Baccano!, Vol. 1

By Ryohgo Narita, Shinta Fujimoto and Katsumi Enami. Released in Japan by Square Enix, serialized in their magazine Young Gangan. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Taylor Engel.

For the most part, when you are reading the first volume in a series, you do not need to worry too much about spoilers. I can see a casual reader picking this up and thinking “Oh, this is an adaptation of the first light novel, I can read this instead.” And they’re… sort of correct – the 2nd and third volumes of this series will in fact be a pretty straightforward adaptation of the first light novel. However, this first volume serves as a prequel to the series, taking place 3 years prior. And it spoils the absolute heck out of some things. I’d recommend reading the first four books and watching the anime, really. If you’re already familiar with the series, though, this first book is a treat, especially for Firo fans, showing us a younger Firo more desperate to prove himself as his own man, but beset by his baby face and the fact that circumstances mean he has to try a bit harder. Luckily, he has his family. Well, families.

The main reason I gave that spoiler warning o\in the first paragraph is because the manga also features Claire, showing off his acrobatics and his solipsism, at a point before he’s left Firo and the Gandors to set off on his own. Given that a large part of the second book revolves around who Claire Stanfield is, this will give it away. As for Firo, he’s perfectly characterized here. We see that he’s exceedingly observant and clever, but also easy to anger and filled with a desire to take care of everything by himself – which makes things far more dangerous for him here, in that he isn’t an immortal. The first chapter is entirely about this (and shows off Maiza’s dangerous side – folks who think of him as just an “accountant” may wind up dead), the rest of the book has anotehr plot about a seemingly immortal priest who’s going around killing people.

Narita excels at writing unpleasant people doing bad things and making you like them, and that’s the case here, as despite being mafia (or camorra, yes) gangsters, beating people up, killing them, and torturing them, you’re left with the feeling that the 1930s were a rollicking good time. There are other shoutouts as to events in the series proper – the villain behind the villain turns out to be very unsurprising provided you’ve read the first book, and there’s a substantially large role for Keith Gandor, possibly more substantial than he’s ever gotten in the actual novels. By the end of the book you’re ready for the adaptation proper, which begins in Vol. 2 but really begins with Isaac and Miria making their grand entrance at the end. There’s even a cameo by Carol at the end, for anime watchers.

If you’re new to the series and want to check out Baccano!, I do recommend this order: anime, then light novels, then this manga adaptation. If you’re a long time fan, though, this is a must buy.

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