Somewhere in the great vastness of Northern Europe, a small, secluded village sits hidden in the snowy mountains. Hostile to visitors coming and residents going, the people of the town live quiet lives disconnected from the rest of the world. Together, a group of immortals—Maiza, Chez, Sylvie and Nile—find themselves here, following the trail of their long-missing friend Elmer; a man of constant smiles. What exactly brought the immortal man here? And why can’t the young girl Fil smile?
2001: The Children of Bottle is the first Baccano! novel to date set in the modern age—70 years have passed since the events of The Rolling Bootlegs—and it’s an interesting twist to the story that let’s author Ryohgo Narita emphasize the fact that most of our cast are ageless, unchanging immortals; something that has been mostly incidental until now. With this novel, the illustrations by Katsumi Enami finally reach a consistent level of quality for the franchise. Published as always by Yen On, with Taylor Engel providing a wonderful translation, and initially released in September of 2017.
Book 5 of Baccano! is a curiosity. It’s the first time Narita attempts to bring his characters into a more familiar age to the reader (aside from the prologue and epilogue framing of The Rolling Bootlegs) but it won’t be the last. Until now, we’ve been focused on the storylines of 1930s America—of mafia and bootleggers and the depression—with a dash of alchemy on the side; but now that setting has been shed altogether. Instead we find ourselves following a group of immortals from the Advena Avis searching for their remaining companions from that trip. Maiza and Chez have both been established in novels prior to this, but here we also meet Sylvie, Nile and Elmer.
Sylvie is a young woman who was a lounge singer during the 30s. She was the only one on the ship that waited to drink the immortality elixir, thus unknowingly saving herself from Szilard’s murderous rampage onboard; since that horrible night, she’s burned with the rage of revenge and tried to live as best she can. Nile is an eternal fighter—drifting from one conflict to another, covered in the scars of countless battles as he tries to keep the idea of mortality and death close to his side, unfortunately desensitizing himself to it instead. He is afraid of his own flat expression now, and continually wears a mask to hide it.
Finally, there’s Elmer. He’s been mentioned briefly in past novels, and he has a particularly interesting conversation in the anime, but we really get a deeper look at his past and his characters in this book. Elmer is always smiling, and encouraging other people to smile too. It’s not through some sense of selfless wish for other people’s happiness though, but purely for his own sake—he even describes his wish for smiles is entirely selfish… hoping that he’ll be able to find his own genuine happiness if exposed enough to others’. Because before the immortality and the Advena Avis, Elmer was raised as a cult’s sacrifice. A decade of torture and the expectation of his own death wiping away any sort of connection to his own emotions he may have had. That’s why it becomes apparent to why he so easily attaches himself to Fil—the abused servant girl within the village. She’s disposable, expendable, and so much like him within his previous life.
The book’s plot is somewhat of a mystery. There are things lurking underneath the surface of the small town, and it’s no coincidence that the immortals were drawn here when following certain clues. It’s easy to see the generations and cycles of abuse perpetuating themselves, and the grand final twist suits the buildup to it. Each of the main chapters are written in representation to each of the immortals: Maiza, followed by Chez, Sylvie, Nile and finally Elmer. There’s also a clever use of font choice to differentiate Fil’s thoughts and experiences from the rest of the books—something that becomes increasingly important as you read. We get fairly ample time with all the characters within this book, and the tension builds in this books as beautifully as the previous. There’s an incredible scene with Chez being engulfed in flames that is absolutely visceral to read, and if I could recommend the book on that alone, I would. Thankfully, there is much more than just that for fans to enjoy here.
The fact that this story takes place in a (more) modern age than the previous ones is less than obvious, thanks to the village itself being mostly cut off from the outside world. There’s really no reason in particular that this story happened in 2001 (or at least, not at this point) and so it’s easy to forget how much time has passed within universe. This is not a flaw though, as I think it helps ease readers in to such a massive change easily, and lends itself well to the almost fairytale-esque quality of the setting. It also accentuates how static the lives of the immortals are; the passage of time has no effect on them, and so the years pass without notice. The 2001 setting also helps Narita differentiate this running plotline of recovering immortals from the 1930s gang skirmishes, and going forward we’ll start to see more books set in the 2000s. (Not immediately though!)
Baccano! 2001: The Children of Bottle is an interesting addition to the Baccano! story by bringing in new characters, a new setting and a new millennium all at once. Despite the largely unfamiliar cast and setting, this book fits well within the story established until now, and expands it out further than expected. The potential this book brings to upcoming novels in the future has yet to be seen, but it proves the potential in the premise.
Gee’s Rating: Highly recommended
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