a few years ago, LONG after I first saw it on Adult Swim.

Such is the way with Baccano!. Its disjointed story format INSISTS that you watch it more than once, yet the characters in it will MAKE you want to. I rewatched it last year while AS was running Durarara!! (another such series, come to think of it - it's from the same author, director and studio) and Isaac and Miria still crack me up.
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Re: Baccano

Postby Tsunami3k » Fri Jan 06, 2012 12:22 pm

Yeah, Bebop is one of the few titles I've double-dipped on: first the fancy artbox version w/OST and again with the remastered set. I'd do it again if they re-released it on BR but that'll depend on if Funi rescues it now. If Baccan is mentioned in the same breath as Bebop then I really need to watch this over the weekend.
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Re: Baccano

Postby Tsunami3k » Fri Mar 30, 2012 10:12 pm

I just finished this a few minutes ago. I really enjoyed the non-linear storytelling and was surprised to come away with my new #1 favorite idiots in all of anime, Isaac and Miria!

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Re: Baccano

Postby ZeroRyoko1974 » Sat Mar 31, 2012 8:21 am

They were great in that show. Their cameo in Durararararararararararara was pretty funny to
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Re: Baccano

Postby Tsunami3k » Sat Mar 31, 2012 5:21 pm

bakamatt wrote: Baccano starts with the premise that a group of people aboard the sailing ship Avenna Avis in 1711 gain access to an alchemist’s immortality potion....by 1930 most of those people have become gangsters in New York.


I think I now understand the full breadth of your confusion. Without spoiling things all I can say is that this is, in fact, not the case but I can see how it might have been interpreted that way given the elaborate chronological shell-game.
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Re: Baccano

Postby bakamatt » Sat Mar 31, 2012 6:05 pm

Tsunami3k wrote:I think I now understand the full breadth of your confusion.


Can't be done.
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