Baccano! Vol. 1: The Rolling Bootlegs - Light Novel Review

Prohibition isn’t enough to stop rival gangs from fighting over the drink, but when the drink is an elixir of immortality one heck of a ruckus may be on the way…

The Lowdown

The setting is 1931 New York, and prohibition is in full-swing, allowing criminal organizations such the mafia and the cammora to thrive on illegal liquor sales. The Martillo family are one of these organizations, and the family has a celebration in order. One of their youngest members, Firo Prochainezo, is about to be promoted to be an executive, and on his way to buy a hat with a senior executive a chance incident with a beggar sets off a series of events that spiral way out of control. As the chain of coincidences sucks in a straight-laced detective, a thieving couple off their rocker, two mob families, and a dangerous man’s elixir of immortality, the City That Never Sleeps becomes the setting for one raucous tale.

How Was It?

As I found out in the closing pages of this book, Baccano! refers to a “ruckus”, and this is an entirely appropriate description of the unique tale of mobsters, thieves, and inadvertent immortals that author Ryohgo Narita has created. Much like he suggests in his afterword, Baccano! isn’t the story of one main character, but is instead told in the form of multiple characters intersecting with each other in a series of interesting and frequently funny coincidences. I found it thoroughly entertaining to see how the “near misses” between the characters pushed the stories forward, and it was particularly funny to see thieving couple Isaac and Miria inadvertently bumble their way into an occurrence with almost every single character. Coincidence is a major theme that Narita emphasizes as the ultimate cause of the story, and I thought that he was able to get across this point excellently by showing how the littler seemingly inconsequential decisions made by the characters would end up mattering in a big way later in the story.

Coincidence ends up being the framework that holds together all of stories of these characters as they bounce off one another, and although this made the story a little bit difficult to follow at times it paid off quite well in the end. Narita’s writing style emphasizes the somewhat haphazard nature of the proceeding with quick cuts in perspective between characters, and even though the transition from third to first person felt jarring at some points, I felt that generally the cuts between characters were well distinguished in a way that helped advance the story. I was a little puzzled as I read through with why certain scenes were included, and this didn’t make for the smoothest read the first time around. However, I was really impressed with the way that every scene ended up building towards the grand finale as all of the storyline converged, and I strongly think that this is a story which would be quite appealing to reread for a different experience in already knowing the significance of certain scene to see how it all comes together. Again, the feeling of a “ruckus” is the perfect description of the sense conveyed as all of these stories collide, and this made for a unique and entertaining read.

Much like Narita’s other famous series Durarara!!, one of the things that makesBaccano! such an entertaining read is the memorable and often bizarre characters which find their way into the story. From the young and dashing Firo to the cowardly and vindictive crony Dallas, Baccano! does a great job establishing a cast of characters with their own unique personalities, and this is especially key in anchoring the intersecting stories mentioned above in an engaging manner. It was especially satisfying to see many of the characters have their personalities developed over the course of the volume, and this shone through particularly well with Ennis’ development from blank slate to someone with actual emotions. The arcs of these characters were told with plenty of forward motion both plot-wise as well as in terms of building their characters, and I’m really excited to see how they continue to develop as the series proceeds.

Of all the characters introduced in this volume my particular favourites were the thieving couple Isaac and Miria for their endearingly bizarre antics over the course of the story as they somehow manage to bumble into every character at one point or another. Their uniquely self-centred obliviousness to everything going on around them always made me laugh, and I felt that this added quite a bit to the occasionally whimsical tone of the story quite well. This wasn’t exclusive just to them though because each character added to the tone of the story even if we didn’t get to see them at length, and I always felt like Narita was able to establish their personality in a way that made them feel like part of a living and breathing world rather than simply existing for plot convenience.

While Baccano!’s characters and the intersecting style of the storytelling make for interesting reading by themselves, the unique setting helped make for an especially interesting experience. The depression-era New York setting stood out as particularly unique from other light novel series, and I thought that it was refreshing to a read a story that was not only divorced from the “hero saving the world” plot structure but also one that explored such an interesting historical setting. I liked the way that Narita threw in various historical anecdotes to help put the times in context, and the supernatural twist with the elixir of immortality was worked into the story without any problems. I was expecting the supernatural aspects of this story to feel more jarring given the setting, but I found that they actually helped to flesh out the world in a very interesting way when they were combined with the historical setting.

Final Thoughts

Baccano! stands out both as an interesting historical adventure as well as an entertaining off-kilter story of memorable characters colliding by sheer coincidence. Although the intersecting paths of these characters don’t always hit the mark perfectly, the effect is definitely satisfying on the whole as their encounters culminate in a fantastic final showdown of sorts. The setting itself is continually fascinating and is made use of well in complementing even the supernatural aspects of this story. Overall, Baccano! will be sure to please readers looking for a more layered narrative with a more interesting setting than is usually see among the light novels released today.


Baccano! Vol. 1: The Rolling Bootlegs was published by Yen Press on May 24th 2016. Authored by Ryohgo Narita, the series is currently ongoing and published by ASCII Mediaworks’ Dengeki Bunko imprint. Volume 2 is scheduled to be published in English on August 30th, 2016.

Verdict:

A-

Date of Publication: May 24th, 2016

Translator: Taylor Engel

Author: Ryohgo Narita

Publisher: Yen Press



Matt

Matt is a broke law student by day, broke law student by night, and one of the co-founders of Taykobon in his dwindling spare time. Although his favourite series tend to be shonen adventure series, he also has a soft spot for slice-of-life shojo romances. He enjoys following the manga industry, and is a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Blue Jays in other nonexistent spare time. 

Favourite series: Bakuman

Favourite author: Io Sakisaka