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.

Baccano!: 1705 The Ironic Light Orchestra

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

In general, those who are really obsessive about the Baccano! series fall into two camps: anime obsessives and light novel obsessives. The anime obsessives tend to stick to the 1930s, which is, after all, what the anime adapted, with the exception of one episode. The light novel obsessives, though, really love the non-1930s books and their deep look at some of the more… broken members of the cast. In particular Huey Laforet, the “mastermind villain” of some books in the 1930s, last seen escaping from Alcatraz, and Elmer C. Albatross, who loves to try to make everyone smile but has something distinctly wrong with his way of thinking and moral compass in regards to smiling. They both cried out for an origin story, and we get it in in this, the first of the “1700s trilogy”, and possibly the most anticipated book since the series was initially licensed. This is the story of a city in Naples, Lotto Valentino. In particular, three students who are learning alchemy at a secret library: Huey, Elmer, and Monica Campanella. And let me say this: they are written as the OT3 you never knew you wanted.

The subtitle is, of course, a take on the 70s band ELO, aka the Electric Light Orchestra. No, Monica’s not the meek-looking brunette in the foreground; that’s Niki, a teenage girl and slave who spends most of the book awaiting her longed-for death, only to run into the power of Elmer and decide to live a little longer after all. Monica’s the blonde inn the background. You get the sense that Narita may have had the idea of Niki and Elmer as a beta couple to Huey and Monica, only to find that he simply could not remove Elmer from their orbit. I was rather startled to see how much of this book read like a genuine rom-con, and even the darker moments are about “will you still love me if you find out my SECRET” stuff. These are three adorable kids who, well, hate the world and want to destroy it in many ways. Elmer isn’t quite like that, but it’s clear that if it would make everyone smile, he’d be totally fine with the world’s destruction as well. Cute broken kids.

There are other things going on in the book, of course. Huey’s past is told via flashback and is a tragic nightmare, revolving around the just-dying out practice of witch-hunting in Europe. Monica’s is barely touched on, and I suspect we may go into it more in the next book. And Elmer’s is also just barely touched on, likely as it would simply be TOO horrific to do anything but merely glance at it. Remember, none of these folks are immortal yet (except, oddly, their teachers, who seem to be immortal from some other source than the one we know), so bad, permanent things can still happen to them. There’s a woman-loving Count who is an odd combination of Isaac Dian and Chikage from Durarara!!. There’s also a young gang member named Aile, who seems familiar but we’re not sure how familiar till the end. This book is a great example of why you shouldn’t read this series in chronological order by date. And a main plotline that reminds me a bit of The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.

The end of the book really makes you want to see the ongoing adventures of Huey, Monica and Elmer, which is why I hate to break it to you, but we’re jumping forward again. This time we go all the way to 2002, to see Firo and Ennis’ long-awaited (no, seriously, very, very long awaited) honeymoon on a luxury liner. Surely nothing can possibly go wrong!