Baccano!: 1933 The Slash -Bloody to Fair-

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

“There’s always someone better than you.” A truism that this two-volume arc of Baccano! seems to be taking to heart. Last time we saw Maria devastated when her swordplay lost out to Adele’s spear, and the repercussions of that reverberate though this book. But it doesn’t just end with her. Adele herself gets shattered when Maria’s clever thinking is actually able to deliver a bad wound, and the newly introduced Christopher Shaldred can try all he wants to be a cool, constantly talking killer, but we already have Clare/Felix, so he’s inevitably going to come out second best, especially when you realize that Felix prolonged the fight solely for the reason that he wanted to fight back to back with his fiancee. And then there’s Tim, who finds that not only is he easily manipulated by Huey, but also gets verbally destroyed by Senator Beriam. The theme here is “stay humble”, though to be honest nobody really learns that lesson.

By the time this book had come out, Narita had already started his other popular novel series Durarara!!, and I have to admit that of all the Baccano! novels, this one feels the closest to DRRR!! style shenanigans. That said, DRRR!! never gets quite as bloody as Baccano! does, and the massacre of the employees of the Nebula Building is (at least temporarily) a bit horrifying. Again one is reminded that there really aren’t too many “good guys” in this series – even Jacuzzi and Nice are gang leaders, and honestly I think the only reason they don’t get taken to the cleaners at the end is because Chane is part of their gang. The new villains are also pretty bad, and continue the theme of “someone better than you” – Tim’s Larva group from the prior book is as nothing compared to Huey’s experimental Lamia children, and it’s notable that after the fight at the end of the previous book, Adele is ready to go off the rails at a moment’s notice.

And then there’s Maria. I savaged her pretty badly in the first volume’s review, and to be fair she was incredibly annoying then. That doesn’t completely change (Luck confronting her at the end may be the funniest scene in the book, especially as by then the reader had ALSO forgot what her original mission was), but she manages to overcome her fears and doubts, gets a ridiculously cool two-sword move (honestly, this book would be fantastic animated), and possibly hook up with Tick – she says he gets to decide if they’re friends or lovers, to which I think Tick’s response can best be described as “Buh?”. She’s certainly better off than Firo, who runs around trying to save Ennis only to find Ennis never really needed saving at all. and then has Ennis say that she thinks of Firo… as family. Good thing these two are immortal, they need all that time.

Narita’s afterword says that the publisher wanted to get away from the 1930s again (so The Children of Bottle apparently did pretty well), but he said he had far too many 1930s plots still to tell. As such, be prepared to start a THREE-part arc next time, as we advance one year but otherwise have the same old ruckus. Plus maybe we’ll see who rescued Christopher, last seen bleeding out. As for The Slash, the second part definitely is better than the first. This is a fun ride.

Oh yes, Dallas is in this too. Sorry, totally ignored him.

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.

Baccano!: 1933 The Slash -Cloudy to Rainy-

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

After a brief foray into the 21st century, Baccano! returns to its main plot, which takes place in the 1930s. Many of the main characters are featured in some way or another here, and in a way it feels like the author is writing enjoyable set pieces, as if he’s finally gotten a grip on writing everyone. Isaac and Miria are fun, loud, and seemingly completely random; Luck is seemingly cool but in reality rather frustrated with everything happening around him; Jacuzzi cries a lot but buckles down when he needs to, etc. That said, the book also features two minor characters from earlier books who get the spotlight here, and I suspect enjoyment of it depends on how much you enjoy those characters. It’s also, as you may have guessed by the title, the first of a two-parter, and unlike Grand Punk Railroad, this is definitely incomplete.

Tick Jefferson is in the top third of the cover art. We saw him before as the Gandor family’s torture expert, and he seemed like another of Narita’s ‘smiling insane guys’. Which he may be, to a lesser degree – he still really loves cutting people apart. But we get a bit of his family background, as well as a surprising amount of his philosophy, and see that when he’s not torturing people he’s surprisingly level-headed. His partner in the book (middle third of the cover) is Maria Barcelito, one of the assassins that we saw Claire completely destroy in the 4th novel, who joined the Gandors because she was so impressed by Keith stopping Claire. On the bright side, the Gandors gained a powerful assassins, probably their most powerful fighter. On the down side, Maria is annoying as hell, immature, can’t stop trying to cut anyone and anything with her swords, and is desperately in need of some humbling. Fortunately, she gets it in spades at the end of the book.

The bottom third of the cover art is Chane Laforet, the “girl in the black dress” from the Railroad books. The cliffhanger to those books had her being picked up by Jacuzzi’s gang, and she’s now living with them in Eve Genoard’s mansion in upper Manhattan (the explanation for why a gang is living in the Genoard mansion made me roll my eyes a bit, but I can see Eve just agreeing and then forgetting about it, especially given her obsession with finding Dallas). Chane doesn’t interact with Jacuzzi’s gang as much as I’d have liked, but she clearly values them highly as friends. She’s also clearly hooked up with Claire, something also implied at the end of the railroad arc, and I suspect Claire will have more to do in the next volume.

As for the villains, well, technically I suppose it’s Huey, though his daughter is unaware of what he’s doing. He has a group of people trying to offer Jacuzzi’s gang the power of immortality (please God no, I love the fact that Jacuzzi and Nice’s gang are just normal scrappy kids), though this goes south when their demo – Dallas Genoard, freshly retrieved from a sunken river and just as much of a giant dumbass – ends up getting too obnoxious and gets slashed. A lot. Immortality sounds great till you see that you can still feel horrible pain. We really only meet two of the villainous gang here. Tim is the leader and also shares a secret past with Tick Jefferson, and seems to be there to watch what was supposed to be a smooth situation spiral out of control. Adele is seemingly shy and meek… but in reality seems to really love fighting more than anyone. And we haven’t even met the mysterious Christopher yet…

This is a decent book, and I recommend it for those reading the series, obviously. That said, it really needs its second half, and feels slight as a result. It does have some rewards for the careful reader (watch Isaac and Miria’s reaction to the Genoard mansion), and Tick and Maria can be a lot of fun provided you don’t pay too much attention to how aggravating Maria is most of the time. You may want to wait till April and read this with its conclusion.