Review: Baccano! (Vol 1)

(art by Katsumi Enami)

(art by Katsumi Enami)

For general information on this series: Baccano! entry

This review is for the first volume of Baccano! by Ryohgo Narita, subtitled The Rolling Bootlegs. The English edition was released by Yen Press in May 2016. The second volume released in August 2016, and will be followed by the third in December 2016. The series is ongoing with twenty-one volumes in Japan.

Vol 1 - The Rolling Bootlegs

Vol 1 – The Rolling Bootlegs

Baccano! can possibly be considered the most “cult classic” of light novels officially being released in English right now. It has been nearly ten years since it received a popular anime adaptation back in 2007, and the spotlight has long since moved to Durarara, Ryohgo Narita’s other long-running light novel series. I didn’t watch the Baccano anime, so I wasn’t part of that small but devoted fanbase that had been clamoring year in and year out for its light novels to be licensed for English translation.

But now it’s here! And since it released in May, I decided to make it one of the books to read for this site’s summer reading program. I had really enjoyed Durarara, and just as I hoped, I ended up enjoying the first volume of Baccano just as much.

Baccano tells the story of… well, a lot of people. The setting is 1930s New York, a time and place famous for its bootleggers and mafiosos. With this backdrop, Narita goes on to add a supernatural twist in the form of immortals seeking to advance their personal agendas. Part of the fun in this volume is guessing which characters are the immortals, and seeing all the ways the many side characters get swept into their conflicting plots.

baccano-ill-color

We get to follow many different points of view in this story, but there are perhaps two characters I would call the “main” protagonists. On one side of the main conflict is a boy named Firo, who aims to become a member of a Mafia-like organization known as the Camorra. Life hasn’t been kind to him, but he has found a place where he feels he can belong, and is willing to fight for it. On the other side of the main conflict is a girl named Ennis, who is a kind of homunculus who has no choice but to serve as an assassin for this volume’s antagonist. It’s a fantastic setup, and I found it very easy to root for both of these characters. Also well-worth mentioning are a couple side characters: Isaac and Miria, a pair of bumbling thieves who provide scenes of comic relief interspersed throughout the novel. Some of the most hilarious moments I’ve read are when Isaac and Miria’s antics become so incredulous, that even the narrator can’t help but feel exasperated by their tomfoolery.

The plot overall makes for a fast-paced and engaging romp, and the translation as a whole was very easy to read. Each character seemed to have a distinct voice that I was able to recognize immediately, and given the story’s unique setting this made the book all the more enjoyable to read. I will recommend this story to anyone looking for a light but sincere page-turner. I also think it has a lot to offer both to those who have already seen the Baccano anime, and to general book-readers who are interested in trying out a new YA adventure series.

Cho’s Rating: Strongly Recommended

2 responses to “Review: Baccano! (Vol 1)

  1. I hadn’t seen the anime either, but really enjoyed this book. The author has an amazing ability to make so many characters interesting and distinct, that’s a rare talent. I just finished the second one and he does the same thing there too. However the extended climactic action scene in it goes on a little long, so I think I prefer volume one. Still a series I’m happily following. Great review!

    • Yes, Narita is great with characters. It takes no time at all to get a feel for each of them. Very easy to root for the protagonists, too.
      I haven’t picked up volume 2 yet — I hope to get around to it by the end of the year at least. Maybe I’ll get vol 2 and 3 together, since they are two halves of one story.

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