Baccano!: 1931 Another Junk Railroad: Special Express

By Ryohgo Narita and Katsumi Enami. Released in Japan by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Taylor Engel.

It’s nice to see Baccano! returning to the 1930s, which has always felt like Home Base. This volume has an odd history (get used to me saying this). Before the anime came out there was an audio drama of the Flying Pussyfoot books, and Narita wrote a short novel as a bonus for the CDs. The short novel was then used by the anime when it came out the following year for three OAVs at the end of the story. Then, two years after that, he expanded the short novel into the novel that you see here. And given that it was always meant to be something of a bonus feature, it’s no surprise that this book is filled with references to past novels, even above and beyond the fact that it’s a semi-sequel to the other Railroad arcs. Indeed, I would say that if you read Vols. 2 and 3 and then try to jump ahead and read this as a pure sequel, you will be very unhappy. Because this is also a sequel to several other books.

As with all Narita novels, there are several things going on at once in this book, but the “main” storyline is Chane trying to figure out life after her father has been taken into custody by the FBI. She’s left a message for Claire, but it’s unclear what the message means… to both him and in her own mind. What’s more, Chane, who has spent her entire life being betrayed and used, even by the one man that she wholly trusts, finds the very idea of Jacuzzi’s idealistic niceness baffling. Later books in the timeline (which we’ve read earlier in the series) show how joining up with Jacuzzi’s crew and falling in love with Claire is the best thing that’s ever happened to her, and this book shows that evolution. We also get introduced to Graham, who, again, we’ve already been well acquainted with in previous books. More importantly, the fact that this is Book 14 in the series allows Narita to reveal a couple more immortals who happened to be on the train that we never saw…

Now that Narita is allowed to have his bad guy front and center, he’s clearly reveling in it. Fermet is simply terrible throughout this entire book. We know, having read the 2002 books, that he will be terrible in the future as well. And, given that Huey explicitly says that Fermet killed his wife, we know that he’s going to be terrible in the past. Fortunately, Elmer is here to help out somewhat (and there’s a tie-in to the Baccano! DS game here as well, which I won’t even get into…), but given that Elmer is broken as well, that’s not exactly a comfort. Fortunately, this is balanced out by the sweetness surrounding Chane and Jacuzzi’s gang, as well as seeing an epilogue for Rachel, who is allowed to dress in something other than khakis (though the anime missed that) and give love advice to Claire.

So, having been thoroughly spoiled by this book and the previous one, it’s time to go read the ending no one wants to read. Well, that’s not quite true. In all of Baccano fandom, the next book and 1711 may be the most awaited books in the entire series. Back to 1710 next time, where everything is smiles and happy times. Till then, enjoy this book that feels like a DVD extra but is still a lot of fun.

Baccano!: 2002 [Side B]: Blood Sabbath

By Ryohgo Narita and Katsumi Enami. Released in Japan by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Taylor Engel.

I’ve talked before about the Japanese tendency to write the blackest of black villains, so evil and horrible that it ends up being absolutely fine when our heroes kill them off in morally questionable ways. In general, I’m not a fan of these, and tend to prefer more nuanced or morally grey types. That said, I have to admit, Narita writes these sorts of people better than most light novel authors. We get two classic examples here, but one’s a spoiler, so I’ll talk about the other. Bride is the leader of SAMPLE, a thoroughly disturbing religious cult descended from the same cult that tortured Elmer when he was a kid. Bride is abusing children, mentally breaking and drugging a woman (investigating them undercover) into submission, killing large numbers of people, and being gleeful about it the entire time. But he’s sort of horrifyingly fun. Possibly as the book avoids the rape threats so many other authors would throw in (Bride makes a comedic play at his drugged wife, but this seems staged.) He also contrasts with the other villain of the book, who is… less fun.

The first half of this book takes place on Exit, the ship going from Japan to New York, and the sister ship to the one Firo and company are on. Elmer, Sylvie, Nile and Denkurou (who gets his first significant role here, though to be honest he doesn’t do much except moon over Sylvie) are invited, supposedly by Huey, to the ship, and they all go because if they don’t, Huey would arrange it so they do anyway. There they don’t find Huey, but they do find the Mask Makers, who are also on the other ship, who have a plan to get revenge for a killing that happened 300 years earlier by capturing Elmer. And the passengers also include SAMPLE, Bride’s religious cult, who are there for Sylvie. As for Isaac and Miria… well, they still aren’t here, they’re back in New York. Which is probably why everything starts to go wrong for everyone on both ships. Even Firo, who tries to look cool in front of his family, does not really succeed.

