#I'm just going to publish it now because if I don't I will dither forever
agallimaufryofoddments · 3 years ago
What are your top 5 favourite Baccano! light novels?
Oh dear; I knew someone or other would someday ask me to name one or more favorite volumes. It seems that time has come…
When it comes to ‘favorite things’ in series, I’m one to tends to think more in terms of ‘favorite scenes’ (which in turn are influenced by ‘favorite characters’) than ‘favorite installments’. It’s not that I don’t appreciate/delight in plots/narratives, but–well, perhaps one can see how fanfiction appeals to me. Fanfiction deals in specifics: specific scenarios; specific characters; specific tropes. When I want to rewatch/reread something, those ‘somethings’ are usually favorite moments than they are entire episodes or books. 
Well, now. If you’d asked me for just one favorite, I’d have 100% dithered in indecision agony for who knows how long. I’m loathe to pick single favorites. But you didn’t–and you didn’t ask me to pick just three, either, you asked for five–so I ought to be able to come up with some list, ha.
I’ll list them below in no definitive order (I don’t enjoy ranking favorites), though some are more sure than others. I’ve tried to approach this with at least some accounting for the novels as a whole, but I admit the list is still a bit biased towards favorite scenes and characters (in quantity and nature of involvement).
2001 The Children of Bottle
1935-B Dr. Feelgreed
1705 The Ironic Light Orchestra
1934 Alice in Jails: Prison
1932 Drug & The Dominos
I’ll go into the whys under the cut, for length and spoiler purposes. The list is subject to change (not just because 1935-E and 2003 arc aren’t out yet, but because, again, permanency is anathema to me), and I did dither over some of the above entries… (I still feel guilty over only having one 1700s arc entry up there…hhhgh).
Note: questions like these inevitably leave one–aka me–thinking, “Oh lordy lou, I really should reread xyz novels.” If you missed it, that’s me right now.
Volume 5: 2001 The Children of Bottle
Not one, not two, but three of my top favorite characters get to be protagonists in this novel: Maiza; Elmer; and Nile!
The book itself is an oddity in the series–a single volume arc (and a 2000s-era one no less), with mystery/suspense vibes alongside a pinch of eldritch horror. Narita really likes ‘superstitious insular village or city’ as settings, but this one’s especially insular and out of time and place. And weather. It’s neat!
And, as you might expect, this book has a lot of top tier scenes as far as I’m concerned. Czes and Elmer’s rooftop conversation, Maiza and Nile bantering while they explore the secret passage, Czes and the fireplace, Nile’s speech about injustice to Fil… 
Feldt unleashing these Lovecraftian meat tentacles/scraps toward the end is of course one of the exceptionally odd things about this novel, but it also includes more favorite moments: Elmer throwing up the gasoline, and him and Maiza acting natural while Maiza slits his stomach. Damn.
This novel also introduces the Hive Mind homunculus concept to Baccano!, and hive minds can be pretty neat if done well. 
Volume 19: 1935-B Dr. Feelgreed
This one has a lot of ‘favorite moments’ and ‘things I appreciate’ going on, I admit. For instance, I really appreciate having all three of the surviving pre-1711 immortals appear in a 1930s arc in some form (Dalton; Renee; and Archangelo); even if Dalton’s scenes are from 2003, they provide some semblance of backstory and character perspective.
Heck, even Majeedah is mentioned in this novel! How rare is that?
I do hope that Archangelo’s appearance doesn’t come to nothing, but even if it does…it’s still nice to see all three included.
As for those ‘favorite moments’, we’ve got: Maiza’s ambush; Upham’s return; Victor showing some humanity/vulnerability (when he’s talking with Edward in the hospital); Isaac being injured when he tries to protect Who and You-Know-Who; Keith saving Luck’s life and going after Melvi (so cool! With some extra Keith appreciation from Firo to boot)… 
…Huey meeting Claire, that’s pretty significant. Ah, and it’s not just Upham who’s returned, it’s Roy as well: Upham’s my guy, but honestly it’s so nice to see Roy clean and in a good place compared to where he was in 1932. Others have called it a “quiet success story” among all of Baccano!’s chaos, and I agree. Good for Roy. Ah, and it brings back Alkins. (It also brings back Smith and Mark, but I like Alkins more than I like Smith).
Nader’s lucid nightmare is also a ‘favorite moment’ of mine for sure. The imagery is quite effective; I especially love the idea of the two trains hurtling toward each other. 
Anyways, this novel not only gives us an illustration featuring Upham (and Roy), it also gives us the only LN illustration where Maiza’s eyes are open. Bless. (It also gives us the tattooed contortionist, whose name I sitll really want to know).
