Ensemble stories are extremely difficult to write, especially TV shows or anime. Most of these stories don’t have the benefit of prologues for a bunch of their characters like when Marvel’s The Avengers was released, or the recent spectacle that was DC’s Justice League.
But in 2007, the anime adaptation of light novel series Baccano! was brought to our screens, and audiences were floored. The series had a bit of something for everyone, from magic to mafia wars to romance, and it was widely praised by critics and viewers alike.
The story brought together a large cast of characters, each with their own interesting backstories, and shoved them all together in a high stakes train robbery. Take notes, Murder on the Orient Express!
Here are some of the things that Baccano! does brilliantly as an ensemble anime that sets it apart and studios should take note of. As always, spoilers will follow, so WATCH THE SHOW FIRST! You won’t regret it.
Each character’s backstory is given its due diligence
The cast of Baccano! each come from their own unique backgrounds and thus each have a very different experience through the course of the show. So the pressure was clearly on to give each character the attention and care that they deserve.
Baccano! absolutely nails this. While watching this you never feel like any characters were unexplored or lacking. I as a viewer really felt connected to each of the people aboard that train or behind the scenes of the robbery. Personally I felt a particular attachment to Firo Prochainezo and his journey as part of the Martillo family.
Baccano! never felt like it fell into the trap of having characters be carbon copies of each other in terms of their narrative, nor did they feel like complete stereotypes cut-and-pasted into the story. Each character felt unique and special, and it was a joy to witness their arcs and journeys throughout the show.
The group scenes are handled perfectly
With each of its characters having totally different stories and reasons for either being on or staying away from the train, it would have been insanely easy for the writing to lose some of the quirks or traits of each character in an attempt to force a narrative.
But this show pulled off the impossible and managed to stay faithful to each of its characters for the duration of the story. The interactions were fluid and natural. I never had to pause the show and throw my pillow across the room because of an absurd out-of-character moment I had just witnessed.
This especially worked when the cast met and split off into groups. It really felt like those characters needed to stay together and played off of each other extremely well.
A prime example of this feat was the character arc of Jacuzzi Splot. It is only through his interactions with his fellow passengers and confrontations with Ladd Russo and the Rail Tracer that he shows his true courage. This is also the catalyst for advancing his relationship with girlfriend Nice Holystone.
Baccano! actually gives us satisfying character conclusions!
Having mastered giving the characters interesting backstories and bringing them all together for a deadly confrontation aboard the Flying Pussyfoot, the final challenge remaining was to give each of this group the sendoff they deserved.
And once again, Baccano! pulls through. Each character that we have come to know and love along this adventure feels fulfilled and satisfied. We as an audience are able to sit back, close our eyes, and smile.
My personal favourite conclusion is that of adrenaline-seeking couple Isaac Dian and Miria Harvent. These two turned things around and became legitimate, but still seek out adventure and wonder. They are so wrapped up in their journey that they don’t even realise that [SPOILER WARNING!!!] they haven’t been aging. It’s completely in character and a joy to see.
The best part about this conclusion is that the characters’ stories aren’t finished for them. The events of November 1930 are merely a new beginning for everyone and sets them up for new adventures in ways only Baccano! can pull off.
Baccano! is a wonderful piece of media. It is an amalgamation of so many amazing genres that fits like a suave and wacky glove. It’s fun and always leaves you eager for the next episode.
But best of all, it handles its ensemble cast beautifully. Everyone is given a unique backstory, cast interactions are handled faithfully in group scenes and everyone is given their own special and satisfying conclusion.
This anime is a must see, and we can only pray that future ensemble pieces, be it movie franchises, TV shows or anime, will take notes and make more amazing stories for us to see.