Hello and welcome to the latest episode of Anime Pocket Reviews, and possibly one of the most unlikely double-headers of all time!
Later on we will have a look at one of the last cycle’s series, but first of all we have a classic series from a particularly popular creator of ours:
Baccano (2007, S1, 13x24mins)
Action, Mystery, Comedy, Fantasy
“A train robbery is where you take a train to your destination, make your move, and take a train back, right?”
Set in the criminal underworld of 1930’s America, this story of life and death takes place over three intertwining timelines. In the year 1930, in New York, young Firo (bottom right) is on the verge of joining the notorious Camorra mafia family thanks to his mentor Maiza. Meanwhile, old man Szilard is on the verge of recreating the immortality elixir, only to have it stolen by lowlife Dallas Genoard. The mysterious Ennis (center-right) is sent to reclaim it, causing a wild goose chase across family and criminal lines. The story, however, primarily follows a journey from Chicago to New York on the transcontinental train The Flying Pussyfoot, a year later in 1931, on which many criminals have set their sights: two separate gangs hold up the train for different reasons, causing a full-scale war to break out across the massive fleet. Jacuzzi (center), Nice (center-left) and their small group attempt to save the passengers caught in the crossfire, while people on all sides start being gruesomely murdered, as rumours of the mysterious creature known as the Rail Tracer begin to swirl.
Basically Plot: A fantasy-laced gangster story following three separate timelines, primarily 1930’s New York, where the hunt for the rumored immortality elixir intensifies, and a transcontinental train journey in 1931 that becomes the accidental meeting point for a wave of criminals, and possibly a murderous monster…
I have been waiting to get my hands on this series for a very long time. In fact, I’ve almost been so excited that I ended up putting it off for a long while before I decided to sit down and watch it! The reason is that Baccano is adapted from the light novel series written by Ryohgo Narita, who is the person behind the Durarara story, ranked as our favourite anime of all time! Durarara is one of the best stories I’ve ever seen, regardless of medium, which explains why I was half excited and half anxious going into this. Also, I’ve always been slightly uncomfortable about Japanese shows set in English-speaking worlds, especially when it’s as clear as 1930’s America – I feel as if its unnatural for them to be talking anything other than English. However, from the moment the classically beautiful, classically Durarara intro begun playing (the two into sequences are nigh-on identical) I found myself smiling, and the story certainly lived up to its esteemed cousin’s reputation.
The plot for this series was hard to write because of how well the story is intertwined. I was surprised to hear that the books are actually written chronologically, and it was the anime’s idea to intertwine the 3/4 novels, creating a storyline that constantly jumps between dates – primarily 1930 (pre-train), 1931 (train and elixir chase) and 1932 (post-train). It’s awesome to see a story that can go ahead of the major moments and make it work so perfectly, so naturally you can’t imagine it any other way. There’s scenes in 1932 that make it clear that certain characters, regardless of what happens on the train, end up surviving, yet it doesn’t spoil the story at all. On the other hand, events in 1930 (and at one point at sea in 1711) unfold mid-story, causing a sudden shift in your perspective of events in a way that is awesome to watch.
However, it’s not just the storytelling that’s exciting. Just like Durarara, Narita has in Bacanno created a treasure trove of charismatic psychos, with around four different people vying for the title of lead character, and what feels like around eight individual stories involving characters with all kinds of motives. The promotional image above this review is actually missing at least four major characters! The main stories are decent mystery capers, but it’s the depth of stories that really sells this series – even the green-bandana wearing Rachel, working for a shady newspaper company that is prominent in the 1932 timeline, someone who spends most of the train journey climbing along the side of the train like Spiderman, someone who barely says a word, is made incredibly interesting by her recollections during the later storyline.
The animation is good, but not the best you’ll ever see. It’s not the cleanest – much rougher in drawing and jumpier in animation that Durarara, for example – but it does a good job of reflecting the gritty world they’re in, while the mix of sharp and soft edges help to create real individuality in the characters.
Overall, Bacanno is a series without many faults. The only big one I can think of is the gruesome, almost unnecessarily violent nature of the show – given that a large number of the characters in Bacanno are immortal, you often see some gruesome deaths in real detail. One of the very first scenes you see is a small child being shot at point-blank range with a shotgun, causing his head to explode and body to collapse. All of this is on-screen. Amputated hands, gouged eyes, people being burned alive – this is not exactly a show for the faint of heart. However, stomach that and you are left with something that is not just a small introduction to the behemoth that is Durarara, but an awesome action mystery in its own right. I would recommend this not only to anime fans but action and mystery fans in general. While I’m not a fan of dubbed anime, since this is set in USA, this could be a really good series to watch in English!