This novel also gives us Firo formally meeting Jacuzzi (they’ve seen each other before), though this meeting isn’t as fun given that Firo’s impression of Jacuzzi is, uh, not superb. However, their meeting involves generous amounts of Ronny, for which I am grateful.
Melvi’s last name is revealed for the first time in 1935-B. So: not only do we get Dalton, Renee, and Archangelo, we have the Dormentaire name cropping up. It’s not that 1935-A didn’t already feel ‘big’, but Edward’s line in this LN: “It could be this case goes a lot deeper than we thought” definitely resonates with the volume as a whole.
Right after Melvi’s surname reveal, we get Victor frozen at the sight of Dormentaire ships appearing off the coast. It’s a blast (heh) from the past–and the finally 1700s nail in the 1935 coffin: you really do feel like the waves of the 1700s’ tide are lashing at the 1930s’ shores.
Volume 11: 1705 The Ironic Light Orchestra
I have a confession: I did not fully understand what was going on in this novel on my first couple read-throughs, and even now I have to actively think through the counterfeit + drug situation. However!
Like 2001, 1705′s plot is single-volume and contains some amount of mystery and intrigue. Who is the Mask Maker? Who is behind the counterfeit gold? What is the truth of the Lotto Valentinians, and the Mask Maker murders? 
But while that’s all going on, we get to meet Esperanza (hip hip, hurrah) and Dalton, and oh damn Renee the professor–remember, this novel is immediately succeeding Volume 10, and what happened at the end of Volume 10? Huey met with Renee and called her professor, referring to how he and Elmer were her students. And then he pinned her against the wall, removed her glasses “with almost romantic gentleness,” and dug out her left eye without anesthesia. So we go from that to angsty 15-year-old Huey faffing around in Renee’s classes. What, says the newbie reader, the heck. 
Speaking of teenage protagonists, obviously I love this novel for everything Elmer. Elmer’s scar reveal scene is such a highlight, but so is everything else he does. More on this shortly.
(First, I have to also appreciate 1705 for having Denkurou and Zank’s formal debuts: Both Victor and Denkurou narrated one each of Vol 5′s color inserts, but it only took three volumes for Victor’s formal debut–Denkurou got six! And there’s rebel!Aile aka Maiza. Amazing.)
Anyway, back to Elmer. I’ve said before that 1705′s climax is what delights me most in the book, both for how confused and one-upped Huey is, and how Elmer is the one doing the one-upping. @toushindai has previously remarked on how 1705 deliberately undermines the image we’ve had of Huey thus far (a Correct and Excellent point), so I’ll just say that I appreciate how 1705  really reinforces and affirms the shrewdness we saw of Elmer in 2001.
Volume 8: 1934 Alice in Jails: Prison
I wanted at least one entry on this list to expressly be appreciative of a novel for its whole sake (and have that be a prominent factor, not just ‘boy howdy look at what favorite scenes/characters are in this one”). I said i appreciate 1705′s plot/it and 2001′s mystery…
…but when I thought about novels where I held distinct appreciation not just for singular scenes but how the novel was paced and structured, I kept coming back to Volume 8. Its setup alone is really well done: There’s the epilogue with the mysterious customer (Sham), of course, but the first prologue with Victor and Firo? What a hook! 
Victor may be humorously undermined in that scene, but that’s only after we’re hit with the “he’s Victor the immortal!” reveal and as such know he was sly enough to use a loophole in the first place. Firo’s already in a tight situation..and then the prologue ends with “Ever hear of Alcatraz?”, a ‘cut to black’ one-liner that’s Hollywood worthy.
And the infamous fourth prologue… Isaac’s arrest and everything he does leading up to it (not only recognizing the plainsclothes cops but having the foresight and calm to send Miria away) is just top tier Baccano! content. If you weren’t hooked with Prologue I, chances are this has done the trick.
But the promise/excitement doesn’t end with the prologues. We’ve got Victor’s mystery, i.e. how is Huey communicating w/the outside, and the promise of maybe learning more about Huey himself–whom we’ve met in 1933 but is still an enigmatic figure. Oh yeah, and the setting is Alcatraz. ‘Nuff said.
Of course, this novel is also filled with delicious character interactions. Victor’s relationships with the other 1711 immortals (as with the Elmer-Huey color insert) renews one’s interest in the shared history of these individuals; Ladd meeting Firo and Isaac, Huey meeting all three of them, Miria and Chané bonding are all wonderful and very much the sort of thing Baccano! readers enjoy. Miria having some idea of Ronny’s true nature! Whoah! And you get good individual character stuff too, from Firo’s internal thought processes to…really everything Huey says at any given point.
This novel also contains Victor’s gloriously imaginative rant on Huey, the sort of rant that deserves to be framed and displayed in a museum. 
