What They Say
Hot off the Roaring Twenties and headfirst into the uncertain volatility of the âDirty Thirties,â criminal syndicates stormed into power by bootlegging alcohol during the Prohibition 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 together for an explosive massacre straight out of crime noir movies.
The audio presentation for this release uses PCM stereo for both the Japanese and English mixes with them encoded at 1.5mbps. The show was originally a stereo presentation but FUNimation produced a 5.1 mix for the English dub, but Aniplex kept it in its stereo form. Having only skimmed the English 5.1 before, I don’t think it’s a significant issue since there wasn’t much of anything thrown to the rears and what we get here is a pretty strong stereo mix that’s largely dialogue based, so it’s all forward soundstage material to begin with. What it comes across as here is a very good show where the various characters talking all feel like they’re properly placed, the action sequences have a nice bit of oomph to it and there’s a good clean, smooth feeling overall. Baccano isn’t a big action piece, but when it’s used, especially with the background effects of the train and the like, it works well and has a fairly rich feeling at times. We didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2007, the transfer for this TV series presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is an SD upscale encoded in 1080i using the AVC codec. The sixteen episodes are spread across three discs with six on the first and five on the two subsequent discs, giving it plenty of room as the bit rate averages in the high thirties. Baccano has a very strong look to it when it comes to the style used, where it’s very fluid and active, but the color palette belies some of it in a way because it’s fairly muted for the most part. It has some very rich moments when it gets out of the dirt and grime of the common world or the underworld, and when it comes to the splattering of blood. The detail to the show is much more pronounced here and it looks great. The time spent on the train in particular looks good since it’s where most of the action occurs and most of the blood loss, so it stands out more. There’s plenty of action elsewhere and it looks good, but it has that slightly more muted look to it because of the style.
Baccano comes in a pretty nicely designed thin cardboard box where it has a black and gold framed border to it that gives it a classic and refined feeling. Within the framing, each main panel has a different image that brings various characters together that covers the majority of the main ones and some of the secondary ones. The artwork was made exclusive for this release and it’s definitely appealing to fans of the show and it has a good detailed look. Within the box, we get two standard sized Blu-ray cases where the first case holds two discs and the second holds the third.
The front and back covers to the cases are really nicely designed as it has the black border and any text, such as the episode numbers and titles, are all in gold. What defines the covers though is that the front and backs have a four square block wherein there are black and white character designs for twelve of the main characters. The back of the second cover skips this in order to provide a full breakdown of episode numbers and titles by volume and the usual extensive production cast information for the series. The reverse sides of the covers feature black and white shots of a couple of parts of New York City with the streets, the rail and so forth that gives it a very rough and raw feeling that fits the show very well.
The menus for this release don’t load on startup, but we get the fairly standard simply screen that asks you to choose a language. You can change everything on the fly, though, so selecting from the menu doesn’t have too much impact. The show starts right away but the pop-up menu rips a piece of the screen along the left and has the individual episode selection by number and language settings as well, while the third volume includes the extras. It’s a decent looking menu that fits into the show decently enough and is very easy to use. Player presets aren’t read because things are set via the load-up menu so you have to adjust things depending on what you want if you want subtitles.
The only extras included in this set are the clean opening and closing segments which can be found on the third volume.
Based on the novels by Ryohgo Narita which are at fifteen volumes and counting since starting in 2003, Baccano is a sixteen episode series that really works the viewer. When I originally watched the series, four episodes at a time, it was a frustrating experience because the show weaves together so many stories, many of which are unrelated with only some brief moments where they cross over, so the period between each volume made it a difficult experience. I can’t imagine watching this on a weekly basis and being able to keep track of it all, though I was able to do it with the author’s other work, Durarara. But that has a smaller cast overall and avoids dealing with massive time jumps back and forth like this one does.
