Baccano!: 1932 Summer: Man in the Killer

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

After a very depressing 1700s volume of Baccano!, it’s nice to be able to get a book that is back at “home base”, so to speak: the 1930s. And this book is markedly lighter in tone, despite featuring a series of murders and an examination of what sort of person you have to be in order to commit said murders. It was originally written as an extra for those who bought the Baccano! anime DVDs Vol. 1-5 in Japan, then fleshed out for this book. That said, let’s face it, the main draw is on the cover art. If you asked any Baccano! fan which two characters absolutely should not meet because the world might end if they started talking to each other, Elmer C. Albatross and Graham Specter would be right at the top. Oh, don’t get me wrong, after a brief misunderstanding they get on like a house on fire. But that is the trouble. The last thing anyone like Graham, who Shaft can barely rein in at the best of times, needs is Elmer’s philosophy of life.

This takes place about seven months after Drugs and the Dominoes and about a year or so before The Slash, and features a few of the characters from both books. It also serves as an odd epilogue to The Rolling Bootlegs. There is a serial killer in the city, Ice Pick Thompson, whose nickname comes from his murder method. We meet Lester, a reporter who’s been ordered to follow the story even though he really would rather avoid it; Mark, a young boy who has decided to kill himself… till he meets Elmer; and Graham, Shaft and company, who are just hanging around the city but keep getting dragged into the plot. Is this just a crazy serial killer, or is there a method to their madness? What does this have to do with the Gandors? What does this have to do with Szilard Quates? And can Isaac and Miria really become literal time? Or money?

The thing that interested me most in this book is the villain, which makes a refreshing change from the usual villains we’ve seen in Baccano!, who tend to be very obvious from the start – art least from the reader’s perspective. This one is meant to be more of a mystery – though really, not that much of one, as there’s something fishy from the start. Which is fitting, given they’re more on the Dallas Genoard end of the villain spectrum than the Fermet end. I also want to note how impressed I am with Graham and Shaft, who are not Japanese but nonetheless make the perfect manzai team. When Sham made Shaft one of his vessels, he basically created the perfect tsukkomi, as well as the only one capable of stopping Graham – not that he ever actually succeeds. The best thing about the book, though, is probably Mark, a quiet, tragic character walking around a sea of loudmouthed extroverts.

If you enjoyed being back in the 1930s, worry not, we’re soon going to be there on a more permanent basis. But first we have to wrap up the 1700s arc, and finally find out what happened on the Advenna Avis. Next time we go to 1711 and see how Huey’s holding up after Monica’s death.

Baccano!: 1710 Crack Flag

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

Yeah, I avoided this one for a while I will admit. I don’t like tragedies, even when I know they’re coming. What’s more, this book was famous among Baccano! fandom as the pinnacle of the series, and therefore had a lot to live up to. Does it do that? pretty much, yeah. Balancing out the mystery of exactly what’s going on, the achingly sweet and awkward romance between Huey and Monica, and the creeping feeling of impending doom that powers the 2nd half, Crack Flag is a huge winner. And that’s not even mentioning our villain. Pardon the language, but “Fuck Fermet” has been a refrain among the fandom for years, and while we’ve seen why in other books, no more is it driven home than here. Fermet wants nothing more than to bring despair to people, and with Huey and Monica we get the ultimate example of that in action. Izaya only wishes he were this evil. (I may have said that line before.)

The book says 1710, but it actually begins in 1707, two years after the events of The Ironic Light Orchestra. The poet and playwright Jean-Pierre Accardo is at a party for nobility, feeling very out of place, until he runs into Lebreau Fermet Viralesque and his 6-year-old charge Czeslaw Meyer. Through a relaxed, easy conversation, the two form a bond. At the same time, Huey and Monica’s bond is deepening as well, even if he’s still reluctant to admit it. Unfortunately, the arrival of a huge galleon from the Dormentiare family drives Monica to despair… though, as with most tragedies, we quickly learn that if the parties involved had actually spoken to each other, there’d be little she had to worry about. Will Huey be able to break through her walls? Can Huey break through his own walls? And, whatever you do, don’t go to the theatre tonight…

This is a brutal book (the author says in the afterword he won’t be getting quite this dark again, which, OK, 1711 would like to have a word with you), so let’s concentrate on things that are happier – Huey and Monica. It’s so WEIRD seeing Huey like this given, well, 1711 to the present, and it drives home how much she and Elmer mean to him. And yes, I don’t want to leave Elmer out – he does his best here, and while his own thoughts are still rather terrifying, he’s a terrific character. We also see here how Maiza went from “this alchemy stuff is all bullshit” to suddenly becoming ALL ALCHEMY ALL THE TIME, and I am rather amused that all it took was just a throat-slitting (and recovery). And Carla is fantastic, taking no shit from any men around her and doing her best to figure out what’s going on in Lotto Valentino. We’ll be seeing more of almost all of them in future books, thank goodness.

So yes, this book hurt to read, but it was also one of the best in the series. Narita says 1711 is next, and I guess in terms of stuff he had to write from scratch he’s correct. But first we’re getting another bonus volume. Just as Another Junk Railroad was an expanded version of the freebie that came with the audio drama, the next book is an expansion of the 5-part novel that came with the Anime DVD releases. It answers that hideously terrifying question: “what if Elmer and Graham met?”.

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.