As the kick-off to a new arc, the novel also does well in setting up intrigue and bigger stakes than ones we’re used to. Huey siccing a suicide bomber (Sham) on Victor, the radio broadcasting that shit’s gone down in Chicago (where this ‘Graham’ person is, and where Miria intends to go), the general idea that Huey’s planning on escaping Alcatraz and conducting experiments in either Chicago or NY… Signs that Nebula is going to be majorly involved again…
So…yeah. The novel is chock full of great scenes and character interactions, but it’s in equal measure a great novel overall. It reels you in with multiple good hooks, and it features Narita kicking the overarching story up a notch.
Volume 4: 1932 Drug & The Dominos
I did dither over this one for a bit, because I have certain reservations with how Narita handles certain sensitive topics, but at the same time, I can’t deny that it like 2001 gives focus to some of my favorite characters–in this case, Keith and Begg.
I adore meeting Kate and getting insight into her and Keith’s relationship, I adore that Keith gets some spotlight in this novel at all; that scene where he puts his gun to Claire’s head and says “we’re all hoods/villains” is so good! 
And Begg….this is his debut in the series, and just with Vol 4 I found him compelling and flawed and tragic. I’d expand on this, but maybe that’s better off for a better post.
The Keith scene I mentioned above is definitely a favorite moment, but it’s not the only one. There’s: Begg and Czes’ reunion; the climactic scene with Begg, Edith, and Roy; the entirety of Gustavo’s confrontation with Luck and Eve; Kate’s talk with Eve and Roy…
…but this novel also has a lot of quiet and/or more minor moments I like as well. I really like that Edith and Lia are friends, just as I like how Tick and Claire are friends; I like Nicola being established as a Badass Normal with his debut; I like that Nicholas and Elean wine and dine with eachother at Alveare. And of course, I like everything to do with Maiza and Begg.
As for ‘meta’ thoughts… In a way, I do appreciate how this novel is probably comes the closest to ordinary ‘classic mafia’ stories than other entries in the series. Of coures the mafia is involved in other arcs, but the most that alchemy or immortality is involved here is through Begg, and nominal at best. This is straightforward mafia rivalries and involved parties. Narita was inspired by gangster flicks, so I think this novel sort of represents Baccano!’s roots as a series. (Even if Narita’s early drafts of Vol 1 did already involve supernatral stuff).
I also like what we get regarding inaction vs action, apathy vs passion (emotions; emotional intensity)…
…Er, it’s entirely possible the generosity I feel towards Vol 4 has much to do with how it was shafted in the anime; I can’t deny that.
I’m pretty sure I could add more bullet points to all five entries, but I swear I wasn’t meant to spend ludicrous amounts of time on what could’ve been just a simple list so… I’ll not bang on.
I do want to emphasize that I did have trouble deciding on some of those entries, and, again, that the list is not set in stone. Picking just one favorite 1935 novel felt a bit unfair, considering that 1935-B is hardly the only 1935 entry to have some of my favorite/top-notch scenes… 1935-A, for instance, has the Ronny-Rosetta scenes (priceless!) AND the Lebreau-Isaac-Miria scene, 1935-C has the amazing Lebreau-Huey conversation… I could go on. 
Similarly, if I had gone on ‘favorite scenes’ alone… Volumes 14 and 16 would have been actual contenders. Volume 14 has one of my favorite bits in the entire series (Upham’s monologue), not to mention Huey-Victor & Rachel-Claire conversations, some Ladd backstory, etc, but as a whole I wouldn’t consider it a favorite. Vol 16 again actually has a lot of individual things I like (the bridge scene; Nicola’s prominence; Carl being a Good Person; Shaft and Tick; bookshop owner cameo)…but as far as plots go, it’s definitely not a contender.
It also feels really weird to have not named one of the 1933 novels, since I love Tick and 1933 is Tick’s time to shine. However, I think it’s probably telling that three of the novels I named work as single-volume stories (2001; 1932; 1705)–it’s easier to ‘favorite’ a novel which isn’t an installment in an arc, isn’t it? It’s certainly easier to consider novels when they sort of work standalone, and I’m sure that has had its influence here. 
(1933 is an arc where my thoughts are definitely more oriented around ‘favorite moments’ than organized by book.)
(Honestly I might just be more secure in not having either 2002 novel on this list than I am about its entries! I actually want to feel more guilty about not seriously considering 2002 for this than I am, but...I’m not? I did feel a bit guilty about not having 1710 on here, but honestly that novel gets so much love as it is that I’m sure it will survive not being on this list.) 
(Really I feel more guilty about poor, poor 1711/Vol 17, which gets so little love. I’m overdue for a full reread of it anyway).
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