What They Say:
Based on the Dengeki Novel Prize-winning story Baccano! by avant-garde novelist Ryohgo Narita (Durarara!!), the popular light novel series-turned critically acclaimed anime series is back and on Blu-Ray!
Hot off the ‘Roaring Twenties’ and headfirst into the uncertain volatility of the ‘Dirty Thirties’, criminal syndicates stormed into power by bootlegging alcohol during the Pro-hibition Era, but the most notorious ‘liquor’ of all time is about to set off a violent chain reaction within the mafia underworld!
Each of the gritty stories in Baccano! involves an eclectic cast of innocent and not-so-innocent, turbulent characters in several unrelated plots intersecting and crossing each other as events spiral further and further out of control. Immortal alchemists, Mafia-operated speakeasies, and many other elements of pulp fiction are brutally mashed to-gether for an explosive massacre straight out of crime noir movies.
Slightly disappointed in terms of the release, as we get standard stereo settings in 2.0 for both English and Japanese. I say slightly because the audio quality is still good, and actually didn’t need to change my default settings, however I really wished this would have a 5.1 Dolby release, especially this is one of the few anime series that works better in English than it does in Japanese – a 5.1 Audio on a Blu-Ray for this series would have been one of the best things ever. No issues on any of the three discs with the quality (no slow down, no poor synching with the video in either language), it is still a good quality, just one of those ‘what if’ scenarios, albeit every aspect of both language with the background effects (which is a major factor with a show like this considering the explosions, fights and gunplay involved) still make this a quality release.
Set in the standard PAL format (anamorphic), with the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio on a full screen format, this is the definite release quality wise of Baccano – HD quality with the gritty animation set in the various times (from 1711 to 1932) it transitions perfectly onto the screen where so much action happens – the animation relies more on tradition without CGI for the most part, and it is hard to tell whether it is used because it flows through naturally even during the rail sequences. Because there is so much action, whether it is Ladd going through a boxing routine, or a daring train chase with Isaac and Maria, or just the act of knocking dominos over with Firo, it all works and translates to the small screen perfectly, without any slowdown, pause issues or anything noticeable which would be a concern. A quality release.
Whilst there is no packaging for the test Blu-Rays, Baccano’s special edition will come with a collectors packing and an art book with illustrations.
Like most Blu-Ray releases, the menus are easy to negotiate without actually switching to another menu with your choices, and the pop-up menus are easily selectable even when watching the main feature. Each menu has two characters from the show on a back-ground, usually rail or worker based – disc 1 has Firo and Ennis, disc 2 has Isaac and Miria, and disc 3 has Nice and Jacuzzi. All nice art work with basic menus on the bottom which have Play All, Episodes, Set Up (with either full subtitles or just sign/song subtitles) – on discs 1 and 2 there is a Credits selection, whilst on disc 3 there is an Extras selection. All easy to use, nothing majorly eye-catching but perfectly acceptable.
Most of the extras on the Blu-Ray release outside of the content in the packaging (not given in this test release) are quite standard – we have the clean opening and ending, and a promotional video in Japanese.
The one unique extra is a behind the scenes short called Baccano! The Complete Guide! It is a Japanese behind the scenes look about the story and history of the show, researching the time period and introducing many of the people involved, from the director Takahiro Omori, character designer Takahiro Noshida, voice of Isaac, Masaya Onosaka, voice of Miria, Sayaki Aki, voice of Firo, Hiroyuki Yoshino and the voice of Ladd, Kenji Fujiwara. There is a brief introduction to most of the characters and the timeline it covers, how the classy music was created and also shows research in New York as they try and recreate it to the relevant time periods. It is all too brief sadly but is still worthwhile content.
I reviewed Baccano UK DVD release back on the old website, which I rated quite highly and was very happy with Anime Ltd getting a Blu-Ray release with some nice collectable extras as well. However, I remember the series could be a tad confusing because it shifted from year to year, where you will get it better when you’ve watched it more than a couple of times. So as I have watched it several times with vague memory of everything, a rewatch is in order.
And easily, I can say that Baccano is not just a great series, it is one of those which somehow gets better when you rewatch it. The clues are there, the story weaves itself well, you can follow it better and despite it shifting years all the time, they all interlink with one another, and it all man-ages to sync in for a complete story.
The heart of Baccano is the fact there are three stories being told. The earliest story starts in 1711, where an elixir created by a group of alchemists is being made to create immortality – however, it is done by summoning the devil for lack of a better term. The devil actually accepts this and grants the users the elixir, but only gives one of them the knowledge to actually make it – it also gives them the only ways to kill fellow immortals, and doing so can absorb their knowledge. This is where our two first key characters are showcased – Maiza, the one who gains the knowledge and Szilard, an old man who is the only one who opposes the fact Maiza wishes to keep this a secret. With this, Szilard begins a descant of terror and devours some of the crew, forcing them to split off around the globe…immortal.
