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Baccano!? More Like The Unkillables! - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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February 23rd, 2014


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08:46 pm - Baccano!? More Like The Unkillables!
Certain combinations of words pique your interest. Zombie dinosaurs. Guitar ninjas. Plane golem. So allow me to introduce you to Baccano! with the following two words:

Immortal gangsters.

Sold? Good, that was easy. But I'll continue. "Baccano" means "ruckus" in Italian, and, my God, is there ever a ruckus in this series. There are ruckuses. Rucki. Ruckus, ruckus, everywhere. The fantastic opening credits set the scene with a raucous, jazzy tune that takes you through the introductions of 17 characters. Not all of them are hugely significant, and not all significant characters in the series get introductions. But notice how the scenes transition fluidly from one to the other, through the simplest of connections. The interconnectedness of these characters' lives is at the heart of Baccano!

In fact, the series begins with two characters discussing who the main character of the story is. Whose story is it? The story focuses mostly on the years 1930, 1931, and 1932, centering on the hijacking of a train from Chicago to New York. How did the characters end up on that train? What did they do on it? What did they do afterward? With so many characters who all have their own agendas, how do you choose the "main" character? Isn't everyone the main character in their own story? Of note, the title of the first episode is "The Vice President Doesn't Say Anything about the Possibility of Him Being the Main Character." All the titles are like that. It's wonderful.

The first episode of the series makes no goddamn sense at all: it drops you into the world and into the story with no safety net. Clearly, this story is about warring gangster families. It also appears to be about immortals. Whatever happened on that train, it was bad. It shows you the aftermath and then tells you what happened.

In glorious, non-linear fashion. Baccano! adapts a series of light novels—each of which detail what happens to the characters in one year—by putting chronology into a blender. It jumps from 1930 to 1932 to 1931 with sheer audacity, sometimes cluing you in with a year card but most of the time expecting you to recognize what time period it is based on the circumstances. A scene will begin in one episode and continue five episodes later. A scene from one episode may be put into context three episodes later. It does have some mercy on the viewer, though, and tells most of each individual story in chronological order, but sometimes one character's story in 1930 will intersect with another character's story in 1930, and it turns out that one was before or the other, or vice-versa. It's not as confusing as I'm making it sound! It's very skillfully done.

None of this would matter, however, if the characters weren't so endearing. Sure, nearly all of them are thieves, bombers, murderers, or the like, but you still root for them. Even the psychotic killers have layers! Seriously, I was honestly surprised how much I liked some of the characters so full of wanton bloodlust that essentially no one was safe around them. Of course, to balance them out, you have the Bonnie-and-Clyde-esque comic-relief duo, Isaac and Miria, who are THE ABSOLUTE BEST because they are beyond naive and have no idea what the hell they've stumbled into, but, by God, they're going to make things right. By stealing. Throw in an explosives expert and a guy with a badass sword tattoo and a bounty on his head. How about a new initiate into the mob? Here's a mysterious young child. Who is that woman in fatigues? So many characters, you guys. But as we move backward and forward through time, we learn more about who they are and why they are. Wait, I didn't even mention the silent woman with the knives! So many characters, you guys.

For me, one reason I loved the characters so much was because of the dub, which is one of the most highly acclaimed dubs I've heard of, where even people who normally watch subs were recommending the dub. And I heartily endorse that course of action because this dub is so good it makes me want to watch more dubs. The dub director watched tons of gangster movies portraying the Prohibition era in order to get the right feel for the dialogue, and the voice actors use period accents, which helps bring the setting to life, not to mention distinguish the characters from different countries and cities.

Baccano! is a hell of a lot of fun, and I love the theme of interconnectedness that pervades the narrative. Some of these characters start off in completely different worlds and then end up becoming friends. Some of them do things that have unforeseen consequences for people they never meet. It's a bit overstuffed and could have used one or two fewer plots, but I really enjoyed trying to piece together the story, constantly being surprised and learning new things about the characters. It's bold storytelling that requires the viewer to put in some work, but it's a rewarding experience.
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Comments:


[User Picture]
From:the_narration
Date:February 28th, 2014 04:48 pm (UTC)
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...I meant to comment on this.

I've heard of this, but never seen it. Never really took much interest in seeing it, probably because nobody could ever seem to say what exactly it was about, beyond "immortal gangsters." So I guess I'll ask you: is there an overarching plot to this, or is this a Pulp Fiction-esque collection of interconnected vignettes?

I'm intrigued by the idea of a dub that goes to that much effort, however. Most dubs tend to be minimal-effort affairs, but especially they tend not to even bother when it comes to giving characters appropriate accents (Full Metal Panic and the Read or Die OVA might be the worst offenders for this, not even bothering to make the British characters sound British) or recognizing that a character had a particular way of speaking that informed their character and giving them more generic voices instead. Sometimes the dub's script will actually be quite clever in places (use of gratuitous French in Noir, for instance), but the voice actors usually are unimpressive.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:February 28th, 2014 06:00 pm (UTC)
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So I guess I'll ask you: is there an overarching plot to this, or is this a Pulp Fiction-esque collection of interconnected vignettes?
Oh, there's totally a plot. Like I said, each character has his or her own story, and they all get mixed together. But it's definitely hard to identify, say, one overarching plot that would encompass the whole series. That being said, it's more than simply interconnected vignettes because the interconnectedness informs the story more than it does in Pulp Fiction.

I'm intrigued by the idea of a dub that goes to that much effort, however.
The dub director auditioned 140 actors over 6 days. He got the right talent!

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