New plot for the anime only fans, but does it have the same Baccano flavor?

Baccano! 2001 The Children of BottleTitle: Baccano! Volume 5, 2001 The Children of Bottle
Genre: Drama, Supernatural
Publisher: Kadokawa (JP) / Yen Press (US)
Story/Artist: Ryohgo Narita (author), Katsumi Enami (illustrator)
Translator: Taylor Engel
Original Release Date: September 19, 2017
A review copy was provided by Yen Press.

After spending all of the previous novels primarily in the 1930s, Baccano! takes a surprising move and moves the story entirely to the present day and out of the United States. Ever since Firo devoured Szilard in the 1930s, Maiza has been traveling across the world trying to find the other, original immortals from the Advena Avis and let them know that with Szilard gone it’s safe to come out of hiding. It’s taken Maiza quite a while to find everyone however, which is why it’s only in 2001 that he finally catches wind of where in Europe one immortal, Elmer Albatross, has been for the past couple of years. Maiza sets off to find Elmer with a few other immortals, the perpetually young Czeslaw, the one woman aboard the Advena Avis, Sylvie, and a truly odd immortal, Nile. The group comes across a strangely isolated village in the frozen backwoods of Europe and, despite not knowing anything about the outside world, these villagers do seem to know about immortals. It’s then that Maiza and the others realize that they’re on the right track after all.

While the plot for this volume is entirely new to fans who only saw the 2007 anime adaptation (well, except for a few brief scenes in flashback/off to the side that were adapted), new characters Sylvie and Elmer should ring a bell since they both had a few short scenes in the anime. That familiarity with the characters works in their favor since once again Ryohgo Narita plops his readers into the story without any explanation or background for these new characters (though readers should make sure to read the color page inserts at the very beginning since they reveal an astonishing amount of information about the new characters). That was one way in which this volume felt like a weaker installment in the franchise, as previously Baccano! has hooked its readers with its wild plots and kept their attention with its oddball and yet endearing cast of characters.

Czeslaw is a known entity to Baccano! fans and seeing him continue to struggle with his very reasonable trust issues makes him more sympathetic than his previous appearances. Sylvie turns out to be a likable character as well but Nile and Elmer don’t fare so well. Nile barely has any defining moments in the entire story and Elmer is such a deliberately odd character (in true Narita fashion he has managed to make a character whose goal is “to make everyone smile” into a bit of a villainous character) that the story felt unbalanced at times. This is also the first time that the reader and characters are aware that secrets are being deliberately withheld which also didn’t sit quite right; previously it’s been a delight to see how each new point of view added onto Baccano!’s story provides so much more insight but that wasn’t the case at here.

I will also admit that after seeing quite a few villains in the previous volumes get their good and proper comeuppance at the end I was more than a bit disappointed at the eventual fate for the most manipulative and heartless character. I can see why Narita decided not to have them undergo a harsh punishment, the story is trying to pull multiple parallels about redemption so the story would have been thrown out of whack, but I don’t come to Baccano! for more nuanced discussions on human nature, I come for the ruckus! Admittedly, some people might be into Baccano! for that reason but the stories have always felt more pulpy than literary to me.

In short, this story had weaker character motivation and plotting than usual so it wasn’t as enjoyable as I had hoped. Hopefully the next installment, which returns to the 1930s and the extended cast that Narita has already established, will flow better as Narita returns to more familiar ground.