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Baccano? Bacca-yes!

I offer my apologies for the irresistibly awful pun. No idea what the title of Baccano means, but as of the 3/4 mark it is a series both completely crazy and crazy-awesome.  Kinda like a really cheerful Boogiepop Phantom crossed with The Untouchables and a stiff dash of Highlander thrown in for good measure.

On one hand, I’m enjoying the story and mood a lot—interesting characters, brisk pace, dark setup, savagely violent, yet has a very strong sense of humor at the same time.  Looks great, too—sweet ’30s flavor of Chicago streets and gangland speakeasys.

On the other, MAN is that a confusing series. 17 characters explicitly named in the intro alone, an indeterminate number of whom are immortal, at least a half dozen more who make repeated appearances, four crime families, one cult (or two, depending on how you count another group of villains), a club of psychos, at least one monster, two cities, and as if all that weren’t enough the story is spread across at least four different time periods (1930, 1931, 1932, a doomed train ride with about half the cast on it, and an episode of backstory from 1711).

Still not confused enough?  All of the time periods other than a train look rather similar, and are only introduced with maybe a year at the very beginning of an episode.  The scene then jumps back and forth constantly between time periods, particular cast members being followed, and location throughout every episode. You could spend a week just re-editing this thing into chronological order, and half the time would be just figuring out what scene fit where. (Fanedit, where are you?)

When I say there’s a lot going on I’m not kidding; after every episode the three of us that’re watching it spend a few minutes comparing mental notes to make sure we have at least some idea what just happened and where it fits in. Usually we also go back and check things of particular interest (sometimes in much earlier episodes), though the cuts are so frequent it’s surprisingly difficult to even find a particular scene. There’s always at least a few important things that one or the other of us flat-out missed, and that includes someone who already watched half of it once.  This series would make so much more sense the second time through, when you actually knew what was going on or being alluded to, not to mention saw things you totally forgot about by the time they became relevant on the first viewing.

It’s not even that it’s working at obfuscating things; people are usually pretty direct in their motives, and very little of what’s going on is vague.  It’s just that there’s so much going on that, compounded by the violently non-linear form it’s presented in, it’s a mental challenge just to keep up and put the pieces together. Heck, around the midpoint it actually relents and gives you one solid episode of backstory that only jumps around a little bit within its own timeline; this explains a whole lot about the mechanics of what’s been going on, but you still don’t have any idea what’s up with at least half the characters, and the rest still have all kinds of secrets left, too.

On the other hand, much like Boogiepop Phantom, the challenging puzzle aspect of it all is part of the appeal—like getting a stack of pieces without the picture on the box to help—and certainly keeps you paying close attention. Also like Boogiepop, it appears to be going somewhere very concrete and specific, so I expect (or desperately hope, rather), that it’s going to be satisfying once all the pieces have been laid out. There’s no time to get bored, that’s for sure.

(Note, by the way, that when I say “part of its appeal,” I mean “part of what makes it very, very awesome.”)

Plus, the comic relief duo of Milly and her partner Issac:  They are so completely self-centered, unwaveringly happy, blissfully oblivious due to rank stupidity, and completely insane that you cannot help but love them.  That they find themselves bumping into vast deadly conspiracies due entirely to awful luck makes it even better, and they basically give the whole thing a sense of humor about itself that makes it all work. The episode focused on them as they prance around the edges of the story through its timeline is brilliant (and a perfect counterpoint to the previous exposition episode and subsequent one, probably the two darkest of the series)—the musical flourishes that accompany their crazed plans and incoherent attempts to help people are flat-out perfect.

It’s not just them, either—most of the cast leans toward brooding or mafia grit (or complete, raving, bloodlust-crazed psychopaths—one guy in particular makes Heath Ledger’s Joker look mentally stable), but there are other characters with a sense of humor as well, particularly one kind-hearted leader of a gang of bootleggers who is basically a jelly-kneed pacifist who’s afraid of his own shadow when he’s not being driven by his nature to try and help people in the face of near-suicide. With bombs and tommy guns.

Other unusual things are the mix of immortal and not-so-immortal characters; you don’t know exactly who is even capable of dying by normal means, but either way being listed in the opening credits is no guarantee that you’ll survive even the first few episodes. Of course, given the non-linear nature of it all, just because you see somebody die in episode 2 (or 1) doesn’t mean you won’t see them again later.

Basically it’s a series that has done everything right so far; all it has to do is hold it together through the end and it’ll be a raging success. Series I like (anime in general, really) have a tendency to fall apart at the last moment, but I’m optimistic that Baccano won’t.

Also, for reference, it’s somewhere around episode 8 or 9 where you finally get enough of the pieces to start to guess what the picture on the box might be. The point, I assume, is more about the picture than the ending, since you already saw a lot of what will probably qualify as the epilogue, or at least post-climax, in the first episode.

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