Studio Brain Base’s adaptation of Ryogo Narita’s light novel is not an easy show to describe. True to its namesake, it is a noisy show set in an equally noisy era. Prohibition America, during which the bulk of the story takes place, was a complicated time rife with crime, social tumult, and economic hardships. It would be difficult to find a more appropriate crossroad for the diverse cast of characters we are introduced to. Baccano, despite its, at times, fantastical plot lines, is a work that is very much grounded in the realities of life; Narita’s story is not clean, but then again neither is life.
Most of the characters introduced have very distinctive and colourful qualities that at times make them perfect fits for the chaos of the time, and at others make them stand out like sore thumbs as you contrast them with the more sober decors of the show. From a variety of mobsters to small-time delinquents, centuries-old immortals or bizarrely nimble and friendly assassins, there is no shortage of interesting characters to see. Narita never shines the spotlight exclusively on one character, instead choosing to allow every character his time on the stage to add on to the whole of the story. This approach contributes to the frenzied nature of the show; Baccano never stops, it is dynamic and rightfully so and it reminds us that always, for someone, at someplace, something is going on.
The majority of the characters are flawed but, despite their quirky nature, they bring something organic to the table. This is wanted; Narita’s story is not so much concerned with the overarching plot or its denouement, and he tells us this early on when the narrators tell us that even they do not know if this story has an end because it doesn’t matter.
Characters like the loveable and quirky duo of Miria and Isaac have admittedly no business being in a recreation of such a dark time. They are free electrons and their cartoony antics add another measure of interference in already massively complicated situations; while the maniacal sociopath Ladd Russo ravels in the chaos around him at first. All the characters in the show add fuel to the fire in their own way; whether it be through their dastardly acts or better-willed ones, they affect others’ life in some way.
Miria and Isaac are the most prominent in this role and there is no better description for their tribulations than the title of episode 8: “Isaac and Miria Unintentionally Spread Happiness Around Them“. Ironically, these seemingly chaotic and non-sensical characters bring a measure of order to other people’s life; they are pivotal to Czes opening to the world around him and to Ennis finding where she truly belongs. The very fact that they exist as people in this world affects others in some way. In a sense, they symbolise the acceptance of the inherently chaotic nature of life, but also the notion that what truly matters is how we treat one another.
On the other hand, you might find characters like Ladd or Claire Stanfield that have a much more negative impact than the above two. Ladd’s glorification of death and Claire’s unethical brand of justice places them in antagonistic roles during the ‘Flying Pussyfoot’ arc. Yet, Narita reminds us that people more often than not exist on a spectrum; Claire, whose actions seem despicable at the start, is eventually revealed to have strong moral beliefs and Ladd, despite his self-absorbed nature, is revealed to care about his fiancée Lua more than anything else. Equally, even the more heroic characters of the show are morally flawed; Firo, Luck, and the other mobsters, despite their friendly nature, remain criminals with little qualms about cold-blooded murder; while Isaac and Maria are thieves that often remain oblivious to the negative repercussions of their endeavours.
Studio Brain Base’s thematic commitment to embracing the chaos of this world is also reflected in his structural choice. Baccano’s disjointed structure did not re-invent the wheel; it has been done before with the likes of Pulp Fiction and Cloud Atlas. Admittedly, Baccano’s formula, spanning first a few years before then hopping further forward and backwards, is perfect for the story that Narita wants to tell; that of chaotic beings making their way in an equally chaotic world.
With the narrative liberty that is afforded by the structure, it is able to play with the expectations of the viewer and also create intrigue. The story moves in strides, often willingly placing the cart before the bull by presenting effect before causality. This adds to the dynamicity of the show as the viewer is invited to engage more personally into the story to put the pieces of the puzzle back in order. For instance, the existence of immortals aboard the Flying Pussyfoot in 1931 is an important plot point but the very existence of immortals in itself is not addressed until much later in the plotline surrounding the events of 1930, deepening the mystery surrounding the characters and creating more confusion. The show embraces the fact that perfect knowledge of events does not exist in real life.
Baccano’s mix of realism and fantasy creates a truly unique experience that tells a compelling story. You would not be faulted to think that Narita’s work was a symphony out of tune; plot lines and new characters are constantly being added to the mix. Yet, it is very satisfying when the lives of the multitude of characters intersect in the way they do. There is something genuine in the way Baccano portrays human relations; its characters may be exaggerated and quirky at times, but they are never perfect. Baccano embraces the beauty of unexpected meetings and unlikely friendships that help, even if just a little, in overcoming the vagaries of life; it is a celebration of life in its entirety that acknowledges and embraces a world where a variety of people exist.