Though mob and crime fiction isn’t my favorite genre–even when supplemented with an undisclosed urban fantasy element that might be vampires and might be Highlander–I’ve enjoyed my handful of mafia potboilers, and I was pleasantly surprised that Baccano! so far exceeds my low expectations for that genre that I’m interested in no less than five of the characters, and intrigued by an Old World backstory I’ve seen many times before in a variety of vampire and/or immortality stories.
What Ryohgo Narita brings to his retelling of these tropes is Firo, a mundane protagonist distinguished only by work ethic, pluck, and grit, who hurls himself not only against more muscular mafioso, but arcane bodies whose mobility is augmented either by a monstrous inheritance or an imbibed divinity; moreover, Firo’s craving to assert his macho is frustrated by his brother Claire, whose innate physical genius is on the level of a Houdini.
You may tell me that you’ve seen this hero before, that the hero of boyish exuberance is common in manga and anime, from Ponyo to Black Clover, but Narita’s originality is in putting Fievel (An American Tail) in The Godfather. Moreover, compared to other urban fantasy mob drama, such as Gangsta, the gangsters of Baccano! are somewhat jocose, not unlike the brawlers of Castle in the Sky. While there is gore and violence, it serves the plot, and is not gratuitous, unlike the desensitizing rain of bodies in Gangsta.
While Baccano! isn’t my favorite manga that I’ve read in recent memory, and I doubt it will fall on my top ten list for 2018, I can recommend it wholeheartedly and unreservedly. Ryohgo Narita creates a good story from tired tropes by peopling the narrative with interesting characters; that he was also paired with a mangaka that wields a competent cinematic style is also a huge plus. While Shinta Fujimoto’s line art is good, what I appreciated more was his creative page and panel layouts, distinguished by a preponderance of widescreen panels that give the reader the illusion that they’re peeking at the story from concealment.
Baccano! Volume 1 arrives in stores on January 30th, 2018, and you can also order it through this list of online booksellers on the Yen Press website.
Yen Press sent the review copy.