Baccano is a lot of fun. It’s got an interesting setting, charismatic characters, and a tongue in cheek humor about the whole thing. It’s one of the better anime to have aired in 2007, which was a pretty good year.
Except, I’m also grading it on the anime curve. It’s got an interesting setting, charismatic characters, and a tongue in cheek humor about the whole thing…for an anime. I’m focusing more on positives than negatives at first because I did generally enjoy the show, but just how objectively “good” I found the show is really in relative terms.
In general, I like anime that are well, anime-y. They’ve gotta be the type of thing that’s hard or impossible to find outside of the interrelated media of anime, manga, games, and light novels. This can be things like genres which don’t really exist elsewhere, like mecha. Or, they could be anime made by specific auteurs. Yuasa expresses himself through visually inventive anime, for instance. The flipside is also often true: anime which are easily represented elsewhere have a very steep slope to climb. Comedies are the worst offenders here by far. Character-driven dramas also fare terribly with me when anime has to square off against well, everything else.
It reminds me a bit of a conversation that I had a few years ago with ghostlightning after he was really impressed by a show that I had only been able to watch a little bit of before dropping. Maybe it was Toradora? Anyway, my reason for dropping the show was that it was kind of decent, but I could easily do better elsewhere. I then recommended to him to watch some of the American serial dramas that were airing at the time that were considered good, like The Wire, Mad Men, and Friday Night Lights. He then promptly blew his mind and shit bricks after scenes like “WHERE’S WALLACE!?” or “CLEAR EYES FULL HEARTS CAN’T LOSE!”
Baccano had that problem in spades. A story about American gangsters? For anime, that’s pretty unique. But it’s one of the great American genres. Hell, when Baccano was airing the two best serial TV dramas of all time were also airing, and both of which prominently featured gangsters. The show’s problem quickly became the fact that I was relentlessly comparing it at every turn with far superior non-anime rather than far inferior anime.
Take my biggest gripe about the show, its structure. Simply put: it’s a gimmick. In general, I’m very anti-gimmick. If you don’t need that gimmick to make some kind of a point, you shouldn’t be using that gimmick. I kept scratching my head as to why the story needed to be fractured in the way that it was. Similarly, the episode titles and the first episode were too-clever by half, feeling like a handwave or contingency plan if the structure ended up not really working. Think of it as insurance against something like what Brains Base did later on with DRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR where they decided to focus on main characters, only to have said main characters be the most uninteresting characters in the show. Baccano’s fractured chronology isn’t “bad” in some kind of objective sense, but simply seeing if/how “everything comes together” is not really an achievement in narrative to me. We’re not talking about how The Godfather Part 2 does it to show how the family is becoming corrupted, or Irreversible does it to turn motivated violence into senseless acts, or (I’m getting really obscure here) Two Friends does it to sever teleological fallacies about finding primordial events in people’s lives.
But if you’ll notice, I just compared Baccano with something like freakin’ The Godfather Part 2. I didn’t compare it with something like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, which also mixes up its timeline. Compared to Haruhi, Baccano’s structure is a lot more “honest” and well, “better”. Baccano isn’t doing it purely as a way to trick the viewer into thinking that the show will be like the experimental first episode, and then to make it easier to intersperse filler through the season. Think about how much less interesting Haruhi would be if the mysteries get solved in episode 5, and then we sit there for 9 episodes of everyone waiting in the clubroom for the rain to stop. Similarly, the humor and violence of the show didn’t make me think how dull most anime characters are, or how weightless character deaths are compared to Baccano. It made me think about how the Coen Brothers do that style better. Perhaps it’s why I probably liked DRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR more than Baccano?
Sidenote: I watched it on Hulu and the Funimation subs get awfully schizophrenic with all the terms of address. This is partly an artifact of the show, where some people go around using Japanese titles while others address people in more American ways. Smith-san vs. Misuta Smisu, if you will. Yeah yeah, you don’t need to say it weeaboos. We all here understand that Japanese social relations use terminology that doesn’t perfectly translate in English. You might not have noticed, however, that English has plenty of words to describe the social relations between Americans in America during the 20th century. Just let them drop all the honorifics in their translation. I’ll even still believe you when you swear that you totally know Japanese.