ANIME RANKING: #15 – A fantastic score for a fantastic series, Baccano sits firmly in the top 20, just behind Akame Ga Kill and ahead of giants such as Bakuman and Yuri on Ice!!
If you liked this you’ll love: Durarara!! – It may seem obvious, but if you’ve watched Baccano then you must watch Durarara, Narita’s most famous tale. While the setting is changed drastically from old America to modern Tokyo, and the time-hopping story is replaced with a (slightly) more linear timeline, the style of story remains the same, and the trademark absurdity comes through just as strong in a story with similarly enigmatic characters. Plus, Durarara is multiple times longer than Baccano, so there’s plenty more criminals and mysteries for you to enjoy!
The Royal Tutor (2017, S1, 12x23mins)
Comedy, Historic fiction
“Ta-da! I’m a snazzy gentleman.”
The Royal Tutor is a position given to the finest teacher in the nation, the individual given the task of educating the kingdom of Glanzreich’s four princes, turning them into people capable of the throne. Heine Wittgenstein (center) has been given the honour, but as he arrives, he soon discovers why so many other teachers have fallen by the wayside before him when he is greeted by four charismatic and hostile young men.
Basically Plot: Set in a fantasy world, a special teacher with a mysterious past is the latest person tasked with turning the King’s four unguided children into potential successors to the throne.
The Royal Tutor is something of a mixed bag overall. There are some things really solid with this series, but despite what appeared quite a consistent series, I ended up watching this really inconsistently (hence the late upload of this review). The story is decent enough, but doesn’t leave much room for growth, which leads to a slow and uninspiring end to the season.
The season starts by focusing on the growth of the four main characters, and these are one of the highlights of the series. The Royal Tutor is a business study into creating the most marketable characters possible. The four kids tick every box, not only in terms of personality but also of looks. These are idols, and I can only imagine the amount of merchandise that this series has sold as a result of these popstars. However, this isn’t all meant as an insult – the fantasy setting dilutes this factory-produced feel, leaving you with quite funny people who are really entertaining at their best. The animation is also good in this series, with really sharp imagery that beautifully sets this fantasy setting, and the money-spinning children. However, it’s not all about good looks – The Royal Tutor is probably the best example I’ve ever seen of how to use chibi-style drawing (tiny, chubby blobs that resemble the characters) for comedic effect.
The major problems with the series as a whole become clear in the later episodes, when the amount of personal growth the kids can make is worn out. It’s a classic case of comedy trying to inject drama and ‘plot’; enemies are created, stories developed, and it ends up becoming very difficult to work comedy moments into the episodes, and without the comedy the lack of substance is glaringly obvious. The characters quickly become wooden – Heine the teacher by design, the others a mix of bland voice acting and average characters – and the story itself is simply not very interesting, because you don’t end up really caring for the people or their relationships. By the end I was happy to have just got through it.
Unfortunately, for me The Royal Tutor, despite a strong start, has come to personify the lack of substance in the Spring ’17 anime cycle. There are some upsides to this for fans of the school fantasy-comedy genre, and for fans of beautiful males in general, but in terms of an actual series this doesn’t come close to having the legs to pull through a whole 12 episodes. The comedy is good, but the end of the series is almost laughless, bringing to light a robotic world that lacks the emotion a show like this desperately needs.
ANIME RANKING: #71 – First of all, given that I watched this the whole way, it can’t be that bad a series. However, compared to the rest of the shows reviewed on here The Royal Tutor finds itself near the bottom of the whole list, even behind similarly thin shows such as Fuuka and Masamune-kun’s Revenge.
If you liked this you’ll love: Nanbaka – There are many series that do the coming-of-age thing a lot better than in The Royal Tutor. However, for fans of the four main character’s charisma I would recommend Nanbaka, a series with four equally interesting male leads. while Nanbaka is less fantasy inclined, these two shows share a similarly happy style of comedy, while Nanbaka also delivers on story in a way that is much more satisfying!
It won’t surprise anyone to hear that I was not a huge fan of the previous cycle. There were some really good shows (My Hero Academia, Sakura Quest) but generally a lot of the new series were very underwhelming. Maybe that was down to the new ideas being overshadowed by the giants that were Attack on Titan S2 and My Hero Academia, because so far I’ve been pleased with Summer ’17, a cycle devoid – as far as we are concerned – of any major continuations except MHA. With that in mind…
Make sure you follow The Culture Cove to see the best anime reviews before anybody else! Look out for our bumper Summer ’17 half-term report coming soon, featuring half-series reviews for the biggest shows airing right now, including Katsugeki Touken Ranbu, New Game and My Hero Academia!