Speaking of spoilers, there is a question about how much constitutes one. This series, after all, is mostly read by fans who have already spoiled themselves on this book and future ones. And indeed we get a big spoiler for (one assumes) future books given to us as part of the plot early on here: the Mask makers are supposedly getting revenge on Huey for killing Monica 300 years prior, which might come as a surprise to those who read the 1705 book. That said, it’s possible that the reader will be more distracted by the end of the book, which reveals who the real Big Bad of the entire Baccano! series is… and it’s someone that we thought had already been dealt with. Interlocking and interconnecting plots and characters are how Narita writes, but this particular book works very well at making you want to go back and read some passages in older books while also making you anxious for the next ones.

So a much better book than the first part, as is typical with Narita two-parters. Bobby is still annoying, though. So, next do we go back to 1710 to see the tragic fates revealed in this book? Or do we continue in the 21st century to see how Czes and his family deal with this new and horrifying threat? Of course not, that would be too easy. No, next time it’s 1931, as we go back to the Flying Pussyfoot and the immediate aftermath, in a plot that might seem very familiar to those who saw Baccano’s 3 OAV episodes…

Baccano!: 2002 [Side A]: Bullet Garden

By Ryohgo Narita and Katsumi Enami. Released in Japan by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Taylor Engel.

The first volume of this two-parter reminds me very much of the fist volume of the last two-parter we had, The Slash. It’s very short, almost all setup, and seems to be saving all its tricks for the back half. It also features a new character I don’t care for, and once again brings up Firo’s paralyzing fear of sexuality, which is not a plotline I like either. Adding this all together makes it one of the more “average” volumes in the series, and it feels sort of like the first volume in a DRRR!! arc as well – you’re reading along waiting for fun, only to be told the fun is four months from now. Fortunately, there is a BIT of fun to be had here – Claudia and Charon *are* new characters I like, being genderswapped carbon copies of their great-grandparents, Czes gets a lot to do an an ominous foreboding about what’s going to happen, and Illness is a treat, though her terrifying backstory reminds me of Huey and Elmer – deliberately, of course.

Firo and Ennis, we are told, married somewhere around 1980, fifty years after they first met, but have never had a honeymoon – or indeed consummated their relationship. On finding out about this, the Camorra bosses pay for him and Ennis to travel on an ocean liner’s maiden voyage – and, Firo still being extremely wary of what comes with a honeymoon, he invites Czes to come as well, much to Czes’s frustration. The cruise also features Claudia and Charon, great-grandkids to Claire and Chane (who, while not immortal, are both still alive and active in their nineties), who are in the film industry; Angelo, a sniper who is out for revenge on the terrorists who wiped out his South American gang; said terrorists, the Mask Makers, whose name seems awfully familiar to Firo and who have a love of modern cinema; and Bobby Splot and his gang, who stow away on the boat to get revenge on people because… well, because Bobby is terrible. He’s a disgrace to his great-grandfather Jacuzzi.

I am aware that Bobby will likely improve in the next book, but, like Maria in the first Slash volume, I have to rate him based on this book alone, and boy, he grates. To be fair, this is deliberate, as the book wants to have him NOT be his great-grandfather, in contrast to Claudia, but still. The plotline going on here seems complex, and you get the sense that we’ve barely seen the start of it. Someone seems to want to recreate the 1931 train incident, only without Isaac and Miria (who briefly appear, but are not on the boat). The Mask Makers are clearly a reference to the same group we saw in the 1705 novel, which makes you wonder what they’re doing here almost 300 years later. And, to make things even more interesting, the terrorists’ plan involves meeting up with the SISTER ship of this huge luxury liner, which is going in the other direction and scheduled to pass them.

We briefly hear what’s happening on the other liner, and honestly it sounds a lot more interesting than events here. As such, I suspect that the 2nd and final book in this 2002 arc will be far more exciting and interesting. Till then, enjoy Claudia, Charon and Illness, who are a lot of fun.