Baccano! is back, with even more eccentric characters and crazy plotting!! Four groups collide on-board the transcontinental express The Flying Pussyfoot as the train makes its way from Chicago to New York. As tensions and the body count rises, a terrifying monster called the Rail Tracer joins the mix and no one is safe!
This second book was published by Yen On in August of 2016, with Taylor Engel once again translating.
With the second novel in the franchise we are introduced to an almost-entirely new cast from the previous book. Isaac and Miria are the only hold-overs from book one (aside from brief cameos from Firo, Maiza, the Gandors and the rest at the very end), so the energy and character interactions are all new for readers. Alongside everyone’s favorite idiot-thieves we have three other groups: a gang of rogue bootleggers fleeing from backlash in Chicago and hoping to make some money stealing explosives, a terrorist group trying to rescue their leader with a hostage situation, and a psychotic mafia heir branching from the main family to accommodate his excessive violence. Unsurprisingly, despite already having so many individuals introduced in the first book, each and every one of the characters are distinct and interesting. Even though many of these characters are new for us readers (unless you’ve previously watched the anime) they don’t feel secondary or less developed than the protagonists of The Rolling Bootlegs. In fact, I would argue that this book and story arc is far more engaging.
Considering how self-contained and conclusive the first book was, it makes sense for Baccano! to move into new territory and expand its universe. It also has a much more energetic and frenetic point-of-view character switching compared to the previous volume—the quick switches bouncing readers around the train whenever needed. 1931 – The Grand Punk Railroad: Local is the first half of a two-volume arc. As such, the first 50 pages of the book are dedicated to an epilogue and five separate prologues. With so many new characters it’s integral to understanding all the players as the situation spirals out of control.
Amongst all of these new characters, our main focus is definitely Jacuzzi Splot—crybaby leader of a rag-tag gang of bootleggers. His kind heart makes him someone we immediately want to support, and the genuine protectiveness he has for his found-family is terribly endearing and proves his bravery despite his usual reactions. His group is a mix of the poor and undesirable of Prohibition-era America, finding strength in each other. Some of this eclectic gang leans towards racial stereotype, but that’s definitely due to the Western vs Japanese perspective and experience—and is more so used to highlight outcasts coming together in a prejudiced society, than any ill-intention. His main associates that accompany him on the Chicago — New York trip are Nice, his girlfriend and explosives expert; and Donny, a giant Mexican man who acts as the main muscle for the group. (There’s two other guys too, Nick and Jack, but they’re mostly incidental.) I say that Jacuzzi is the main focus mostly because only his story and perspective is fully concluded in this part of the book. The other two groups, the Black Suits and the White Suits, have plenty to do, but you’ll have to read the next book for proper conclusions to their events.
The Black Suits are terrorists planning a hostage situation. Their leader, Huey Lafayette, is in prison for the indefinite future, and they plan negotiate his freedom in exchange for the lives of the wife and daughter of a senator. Amongst the group is Huey’s daughter, Chané, hopeful in freeing her father. As members scheme and turn against each other, it’s obvious that the group’s motivations are splintering.
In opposition is the White Suits, Ladd Russo (of the Russo Family mafia) and his associates wanting to hijack the entire train for ransom. He’s mercilessly violent and insists on wearing white to “show off the beautiful red of blood”. His fiancée Lua is eerily lifeless and adamant on Ladd ending her life—a consenting agreement that her murder by his hands will be enjoyed and fulfilled—the perfect description of their twisted relationship.
And of course, it would be amiss to not mention Isaac and Miria, who are traveling back to New York after Ennis wrote them a letter about her self-reflection. They had spent the previous months unsuccessfully mining for gold in California, and the two were quick to jump to their friend’s aid. These two function mostly as the objective outsiders to any situations—generally too foolish to understand the truth behind any situation, but almost always witnesses. The duo are the common link between groups of characters, and it’s inevitable that many of these crazy individuals will intersect after this.
There is also Rachel, a fare-dodging journalist who knows the trains well; Chezlaw, a young boy traveling alone who gets swept up in the action thanks to his friendship with the senator’s daughter; and the young conductor, who spreads the legend of the Rail Tracer amongst the train’s occupants before his own untimely death. Not everything is as it seems, however, and things become weirder before they get clearer. This definitely feels like they first half of a two-part story.
The two suited groups inevitably clash as the transcontinental express heads towards New York. This means that the violence is much, much higher than the previous light novel. The twisted personality of Ladd and his men, the unfettered guns of the terrorist group, and the Rail Tracer’s hyper-violent justice means the bloodshed is immense. Isaac and Miria never lose their comedic air even with all this, but the book is less humorous in general.
If you weren’t super impressed with the characters of the first novel, this one might turn you around. There’s a frenetic energy that is heightened in this book compared to the first, and although the full explanation for the events only comes in the next Grand Punk Railroad book, you still get a satisfying conclusion for a very likable character in this one. There’s enough established to keep readers anticipating the next one, keeping us all enamored.
Gee’s recommendation: Great
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