By Ryohgo Narita and Katsumi Enami. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Taylor Engel.
I’ve mentioned before that some multi-volume arcs, particularly in light novels, can be seen as “the author just wrote a really long book and they had to cut it in half”. This book, the first of a two-part arc, is not that. We get the start of the story, but some characters are introduced and then forgotten as if they were meant to be minor characters, while others take center stage but then vanish 2/3 of the way through. But that’s OK, because this is one man’s journey to show some courage, defeat the bad guys because it’s the right thing to do, kiss his girlfriend for the first time ever, and also, yes, smuggle a huge amount of explosives into New York City in order to sell it off, as they are a gang as well – this is Baccano!, after all. Yes, this volume’s heroic journey is all about Jacuzzi Splot.
If you find the name Jacuzzi Splot to be somewhat unusual, or even laughable, well, you aren’t alone. Many people in Baccano! have odd names, but Jacuzzi’s is pretty much the one that gets folks talking. More to the point, you may be wondering why this, the second book in a series, features almost none of the characters from the first book. Firo, Ennis, Maiza and the Gandors make brief cameos, but for the most part we meet a new huge cast, which luckily proceeds to get violently whittled down as the book goes on, though in general the named characters seem to do pretty well for themselves. It all takes place on a luxury train going from Chicago to New York City, which has the misfortune to be taken over by a) black-suited terrorists who profess they’re trying to get their leader, Huey Laforet, released; b) white-suited psychopaths, led by a mobster’s nephew, who are here to kill people because it’s fun, and c) the aforementioned delinquent gang, the closest we get to good guys here.
We also get Isaac and Miria, who are the thread that draws the two books together. They’re on the train as well, having decided to rob a mafia gang in order to buy Ennis an expensive present to cheer her up, because that’s the sort of people they are. As always, they’re hilarious, but as with the first book, the novel gives them occasional hidden depths, such as Isaac’s rather subdued reaction to a cabinful of corpses, as if he’s used to this. They’re at their best when inspiring others, though, particularly Jacuzzi, who is the sort to take crappy lines like “there’s a gun… in everyone’s heart!” and take them completely seriously. In general, the new characters hold up well and deserve your attention. Goose is an exception. As a villain, he’s very flat, and probably the weakest part of the book, mostly as he pales next to the evil flamboyance that is Ladd Russo, who is jaw-droppingly horrible in a riveting way. Also, due to the nature of the book, several characters seem to be very underdeveloped, namely the unfortunate child Czeslaw Meyer, and Ladd’s passive to the point of being disturbing girlfriend Lua.
So yes, like Jacuzzi at the end of this book, the reader still has questions. Why did Ladd suddenly disappear midway through the book? Why was a child cut to pieces and tied to the bottom of the train? Who is the Grey Magician and why was he cut from the anime completely? And if the woman in fatigues isn’t the Rail Tracer, who is? (The anime reader is at a disadvantage here, knowing the answers to all but one of those questions. The book reads better if you don’t know the true identity of several people.) We will find out in the third book, which tells the same events as the second but from several different perspectives. In the meantime, smile with Jacuzzi, laugh with Isaac and Miria, and wonder who the hell Claire Stanfield really is.