So Baccano! episodes 2 & 3 then.
I think I’ve talked about one narrative approach I like here before, that of escalation. Stakes being raised, things becoming ever more outlandish, basically everything you liked when you entered the story getting bigger and better as the story progresses. Right now, Gainax’s Gurren Lagann is doing that with more aplomb then you could have imagined, as they take the history and evolution of the giant robot genre and condense it down to 26 episodes.
But there’s something else I like too, and it’s everything happening at once.
One of the reasons I like Elmore Leonard’s books so much is that often characters have plans, but because everyone else has plans too, plans collide and nothing goes the way everyone expected it to. Often the character who comes out the best is the one who didn’t have a plan, but was able to take advantage of the chaos.
And one of my favourite pen and paper RPGs, Over The Edge relies on this approach, but takes it one step further, by putting ideas from all corners of fiction into the pot at the same time. So you have elements of the author’s earlier Ars Magica rpg, sitting alongside elements of Naked Lunch, beside 1950′s alien invasion/anti-communist movie plots, beside 1980′s apocalypse fiction and so on. It’s like the author Jonathan Tweet poured everything he loved into one game. And works brilliantly, but more on that at a later date.
To look at another approach, at the height of the bootleg craze (before the ugly word “mashup” had superseded it), Osymyso produced the genius mix “Intro-spection”, 12 minutes of the intros of classic hits mixed together. It’s everything great, condensed, and happening at once.
And that’s what Baccano! does.
It takes a whole bunch of early 20th century pulp plots and throws them all in together and watches them intermingle and collide.
After the time jumping first episode, the story settles down and we start to see the journey of Flying Pussyfoot that we saw the aftermath of in the first episode. The central characters for the second episode are clearly the two thieves Isaac and Miria, who seemingly thrive on stupidity and randomness, and are very much in love. They are but one faction on the train however, there is Ladd Russo and his entourage. Jacuzzi Splot, Nice Holystone and their gang. And also the group known as Lemures. Oh and a small child who is actually an immortal.
We also get glimpses of the New York mafia a year previously, and the start of a chain of events that led to certain characters becoming immortal. Episode three ends on the train as the various plots of the various factions careen into one another. It’s all good pulpy fun and the writing is step above a lot of shows.
However as good as the writing is, I don’t see any real reason, so far, for the show to be animated. In fact, ignoring the general low standard of Japanese TV acting for a moment, it would probably work better as live action. Particularly as there are some scenes (in episode 3) of simple everyday actions that are just shoddy. You could be watching finger puppets and it would look better animated. It says something for the story and writing that I could actually let that fly and want to see more.
While I’m talking of letting things fly, episode 3 introduces two black characters, and while not as racially stereotyped as some anime would have portrayed them, their character designs are fairly egregious racial caricatures. If all the other characters had been similarly caricatured, I could probably ignore it, but everyone else is pretty much standard anime faces, except an alchemist we see in episode 3, who might be some kind of racial caricature too, but I was too distracted by him looking like Yugi’s grandfather from Yu-Gi-Oh.
It’s nowhere near the best show this year, but it’s pushing my everything happens at once button. And I like that button pushed.