Saturday, 22 May 2010

Suddenly, out of nowhere, an anime review! Baccano!

Largely copied and pasted from a forum post because I'm a worthless hack.

So I've watched a bunch of series over the past few months, including Kimi ni Todoke, Potemayo, Bakemonogatari, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha and Sengoku Basara. They ranged from so-so, to good, to great. I could write a review of any or all of them, but none of them really WOWed me, and I've been left feeling a bit burnt out on these silly Chinese cartoons lately. However, I recently watched Baccano! and it was fucking awesome so I'm going to talk about that instead.

Based on the light novel series by Ryohgo Narita, it takes part mostly across several years in prohibition-era Manhattan (mainly 1930 to 1932) and also one particular night aboard a trans-continental express train, the Flying Pussyfoot. It's about Mafiosi, Camorristi, gangsters, thieves, brutal murder, and... immortality: the catalyst for the "baccano" of the title (Italian for "din" or "commotion") is two bottles of immortality elixir that go missing and get mistaken for booze.

The viewpoint switches constantly between all of its large cast of characters, and also between time periods. It seems bewildering as of the end of first episode, but you quickly get used to it, and over time the bigger picture is cleverly built up until the whole story slots together and makes sense.

And that story has everything. Action, drama, suspense, comedy, romance, gore, whatever you like... and it does almost all of it very well. Not only this, but its one of those rare pieces of media where pretty much every character is awesome. The best are definitely Isaac and Miria, two idiotic, eccentric, but utterly loveable thieves, who unintentionally spread happiness wherever they go.

In any other series they would literally steal the show (they did steal the door to a museum that one time...), but the rest of the cast is so strong they're merely the icing on the cake. From the charming, magnanimous Maiza Avaro, the eager and sincere Firo Prochainezo, the occasionally bold crybaby Jacuzzi Splot, and the affectionate, mellow pyromaniac Nice Holystone...

to the sadistic, unpredictable Ladd Russo, the mute but intense Chane Laforet, the quiet, unassuming Ennis, and the calculating, manipulative Szilard Quates, almost all of the main cast is distinctly memorable and likeable. There are a couple of individuals who are a bit less inspiring, but the viewpoint is generally with a group rather than a single person, and there's no group that makes you think "Dammit, get back to that last lot, they were more interesting!"
Given the setting, it was actually too weird for me to watch it in Japanese, so it's just as well that the English dub is also very good, with faithful accents and dialects all round. Two french-accented characters are a bit dodgy, and I think the acting is occasionally better in the Japanese dub (that and I fucking love Miria's japanese voice), but overall it's one of the best dubs I've seen, and definitely enhances the experience.

Overall, apart from being very unlike most anime (especially compared to the moe/fanservice/harem/high-school trend in recent seasons) it takes what must be excellent source-material (having not read the novels, I only have this second-hand) and adapts it into 13 (+3) episodes so cleverly you'd never even know it was an adaptation, with almost every aspect executed near-perfectly. Definitely a must-watch.

I would post better pictures, but I can't really be bothered to sift all the way through all 16 episodes to find more than these, so you can make do.

Since this post is too positive and I should at least complain about SOMETHING, the 2012 Olympic mascots are fucking atrocious. I read they picked them after going through 40 focus groups. Proof enough that focus groups are a bunch of bullshit, I think.

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