Immortals, Gangsters, and Immortal Gangsters

Gabriel Silvas, Columnist

It is Prohibition-era America and quite a number of odd events are happening. To think that it all started when an alchemist somehow found the formula to the elixir of life, leading to a mess of events that would touch the lives of dozens of people and unveil centuries-old conspiracies. More would get involved when a passenger train becomes the battleground for murderers, thieves, and a bloodthirsty monster. Next thing you know, another crime family is caught up in the search for some punk that did them wrong, leading them into further conflict with related parties. All of these crazy events and only one little girl is asking the question that is on the audience’s mind: Just what is going on!?

Originally a series of light novels and later adapted into a 13-episode anime (16 counting the bonus episodes) in 2007 that covers the first four stories in the series, Baccano! is the charming, non-linear tale of a large cast of memorable characters and their different exploits over the course of a couple of years. The show frequently jumps between the years of 1930, 1931, and 1932, following the different stories and perspectives of the cast involved in each event as the audience has to keep their wits about them to keep each story straight and spot the threads that connect to the other stories. One of the few uniting factors that ties each story together is the presence of the Grand Panacea, the elixir of life, and of the immortals that drank from it. As events unfold in one story, it gives insight into the other two while opening even more questions.

Much like Fate/Zero, there is no main character or central protagonist that the show focuses on, instead opting to give every character relevant to the plot plenty of screen time and development. Characters that might be present and the focus of one segment are pushed into the background to give the floor to another group. However, there are a pair of ridiculously endearing thieves that act as the constants, showing up in all three arcs and being pivotal in some way. Isaac and Miria are very… out there and their “schemes” are so harebrained that they loop back around to being brilliant, but they are bundles of pure joy and excitement, inspiring everyone around them and bringing hope. They help tie together the connections between the rest of the cast, bring them all together at various points. Aside from them, other major characters include Firo Prochainezo, a young and brash man that seeks to become a “camorrista” in the Martillo family; The Gandor Brothers of Keith, Berga, and Luck, allies to the Martillos and an up-and-coming crime family; the gang of misfits run by couple Nice Holystone and Jacuzzi Splot; the mysterious homunculus known as Ennis; and the single best fighter and somewhat of a crazy person known as Claire Stanfield, who is a believer of solipsism and is thus convinced the he is God. These are just a few of the numerous other characters that all have important roles to play in this story.

While there is no “main character” in this show, it is pretty clear who the antagonists are, whether their role impacts the whole story or if they are only a threat in their arc. Szilard Quates is one of the first immortals that drank the Grand Panacea on the Advena Avis back in 1711. Driven by the misguided desire to share the knowledge of the elixir of life with mankind, he turns on his fellow immortals and devours most of them, gaining their memories and knowledge. He reemerges in 1930, searching for the fools that dared to steal the replicated formula from him and for the other surviving immortals so that he can devour them as well. A year later, the hammy and psychopathic criminal Ladd Russo hijacks the train that Jacuzzi and his crew are riding on, intent on robbing and killing everyone just because it sounded like fun, all the while fighting against the Lemures, a cult the revers around the immortal Huey Laforest in the hopes that they too will become immortal. In the last story, the search for Dallas Genoard, brother to Eve and easily the biggest jerk in the show, has Eve being threatened by Gustavo Baguette, a thug employed by the Runorata family, though they QUICKLY get tired of his ruthlessness. The one essentially started the whole series, the omnipotent demon that the passengers on the Advena Avis summoned and provided the Grand Panacea, is a more neutral entity and is content to just watch things from the sidelines, shutting off his omnipotence so he does not get bored. He goes by Ronny nowadays.

Despite its non-linear nature in jumping from one year to another, each story does progress naturally like a normal one would, only interrupted by segments that switch to the other two arcs or events that are crucial to the story. This, combined with the gorgeous animation and wonderful period-appropriate jazz music, makes for a unique experience unlike any other anime. Using the framing device of a young girl named Carol and her mentor, Gustav St. Germain, discussing the events of 1930 – 1932, it takes a few viewings to fully understand the story, as the very first time will definitely leave new viewers scrambling to try and keep up with the unorthodox pace, but for those who finally grasp the story has nothing but high praise for the show. In regards to the infamous “Subs vs. Dubs” discussion, Baccano! is one of the very few anime that has gained near universal praise for the masterful work done by the voice actors of FUNimation, using on-point accents and delivering some of the best performances of their careers.

The series is only one part of the “Naritaverse”, a collection of stories done by the author, Narita Ryogo, that takes place in the same world. Perhaps the most well-known aside from Baccano! is Durarara!!, taking place in modern day Japan. Interestingly, one would be surprised to hear that the anime did not perform well in Japan at all, especially when compared to the critical reception and popularity it has gained in America. The setting itself seems to have endeared it more to the American audience than others abroad. Durarara!! seems to be enjoying a bit more success, having gained a second season. Still, one cannot deny the charm and uniqueness that Baccano! possesses. It might not appeal to everyone, but there is no denying that this anime is certainly a quality gem.