Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I just finished watching this series, and I have to say, it's been a long time since I had so much fun watching a series. Baccano! is a total romp! It's a series that's unique in so many ways, and you know how I'm always drawn to the unique. Still, it surprises me that this series satisfied me on so many levels because it's not at all like what I'm usually attracted to.

I didn't watch this series when it was coming out. I bought the complete series (16 episodes) on DVD the other day on a whim. It's also been quite some time since I've done that. I used to pick my anime that way when I first started watching anime. Fushigi Yuugi and Rurouni Kenshin were random, whim picks that worked out. As was Trigun. Texhnolyze was an example of a less-than-great whim pick. Can't win them all, right? Still, since I was shown how to download anime, I've pretty much only bought anime DVDs of series that I've already seen and liked. Buying random anime DVDs is fairly rare for me now. I'm not sure what drew me to Baccano! Just lucky, I guess.

Baccano! is unique in a bunch of ways. For one thing, it really doesn't have one or two major characters. Most of the cast gets about the same amount of screen time, and it's a large cast. So no one gets a lot of screen time. My favorite character is the guy in this picture, Firo. He lives! Yes, a favorite character of mine actually survives the series. Sugoi, ne? Actually the vast majority of the cast lives. The other character in the picture is Ennis. Like the rest of the cast, these two appear infrequently enough to be considered minor characters in any other anime series, and yet they play a huge role in the plot. The two characters that appear most often in Baccano! are Miria and Isaac, a pair of totally clueless, totally inept, petty thieves, who manage to accomplish things quite by accident and just generally make everyone around them happy. They are childishly silly, and should have no more role than occasional comic relief, and yet they end up as central to the plot as any of the rest of the gang. Plus they provide an added bit of continuity by appearing frequently.

The series needs that added bit of continuity because it is FAR from chronological. The story is told in bits and pieces, flashbacks and flash-forwards and flash-sidewards. Something that makes no sense when you see it, is totally important to the story later. Usually I don't like things quite this scattered, but this is really well done. From the perspective of looking at the whole series, I'm amazed by their ability to dance around as much as they do, and still tell a coherent tale, and also make it fun to watch. The plot is also far from predictable, and this is aided by the way everything is presented. This back and forth presentation of apparently random scenes is another of the unique things about Baccano!

Baccano! is a story about immortal gangsters, so the plot is a tad unique in itself. Or I should say, it's a story about immortals who happen to be living as gangsters during the early 1930s, and being immortal has a decided advantage in that role. Parts of the story are relatively bloody, and it has it's share of seriously deranged characters, but it's only briefly gross. For example, madman concocting the immortal elixir tests it on a rat and then smashes the rat with a hammer. (Ewww!) Luckily the elixir has been perfected and the rat draws back together and lives. And the wacko characters in the series are often as not pretty amusing too. Plus Baccano! is a love story, or rather several of the subplots are love stories.

I really think one of the reasons I enjoyed watching this series so much was partly because I wasn't overly concerned about character death. Because of the timeline jumping around that the plot does, often when the characters are facing imminent death, you know they've survived it because you've already seen them in a scene that occurs in time after the one you're currently watching. It's very comforting not to be all tense about whether a character you like is about to bite the big one.

Another unique part of Baccano! is that they successfully tie up ALL the loose ends in a sometimes incredibly scattered plot. Which also makes it very satisfying to watch. I didn't have to wonder about what happened to any of the characters. It's all in there. And there are MANY subplots going on, with all the characters having specific stories that intersect with the larger plot.

