Story: Ryohgo Narita
Art: Katsumi Enami
Translation: Taylor Engel
What They Say:
The year 1705, in a town on the coast of Italy. All fifteen-year-old Huey Laforet feels toward his life is apathy and despair, and he longs for the day when he can destroy the world he hates. Meanwhile, the town is abuzz with rumors of a bizarre string of murders performed by an eerie figure in a white mask– and whoever witnesses the killing is doomed to be the next target. As the serial killer shakes the town of Lotto Valentino, Huey’s life is about to change, too…
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As disappointed as I was in the previous arc of Baccano!, it did succeed in establishing the character of Huey Laforet as this mysterious mastermind– the root of a good chunk of the misfortunes that have taken place throughout the series so far, serving as this cold, unfeeling puppet master while others are simply slave to his master plan. So when I found that this volume would finally give some backstory to the character and why he acts the way he does in the present timeline, I was at the least curious for what author Ryohgo Narita had in stock.
What results isn’t the most satisfying at least when it comes to Huey’s backstory, but it does at least provide a decently entertaining tale, even if it loses its grasp on the story from time to time.
Taking place in the 1700s, centuries before the main stories take place, Baccano! volume 11 is both a sidestory as well as origin story to all other events in the series. While there’s no talk of the elixir of immortality, you do get a story explaining how the odd couple of Huey and Elmer first met. What I found disappointing about seeing this younger Huey is that age aside, his apathy for the world and everyone in it is just as edgelordy as it’s ever been. He has a certain indifference to his surroundings and superhuman levels of analysis that feel unearned and explained very halfheartedly. While Narita does eventually backtrack to an even younger, more innocent Huey, the inciting incident that leads Huey to forsaking society in the first place doesn’t feel all that connected to his own personal capabilities in the first place. It still makes sense within the story, but having witch hunts lead to Huey’s isolation, and thus ability to think and plan tens steps ahead of a society that (supposedly) hates him feels like too big a leap to take, and yet it’s explained all so matter-of-factly.
What balances Huey’s character out significantly is Elmer, who Narita takes a similar approach to in writing, yet he seems to fare much better because of it. We already don’t know that much about Elmer outside of being described as a “smile junkie,” and that’s pretty much what the younger Elmer comes off as, too. He’s new to the town of Lotto Valentino, and has a natural curiosity that gets him into trouble more often than not. He’s never insidious in any of his actions and merely acts out of a willingness to make someone else around him smile. His entire character is a very simple-minded concept, and yet unlike Huey, Elmer just works for the story being told.
Among a mysterious town filled with underground child trafficking, drug deals, false gold, and a killer on the loose, the odd couple of Elmer and Huey is a treat to read, the handful of times they’re actually in a scene together. It’s clear that Narita wrote them to be foils to each other, and the short back-and-forths they exchange have a very vaudeville energy to them. So it’s a shame when that energy is lost when it’s shoved into the Baccano formula of tossing in one too many characters into lots of seemingly unrelated stories at once. Between the foreign samurai characters, the non-love interest that is Monica, the runaway slave Niki, the eccentric Esperanza (who sidenote: I’m glad Narita has finally learned how to write weirdo characters in such a way that doesn’t waste too many pages), and a handful of other characters, we’re met with the same problem that every Baccano story has: a lack of focus.
While there are a handful of moments where Narita completely nailed the hectic nature of his own story, being able to one scene on a cliffhanger, and then immediately jump to an unrelated thread that ends up explaining just what happened in said cliffhanger, there are far more moments that feel like they exist simply to exist. The entire town itself is revealed to have become self-sustainable after a surplus of false gold was introduced to the town’s economy, and yet that revelation is introduced in a rather straightforward manner, seemingly because there are other plot threads that Narita wants to focus more on.
What results is an ultimately enjoyable, albeit occasionally rambly story that purposefully opens itself for a direct continuation come next volume, for better or worse.
With each passing Baccano! volume, author Ryohgo Narita slowly loses some bad habits, while stubbornly holding on to others. While the more eccentric characters like Esperanza feel better fleshed out, Narita’s habit of writing stunning revelations in the most blasé way possible remains in full force. His hectic style overall still makes for a decent read when he knows just where to jump from one story branch to another, but I do wish his overarching stories made for better singular narratives over some chunks of good and bad mixed together.
Content Grade: B-
Art Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A
Text/Translation Grade: A
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Yen Press
Release Date: September 3, 2019