Cut to 1930, where Szilard has managed to finally create the elixir through various absorptions, but it is stolen by a young thug named Dallas Genoard. The Genoard are a low ranking mafia gang who unaware of what it is, thinking it is valuable, however the drink is subsequently stolen and lost. This leads to several other characters we are introduced to drinking it – namely a young and talent Mafioso named Firo, the Gandor brothers, a mafia family with good ties with Firo’s group the Camorra, and a pair of lovable cosplaying thieves named Isaac and Miria. Also of interest is a beautiful young woman named Ennis who Firo seems to fall for, but also happens to be a homunculus created by Szilard. All these people are linked in some way but without delving too much more we cut to 1931…
Here, the Gandors and another Mafioso the Runorata are fighting for turf control, with one of the Gandors, Luck, hiring an old friend and legendary assassin Claire Stansfield, also known as Vino, to take care of them on board a state of the art train called the Flying Pussyfoot. However, other gangs are also on here for hijacking purposes, the main one being the Russo family, lead by the hilariously over the top psychotic Ladd Russo. Did I also mention there is another group that are bombs for hire led by a cry-baby lovable rogue named Jacuzzi Splot, and his bomb trigger girlfriend Nice? Oh, and Isaac and Miria are on this train to visit Ennis and Fino (after ‘robbing’ the Genoards inheritance via Dallas’ nicer younger sister Eve) – and Maiza is Fino’s best friend…and there is ANOTHER immortal on the train who has ties back to the original 1711 incident named Czes who is trying to devour Maiza? And the Runorata having a beautiful assassin named Chane on there? And a rough and tough reporter named Rachel who unwittingly gets involved in pretty much everything?
If that isn’t enough, we cut to 1932 and the aftermath of what happens on the train. Whilst I won’t give away too much because of spoilers, the other major issue is Eve looking for her brother Dallas, who has gone missing. Dallas was actually giving an experimental dose of the formula Szilard to be immortal, but things went a bit haywire and he is apparently missing. This leads to confrontation with Luck as the story ties in with everything by the end with a lot of revelations, silliness and somehow everything tying in together.
I say this because everything described above doesn’t happen in that order. It starts simply enough of a young girl working as an assistant to a newspaper with her boss retelling the story trying to figure out who are the ‘main characters’ of this tale. It switches from Firo meeting Ennis, to Chane floating in a river, to Eve watching the reveal of what happened to her brother, to the creation of the elixir, to Ladd’s past, to Jacuzzi’s history with the Ladd family, to Szilard realising one of the members didn’t drink it (which adds another great element that a seemingly minor character becomes a spanner in the works right in the final episode, not to mention the reveal of the devil actually residing in the world) – it basically tells the story, but not in a chronological or-der. The viewer needs to pierce it together, which it does quite well, but as I said, this is one of these series where a couple of rewatches are needed – for example, figuring out who Claire is and what he is doing and his motivations, or the hints that Isaac was in fact immortal before it was revealed (and the last episode has a hilarious moment when they actually realise they’ve not aged…in 2001 ^^), the demon actually existing alongside everyone else, and the early indications of Maizas’ role before the reveal that he was living in 1711.
Each of the stories intertwine with each other, with some sort of link. The weakest of them is probably the Genoard story, but that is mostly due to the fact the characters involved are not as either likeable, fun or just memorable as Isaac, Miria, Firo or Ladd. The story itself is still good and the idea of the information brokers as well as someone being behind the heist of the train whilst wondering if he truly cared for his family there is intriguing, and what really happened to Dallas is a very cruel twist of fate, and you certainly feel for Eve as well as she is a rare innocent in this gangster world, to the point that the more honourable Gandors like Luck truly am sorry to her, but only her alone considering what her brother did. The moment when Isaac/Miria get involved is hilarious with the whole inheritance angle (with them being rogues of fun, them stealing an inheritance despite being comical seems a bit out of character for them, but then you see what they do with it right at the end of the series and you just smile) but it is the weakest part which is the only reason this show doesn’t get an A+.