And the most amazing thing of all, which also made me laugh my ass off. The last episode, one of the characters gives a treatise on "why stories should not have endings"!!!! All good stories don't end. They continue on. I just died. How could a series like this appeal to me on sooooooo many levels? It's like they pushed every button I have, and made me enjoy it. After all my rants about non-ending endings, I watch a series that actually gives me a lecture on why stories shouldn't end. I was nearly crying, I was laughing so hard.
Is it obvious that I liked this series? I think I'll watch it again.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Best Friend / Best Enemy

Best Friend-Best Enemy (BF-BE) is a theme that's pretty common in anime. It's not particularly one of my favorite plot devices, but it's so common I thought I'd just talk about it. With this theme, two best friends, usually childhood friends that have grown up together, end up fighting each other. They fall out onto opposite sides in the grand scheme of things. The reason it's not among my favorite types of anime is because usually a LOT of angst is involved in them having to fight each other. Plus it seems like there's often a LOT of character death in this type of anime. Plus I always get frustrated and want to knock their heads together and tell them to get over it and just TALK to each other.

A classic example of this type of anime is Fushigi Yuugi, with childhood friends Miaka and Yui fighting against each other in a series of world-spanning battles for supremacy. Of course they don't fight each other directly. They both have seven protectors/fighters/minions who spend the series slowly killing each other off ... after you get to know and like them of course. This series is a good example of the extensive character death often seen with this this type of plot.

Other examples of BF-BE anime include Trigun and Dragonaut. Dragonaut is a pretty messed up series, as well as being overly fan-service-y, but one of the basic premises of both these series is two central characters who grew up together as best friends and then the best friend goes bad and spends most of the series trying his best to kill the main character. In Trigun this theme doesn't become apparent until later in the series, but it's there. The main character's best friend in these two anime series becomes a total whacko, but in both cases and in Fushigi Yuugi as well, that best-friend-gone-bad (BFGB) is essentially redeemed in the end. Redeeming the BFGB is always the best possible ending for this type of anime, but unfortunately it doesn't always happen.

Sometimes the main characters and their 'Best Friends' just aren't that lucky. In Garei Zero, the BFGB ends up being killed by the main character who never stops loving her even when forced to kill her. This is another reason why this isn't my favorite type of anime. It often ends up being really tragic. Code Geass is like this also, although they do leave you feeling in the end that Suzaku didn't really kill Lelouch, that Lelouch survives in some form.

A series that is totally tragic (2 Kleenex box series), essentially from beginning to end and is probably the ultimate example of the best friend - best enemy type is CLAMP's X. Not only are the main characters childhood friends who must battle each other for the future of the world, but the BFGB (Fuuma) actually kills the main character (Kamui). Fuuma also ends up redeemed in the end. And on top of that the theme is repeated in lesser characters. Subaru, a character from Kamui's group kills his counterpart in Fuuma's group, Sheishirou. The plot is complex here because Sheishirou is a figure from Subaru's past, who Subaru both loves and hates for killing his twin sister. Of course, CLAMP are masters of the twisted plot, as well as the tragic anime. Sometimes it's hard to believe they also did Card Captor Sakura.

Sometimes the BF-BE theme is not such a major part of the plot, but is still present in some form in a series. Often it's just that people on the opposite sides care for each other to some extent. Examples of this include Nabari no Oh with Miharu and Yoite, Withchunter Robin with Robin and Amon, and Saiunkoku with Shuurei and the red-haired guy. In all these cases, the two characters are on opposite sides in the main plot battle, but they care about each other and it affects their actions.
Occasionally the BF-BE theme appears in a series in a slightly different form. It comes up as a person the main character cares about and trusts betraying him/her. This is my least favorite form of BF-BE. I'm not fond of the betrayal theme. Examples of this are Third in Jyu Oh Sei, Durant in Chevalier D'Eon, Yuuya in Bakumatsu and Mansairaku in Otogizoshi. Even Bleach has an element of this although Byakuya's 'betrayals' have all been logical. Hmmmm. Byakuya would make a good Mr. Spock come to think of it.

In the end I suppose I'm not fond of the BF-BE theme because you shouldn't be in conflict with people you care about. Still it's prevalent, and I've enjoyed watching most of the anime I've mentioned here. I like it better when it's a smaller part of the overall series and not the main theme itself.