Story: Ryohgo Narita
Art: Katsumi Enami
Translation: Taylor Engel
What They Say:
The year 1931.
A boy boards a train to visit his friend in New York. A women in coveralls boards a train to meet her employer in New York. And the conductor? He boards because it’s his job. If it were any other day, they would all get where they’re going just fine. But it’s not any other day. The Rail Tracer is on the hunt. The gonzo tale of gangsters, immortals, and outrageous luck (both bad and good) speeds into its third volume!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The Baccano light novel series has been somewhat lukewarm so far, not from its lack of trying, but because its anime adaptation had set such a high bar in terms of off-beat storytelling juggling dozens of seemingly unrelated plot threads at once and seamlessly tying everything together come its conclusion. This, in part, is due to the anime having 10 volumes worth of source material to dabble in, while author Narita (based on the English releases so far) writes in a more self-contained manner, jumping back and forth between characters, but always making a point to keep all actions and interactions within the confines of a single story. Such is a perfectly sensible approach, especially for the medium of the light novel, where anything past one single story would prove unwieldy and difficult to follow. Regardless, the Baccano light novels only made me wish for a second season of the anime that much more.
…at least, those were my thoughts until I finished this third volume.
Baccano volume 3 does everything I wished its previous volumes did but weren’t able to simply because they were tasked with having to establish a firm enough foundation for later volumes to go back and retread to its heart’s desire. The main difference with this volume in comparison to its predecessors is the fact that it takes place at the same time and location as volume 2, retelling the misadventures taking place on the Flying Pussyfoot and switching its perspective to a different batch of characters.
However, it should be noted that while the events take place at the same time as the last volume, the main objective this time around isn’t in telling a story, but in giving a different set of eyes with which to view them. Starting off with the series’ trademark prologues, we’re introduced to Czes the boy immortal, Rachel the serial train hopper, the mysterious gray “magician,” and the train’s own young conductor Claire, better known as the Rail Tracer. As we alternate perspectives between this new cast of miscreants, due to the story already being told, author Narita takes special care to really delve into what makes each character tick. Of note in particular are Czes and Claire, both of whom are monsters in very different ways. While Czes plans on eating the other hidden immortal on the train, making use of any passerby if necessary, Claire feels more self-aware, embracing the label of “monster” and using it to his advantage. Adding the seemingly mindless lunatic Ladd into the picture and you have an enticingly interesting insight of what it truly means to be a villain.
The one gripe I’d mention this time around is Narita’s need to clearly start and end a character arc for every person he introduces, making for some rather forced moments at times. The gray magician, as built up as his character is, ends up being more of a means to better explain character Lua, who herself isn’t all that interesting to begin with. Meanwhile, Rachel’s drama between herself and a former boss of her father feels incredibly low-stakes and unnecessary to her character arc as well.
Regardless, the pure energy Narita’s narrative has without having to worry about weaving a story this volume is just the type of narrative I was expecting of the Baccano name to begin with.
Having been freed of the burden of explaining a story and establishing its characters, Baccano volume 3 finally feels as pleasantly hectic as its anime counterpart. Narratives bounce back and forth between a varied array of characters without any care for whether or not the story itself is being told efficiently, and that’s just the kind of off-kilter storytelling I’ve come to expect of the series in the first place.
Content Grade: A
Art Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A
Text/Translation Grade: A
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Yen Press
Release Date: December 20th, 2016