The other angles on the other hand, are amazing – the ideas of immortals, alchemy and summoning – it is definitely all supernatural, but strangely aside from that, the characters throughout the show are mostly showing as realistic (albeit some with unnatural skills and fighting techniques, Claire, Chane and to a lesser extent Ladd for example of the non-immortals) as well as not being invincible and the fear of being devoured is there – also the fact that some have been devastated via torture (Czes is the big ‘winner’ here when you learn his backstory of how he came to be and in the hands of one of the lesser characters from the original summoning), whilst others treat it as the best thing they’ve ever done. The majority of the action however happens on the train – we get flashbacks to pretty much all the characters like Jacuzzi, Nice and Ladd before they do something interesting and/or awesome, and how their roles are defined, whether being completely good like Rachel, mostly good like Isaac, Miria, Jacuzzi and Nice, neutral but with a sense of honour like Claire or Chane, just out for their own benefit (most of the white and black suits) and just being a dick for the sake of being one because it is fun…which is just Ladd.
In fact, the characters are the real draw for this show along with the 3 part story. How the characters interact makes the initial question in the first episode on who is the main character a legit one. For example, Isaac and Miria are the first characters we see in the opening, and are a fun-loving duo who are thieves who seem to never get caught but their costume ways make people think they are actors. They are fun loving and for some reason seem to be friendly with everyone, and actually make people like this. Ennis, Firo, Czes and even Claire all seem to succumb to this, yet the two aren’t an integral part of any of the mafia plots, the heist or the Rail Tracer plot (the Rail Tracer being a monster who kills/devours people on trains, which of course a lot of blood occurs and a mysterious red faced monster is on the train…but is actually Claire…), they just seem to be in the right place at the right time. Fino is another character suggested, being the newest member of his family, a newly turned immortal, a highly skilled fighter and a nice romance budding with Ennis, but he is only important for one part of the story. Ennis herself too, supposedly a doll with no emotions, gets them when she meets Firo, Isaac and Miria, betraying her master but again, no focal point on the train arc. Ladd, is one of those rare beast of a characters who is a total monster, psychotic, enjoys killing as a hobby (his girlfriend even accepts this, even when he wants to kill her!)…yet somehow is one of the most memorable and even to an extent, likeable characters on the show, simply because he is so hilarious and over the top that you are always going to remember a guy like that – he doesn’t actually kill any of the other likeable characters which might also come into play, but despite him being extremely memorable, in the end, he is just a thug who likes killing.
So in short, everyone is a potential main character in this, and because all the stories are spread out, anyone who is a named character is going to be memorable. Along with the above, Claire (the Rail Tracer who has some surprisingly deep morals), Chane (a mute girl who is the ‘daughter’ of one of the original immortals who chooses to lose her voice to make sure she can’t reveal any secrets), Rachel (an acrobatic journalist with ties to the rail who forms a strange friendship with Claire in the OVAs), Czes (a young immortal who is trying to devour Maiza but also wants a family), Maiza (one of the few original immortals who now is part of Vino’s group) and Luck (the one Gandor who has a sense of honour, respect and friendship for those who deserve it) are all memorable as well – and all their stories link in with at least one of these characters. The shame there wasn’t any more of this as there are ongoing light novels which tell more like what happens after the Pussyfoot hijacking, the fates of Dallas, Ladd and even Isaac/Miria are told in more detail, as well as the relationship between Ennis and Fino. There is a lot more I am aware of, and wished more had been animated.
That said, this is a fantastic series. And one thing haven’t mentioned because of the setting and how well the crew adapts, it is a rare one that works better in English. The English dub is superb and capturing the accents of course whether Brooklyn or Irish, it really gels better in a western setting series, similar to ones like Hellsing or Licenced By Royalty. The Japanese is fine of course but I’ve rewatched this so many times in English I almost see it as a western animation rather than a Japanese anime. And because of the non-chronological order, rewatches are a must. And then you realise how clever and amazing this series is, and the fact despite such a huge cast, they are all mostly memorable, whether as fun, as badass, as insane or mysterious, the only downside is that there wasn’t any more. Fantastic series.
Baccano is a series pre-Durarara that gives us multiple characters, several timelines, mixes them in how they feel like, and yet it doesn’t come off as lazy or confusing. Instead, it comes off as a very clever device to tell a story – from 1711 with the creation of immortals to 1932 when that immortality can be a curse or a blessing, to in between when most of the cast somehow meet, to excellent action sequences, back-story and drama, to comedy, insanity and realisation, Baccano is one of those series that is good to watch, but even better to rewatch just so you realise how everything syncs in. High definition, a superb dub and some great extras for you collectors just sweetens the deal. Most highly recommended.
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B- (A for collector’s edition)
Released By: Anime Ltd
Release Date: November 16th, 2015
Running Time: 400 minutes
Video Encoding: PAL
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 – 1.78:1
Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System