Baccano really sets the stage in the opening segment of the first episode as we’re introduced to a little girl named Carol and an older man she refers to as the vice president of their company. They have a lengthy exchange about where a story really starts, talking about the different points in time where you could pinpoint a beginning. The story they want to talk about involves an incident aboard a train called the Pussyfoot Expressway back in 1931 where numerous people were killed, a legend grew and a number of very strange things happened. Through the course of their discussion, they move back and forth introducing the large cast that exists, shifting between when it happened in 1931 and some of the fallout events a year later in 1932. And to make matters worse, it drops into 1930 sometimes and has a hugely important jump back to 1711 with the element that reveals what’s really going on.
That foundation is what really drew me to the series when it’s introduced in full closer to the halfway mark. While the series focuses on a gang war of sorts, a train heist and a group of death wish hungry lunatics that just want to kill the weak in order to put them out of their own misery, it’s the introduction of the concept of immortality that really cements it. In 1711, a group of people on board a ship at sea made a bargain with a devil that has almost all of them partaking of an elixir that grants them eternal life. The deal isn’t all wonderful as there are rules attached to it, such as they have to reveal their real names to each other when they see them so they know who is truly who. Which is important since only another member of this group can end the life of one, by wishing to die and having the other person place their right hand on their forehead. That’s a cruel moment that sucks their essence and bodies into the other, which gives them all their knowledge. A person’s knowledge can be shared using their other hand as well, which is good since there’s so much accumulated knowledge between all of them that they have the potential to change the world.
What really made the deal interesting is that the devil gave the knowledge of how to make the elixir to just one person so that it would be somewhat controlled. He’s generally a decent guy and intent on this being a very limited event, but one of the most nefarious members of the cabal, Szilard, wants the formula and spends much time over the next couple hundred years trying to gain it from him in order to make his position all the more powerful. With a sizable group of people that can live like this, each with their own motivations, seeing how several of them come together through different circumstances in 1931 is really a treat to watch. With several on board the train, others in New York City that deal with the aftermath, it’s gotta be that rare kind of event that brings them together.
Baccano is a hard show to really talk about because of the size of the cast, the myriad number of storylines and connections and how it all slowly comes together in some ways. Over the first thirteen episodes, we get a really engaging story that jumps back and forth a few times too many for my tastes, but it brings us such a fascinating cast of characters and situations that it’s a huge draw. Certain characters stand out more than others depending on what you’re interested in. One pairing that I really liked is that of Isaac and Miria, two of the immortals who seem to have forgotten who they are as they spend their years doing robin hood style robberies, often while wearing wacky costumes, and generally being very happy and silly while doing so. While much of the show is generally serious, especially with all that happens aboard the train, there’s something inherently fun about this pair that makes them good to watch, though in small doses.
One of the things that help to really sell Baccano is the look of the show. Production studio Brain’s Base really did a fantastic job with this by creating a look and feel for New York during this time that’s very engaging and feels authentic. While I’m sure there are details to be quibbled by some, it has the sense about it that it’s accurate and believes so, which is half the battle right there. With a great sense of style due to the costumes, the hats and the way people carry themselves, it’s very easy to imagine all of this happening. The details to the backgrounds are really great, giving it even more atmosphere, and the character designs take it a step further as nobody feels like a cookie cutter design that you’ve seen in a hundred other shows. Baccano stands out on its own as a wonderful work.
Baccano was a hard show to watch the first time around when it was broken up, but it had some wonderful moments that made it stand out. Taking it in as a whole show over the course of a day, it’s an impressive work that really ties so many things together in a way that’s exhilarating to see unfold. Baccano is one of those shows that you really have to work at to get the most out of it. It’s not exactly complex, it just has a lot of storylines running through it that weave back and forth in one time period but also jumps to others as well to flesh out certain elements. I could have done without the three epilogue episodes that deals with events after the train arrives in New York City, but it has its merits and does give clue as to how certain things are resolved and can go. Baccano as a whole here is a great work that I can’t recommend enough, but it’s not fluff. It’s something much more and the payoff for it is the best. Highly recommended.
Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, English 2.0 PCM Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: May 17th, 2011
Running Time: 405 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080i AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.