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"Baccano!" Vols. 3 & 4: How to Nearly Derail a Train with Blood

by on July 9, 2009

I'm SIIIINGGG-ing in the rain. Just SIIINGGGG-ing in the rain!There’s a moment early on in Baccano vol. 3 where mob hit man Ladd Russo discovers the mutilated corpse of one of his henchmen. While his dialogue clearly indicates that he’s upset by this turn of events, the lines are delivered with a giddy fascination, if not a perverse sense of delight. His actions are even more bizarre, since he ends up dancing around in what’s left of his ex-henchman, spattering his pristine white suit with bloody flecks of gore and viscera. In the background, his henchmen watch the whole twisted scene with revulsion—and mentally re-categorizing their boss from “eccentric and edgy” to “deeply, dangerously deranged”—and yet they can’t bring themselves to look away.

This scene sums up volume 3 of Baccano: While the series continues to intrigue with its quirky sensibilities and highly non-linear storytelling techniques, it also ratchets up the violence considerably, spattering itself with bloody while we look on with revulsion, unable to look away. The tonal change is so out of place that it nearly derails the series, although the fourth and final volume brings things back on track.

On the one hand, these volumes definitely don’t seem like any place to start the series, with three major stories already in progress and a cast of dozens of characters. Then again, one of the things that makes Baccano distinctive is that it’s a series with no real beginning, no real ending, and no main character, so perhaps these volumes are as good a place to start as any. It does seem a lot easier to keep the multiple timelines and characters straight by now, although I’m not certain whether there’s a real change in the storytelling or if I’m just more used to the enormous cast and the constant shifts in time and place. Much of the third volume seems dedicated to chronicling the events aboard the “Flying Pussyfoot,” a luxury train from Chicago to New York that is rapidly becoming an slaughterhouse between two rival gangs and the mysterious, murderous “Rail Tracer,” a supposedly supernatural monster of the railways that becomes no less disturbing for the revelation of his secrets in these episodes. It seems that double-crosses and crossed-purposes are the theme of this trip, with every man, woman, and supposed child out for him/her/itself, and where being the enemy of someone’s enemy just means you have someone else to watch out for. A three-way conflict soon becomes the lynchpin of this storyline, pitting the psychotic Ladd Russo, the even more disturbingly violent Rail Tracer, and the mute, knife-wielding femme fatale Chane Laforet against each other. Also figuring prominently on the ill-fated train is Czeslaw Meyer, an immortal trapped in a child’s body whose innocent demeanor is soon revealed to hide a dark, ugly streak rooted in violence and betrayal.

I promise I'll love you twice as much, if you only put that razor down.Flanking this storyline are stories running before and after the Flying Pussyfoot’s fateful trip. The past story chronicles how these thugs and gangsters managed to obtain the gift of immortality. The future story chronicles young, innocent Eve Genoard’s search for her ne’er-do-well older brother Dallas, last seen in the past story as one of the first of the immortals and mysteriously absent from all the stories that follow in the timeline. The unlikely constant through all these stories are the endearingly dim thieves Isaac Dian and Miria Harvent, who prove the maxim that fortune favors the foolish.

Unfortunately, volume 3 of Baccano is marred by a few scenes of excessive, gratuitous violence that border on the voyeuristic sadism that characterizes the Saw movie franchise and its “torture porn” brethren. Earlier episodes have certainly had their share of bloody violence, but the first eight episodes of this series have been dominated by the kind of knife fights and gangland slayings that are fitting for the mob-centric storyline. They never felt unduly excessive and could even be laughed off most of the time, the same way that the same acts in Miller’s Crossing are played for dark laughs while The Godfather will play them for tragedy. In contrast, volume 3 features several truly stomach-churning scenes of violence, ranging from creative use of a train to torture someone to several horrifying acts perpetrated on Czeslaw Meyer. In almost every case, the violence would have been just as horrifying if it were hinted at rather than shown explicitly, but the series presents every splattering, bone-grinding act in explicit, drawn-out detail. There aren’t many of these scenes, but each one is so far over the top that they nearly derail the entire series. If nothing else, they can be a definite turn-off for those not prepared for it, and maybe even for those that are.

Jacuzzi Splot may be the worst name in the history of ever.Luckily, the fourth volume of Baccano avoids the excesses of the third and brings things back on track, which may seem like an odd assessment considering that a prominent part of episode 13 involves someone getting his head set on fire. Some eyebrows may be raised by the way the Flying Pussyfoot storyline comes to a sudden conclusion in the first episode on the disc, and the finale to the episode actually feels like a perfect place to stop watching. However, there are 3 more episodes of dubious value remaining, mostly focusing on the collision between Chane Laforet and Jacuzzi Splot and his gang, with the Rail Tracer and the unhinged newcomer Graham Specter getting wrapped up along with them. The meeting between Jacuzzi and Chane at the start of episode 15 proves to be one of the most charming moments of the series, with a lot of subtle nuances played out in both the animation and the voice acting (in both English and Japanese). Many of Baccano‘s last loose ends are tied off here, or as tied off as any of them can get. As mentioned, Baccano is a series that flaunts its non-linear, unconventional storytelling style right from the opening dialogue of the first episode, so perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the final episodes don’t feel like much of a conclusion, and a major new character is introduced three episodes before the entire series is over.

Like the earlier volumes of Baccano, the sole bonus feature for both discs is an English voice-actor commentary track, this time for episodes 9 and 15. Both are moderately informative, although the latter track has far too much fun with Jacuzzi Splot’s name. The DVDs are up to FUNimation’s usual high standards, with a beautiful anamorphic widescreen presentation and 5.1 Dolby digital soundtracks in both English and Japanese. The usual clean opening and closing credits and set of trailers are included as well.

Baccano is definitely not a series for everyone. Those with little patience or short attention spans will probably find it an irritating and frustrating experience, and even those who are willing to give it a try will need to brace for the bloody mess in volume 3. However, as mentioned in the review of volumes 1 and 2, it is quite refreshing to watch a series that consistently overestimates its audience’s intelligence and attention span, and after all is said and done, the series is worth the added effort. If you’re willing to invest the time and energy, Baccano will deliver ample, if unconventional, rewards.

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