Baccano! Is Overrated…

…But You Should Give It a Spin Anyways!

The Main Ladies

Baccano, as said in other places, is an ensemble film-type work. There is a large cast thrown in a bunch of seemingly unrelated stories that intersect by happenstance and causes-effects. It is adapted from a series of light novels, and the novels are like so. A little more read will tell you that the name signifies a seemingly bunch of chaotic nonsense spiraling out into craziness but spinning a coherent tale at the same time.

Well, to be fair as pulp entertainment this is pretty top notch with one caveat–you just have to watch it all at one setting. Being 13 episodes long, it means you can finish the ~5 hour journey in one setting indeed. This is one show that doesn’t benefit any from the wait. You just have to watch it all at once, as the material is fresh in your mind. It also benefits from re-viewing.

But this is a series that is more than what meets the eye. Sort of like this post is actually about photography than the concert last week.

That subtle plug aside, Baccano is overrated. And sadly in the way that Kamichu isn’t (more people ought to watch it!). What I mean by that is both are great shows that deserved to be viewed, but both have some flaws. What’s interesting is that, obviously, there are probably only…one or two works of anime, in a serial format, that is in an ensemble film format. And what’s great about Baccano is that it works.

But there’s a lot that doesn’t.

What meets the eye once you stare at Baccano as a whole for a while is a lot of blanks and emptiness. The work in general is completed, but it’s missing a lot of information. Not every character’s motivation is explained, their purpose revealed. And some of them seems rather … key. We might enjoy watching Miria and Issac fool around, but we can probably use less of them in the spotlight and use the time to flesh out Ladd, the Gandors, the newspaper company, and some of the less notable puppet-master types. Its shotgun approach to characterization is risky especially when you have a very eccentric cast instead of a horde of ordinary strangers.

But that said, there were some pretty amusing, ordinary strangers in Baccano. And the show comes back to that–it’s amusing! You’ll likely find one out of the dozens of characters in the show intriguing, if not more. A lot of likable, hearty Americans in this anime, despite some screw-ups with setting and some well-played moments. It is the kind of show that you can just kick back and enjoy….

Except that it is a ensemble film that requires you to remember events from previous episodes (all the way dated back to episode 1) to piece everything together with clarity. It is the kind of show that gives the viewer a blank in the narrative sentence and the viewer will instinctively try to fill that blank. And for me the answer I put in the blank doesn’t always make sense. Maybe for some folks the answer in the blank makes more sense, or for some they’re not as nit picky about having the perfect fit in that blank, but the ensemble film format is both Baccano’s greatest strength (on uniqueness grounds alone) and its Achille’s heel.

Or, as I often say about TV anime that comes close to “good” – bad (okay, it’s harsh, but the pacing was definitely not consistent and was dragging at parts) pacing ruins the day.

Not to mention the whole “what’s well that ends well” nonsense. I LOL’d at it but it leaves me empty and unfulfilled :(

Well, enough criticism for something so undeserving. It’s a great show and you all should go and enjoy a TV anime that dares to sidestep the common mode for its narrative. That’s what progressive anime are made of.

11 Responses to “Baccano! Is Overrated…”

  • Mirrinus

    Hmm…calling a show that almost no one watches “overrated”. Kind of dicey, if you ask me. Overrated by how many people? Four?

    Not that I completely disagree with your logic or anything, I just think that’s pretty poor word choice.

  • Lupus

    A lot of your (valid) criticisms seem to be the result of having only the first of many novels animated. There are scenes in the first episode that we never saw happen in the show, and hints of other surviving Immortals in episode 7, that I feel are groundwork for the later novels. If it’s taken as a standalone, obviously it feels lackluster in those aspects; but if you think of it as a first of many (as you would if you were reading the books as they are in a series), then a lot of those criticisms become invalid.

    Of course, because it IS an anime that may or may not get sequels, it has to be taken alone, and so your criticisms are spot on. At the start of some episodes I feel temporarily confused and have to go back to check and make sure I didn’t forget to watch an episode.

  • tj han

    But it is the greatest show since Yakitate Japan!

  • omo

    Mirrinus: well, it’s overrated by four people, then :p

    Actually I think if a series is fully subbed within the span of its TV airing (just by a few weeks in Baccano’s case), one can assume a reasonable number of people are interested in the show and was watching it.

  • digitalboy

    Overrated by me, perhaps? XD I can’t help it, this show pushed ALL the right buttons for me, just like Welcome to the NHK and Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. And BTW, omo, if you know more shows like these 3 please tell me since no one seems to know when I ask T_T

  • Max

    Minor correction: It’s Miria and Isaac, not Miria and Keith. I’d say Keith Gandor would hate her if he knew her.

    I also don’t think enough people know Baccano! to say it’s overrated. I really like the style of the show, the way the plots intersect and become one towards the end. It’s as good as Fantastic Children, a show I like to call “the greatest anime no one’s ever heard of.” (Although those that have often write it off because of its old school art style.) That some characters aren’t completely “fleshed out” as you say is a given; the series was only based off of two light novels in the Baccano! series, so of course there’s going to be lots of holes. I’m also willing to assume that the series was geared toward people who already had a vague idea of the story line.

    But having gone into it with no idea what it was about, I’d say it did a pretty good job. The plot wasn’t airtight, but it wasn’t wishy-washy either; that’s not easy to do in a series as short as this. Even some longer series leave out key points that, say, their manga counterparts might have included. (Or worse, they stall for time by making useless “filler” seasons.) Baccano! was, in my opinion, very satisfying. I’m hoping I can find some of the light novels on eBay or some online store.

    Well, TL;DR and all that. Bottom line: just because, say, your friends are raving about it but you weren’t too keen on the show doesn’t make it overrated. Better luck next time.

  • omo

    I think it’s overrated because it’s not a show you should rave about? A lot of its perceived qualities come from how fresh it is as an anime, not because of how well those qualities and ideas were executed (as they were sloppily in Baccano).

    Thank you for the error pickup.

  • Windspirit

    Go back and watch the very first scene of the very first episode. Remember the butler with the little girl ? Talking about how hard it is to tell a story and not omit every single detail, every single character’s motivation, etc. ?

    The morale of this show is that it is almost impossible to tell an epic story with perfect accuracy, without omitting the detail and focusing on the (thrilling) main meat. And they had 17 freaking characters to develop in 13 episodes, some did (the most important and interesting ones), some did not (Chane, Ladd, etc.), and Baccano is all about that : in a story like this, a real story and not some random harem crap, it is nearly impossible to reveal all the single details.

    And this is why I enjoy EVEN the damn plot holes in this SPLENDID anime.

  • omo

    It’s going to happen in the books, so not seeing it in the anime is just part of being incomplete. I think you’re reading too much into it in the wrong context.

  • Windspirit

    I don’t really like to compare original sources and adaptations.
    I do not really care about the books, I take the anime for what it is and sometimes, there are annoying plot holes and incoherences, yet just because of the first scene of the first episode, I overlooked these plot holes and enjoyed what was offered to me.

    I think it’s the best way to enjoy Baccano.

  • omo

    Well, to be fair for an anime that’s missing a lot it works out pretty well with what it has.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.