-Gustav St. Germaine
Genre: Crime fiction, Historical, Fantasy
Creator: Ryōgo Narita
Studio: Brain’s Base
Length: 16 episodes
Highlights: Lots of characters, complex and non-linear narrative
Based off a series of light novels by Ryōgo Narita, Baccano! is either a story or a collection of multiple intertwined stories, depending upon how you view it. This story involves a vast number of characters, far too many to name here; however, some of the most notable include the brainless but lovable robber duo Isaac and Miria, the three brothers of the Gandor mafia family (Keith, Berga, and Luck), the psychotic and dramatic serial killer Ladd Russo, the Daily Days newspaper vice-president Gustav St. Germaine, Gustav’s young assistant Carol, and up-and-coming Mafioso Firo Prochainezo. None of these people are the “main character” per se (although Firo is once labeled as such by Carol), as Baccano! is not about any one of them or even any of the separate groups. Baccano! is about the events that transpire when fate pushes this varied bunch of people together.
The core of the story involves the Elixir of Life, created by a 300 year-old Immortal named Szilard Quates (and he doesn’t even have the most ridiculous name in this series). After 200 years of work, he has finally managed to recreate the formula of the lost Elixir, which when drunk will prevent death by injury, sickness, and old age. His triumph is short-lived though, as the Elixir is stolen from him. The tale of exactly what happens to the Elixir after it has been stolen, and the people who come in contact with it, concerns the vast majority of the plot of the show.
The story of Baccano! is divided into three main sections: the United States in 1930, 1931, and 1932, although we will occasionally flash to other times and places. Not only are these three sections not told in order relative to each other, they are not even linear within themselves. The first episode flashes forward to reveal crucial plot points, which are meaningless without the context that the following episodes fill-in. The show constantly flashes between the three main sections (and a couple of others) without any warning or apparent rhyme or reason. The series plays with the standard methods of storytelling, and occasionally even lampshades it within the show itself; Gustav St. Germaine once gently scolds Carol for assuming this story they are following is simple enough to have a “main character”, or even to have such fundamental things as a “beginning” or “end”.
Between the huge number of characters and the highly non-linear story-telling, Baccano! is a complex jig-saw puzzle of a show that is highly confusing when initially viewed. The first few episodes, especially, are often a struggle just to remember all the characters; this is eased by the fact that the show’s opening scrolls through most of the characters. It is not until later in the series that one is able to gather enough information and initially-missing background info to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together. However, there are a few minor things that the show never explains, as the series of novels it is based on covers more than just what the anime adapted for screen.
Baccano! is a bit of an oddity with its unusual narrative conventions. Nonetheless, I believe that its oddity is precisely what makes it great, because it is so different in the anime world. As I have said before, the reason I am writing this series of articles is because there is a huge volume of anime that has been created over the years and decades, and much of it (like every medium with a large volume of work) is frankly very cliché and predictable. Baccano! is a great series because it takes traditional narrative conventions and turns them on their head, creating a unique work with a wonderful style. Or maybe I just love non-linear storytelling. But even if you don’t share my love of anachronistic films, Baccano! is a fun, complex, and unique anime series.