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review 2019-06-23 22:21
Baccano!, Vol. 2: 1931 The Grand Punk Railroad: Local (book) by Ryohgo Narita, illustration by Katsumi Enami, translated by Taylor Engel
Baccano!, Vol. 2: 1931 The Grand Punk Railroad: Local - Ryohgo Narita,Katsumi Enami

The year is 1931, and the Flying Pussyfoot, a limited express train bound for New York, has just acquired several groups worth of dangerous passengers, nearly all of whom think they'll easily be able to take over the train for their own ends. There's crybaby bootlegger boss Jacuzzi Splot (best name ever) and his misfit band of delinquents, who plan to steal some secret cargo. There's the Lemures group, a bunch of terrorists determined to take some hostages in order to free their leader, the immortal Huey Laforet. There's murder-loving Ladd Russo, the nephew of the head of the Russo mafia family, his bride-to-be Lua, and his group of fellow killers. There's the mysterious monster known as the Rail Tracer. And then there are a few less dangerous passengers, like the thieves Isaac and Miria.

All of these passengers have their own goals and motivations. Only some of them will make it to New York alive.

First, a disclaimer: I have seen (and enjoyed) the anime, which adapted several books in this series, including this one. I suspect it helped my ability to follow along with the characters and story. Normally, I'd suggest watching the anime prior to attempting these light novels, but the anime has gone out of print and, as far as I know, isn't legally streaming anywhere (to anyone who wonders why I still buy so much anime when streaming is an option, this is why).

As far as reading order goes: Although Narita wrote in his afterword that he planned to keep each volume as self-contained as possible, that doesn't mean the books can be read in any order - definitely read Volume 1 before starting this one, even though only a few characters from the first book make appearances in this one. Also, if you make it past Volume 1 and plan on reading Volume 2, you might as well buy Volume 3 as well, because Volume 2 isn't self-contained. It doesn't end in what I'd call a cliffhanger, but it does leave a good chunk of the story untold. Multiple characters show up, only to disappear again, the details of their fates saved for Volume 3.

In my review of the first volume of this series, I wrote that the writing/translation was bad but that this somehow didn't interfere with my enjoyment. That was sadly not the case with Volume 2. I don't know whether it was actually worse than Volume 1 or whether I was just less in the mood, but there were times when the writing literally ground my reading experience to a halt as I tried to figure out what Narita meant. One example:

"Nice objected to that idea. Since she was talking to Nick, even under the circumstances, she meticulously parsed out casual speech and polite speech to the appropriate listener; Nick received the latter." (147)

It would have been simpler to say that, even though she objected to Nick's idea, she still did so politely. Not only is the phrasing incredibly awkward, I'm not sure that "parsed" is the right word here. "Parceled out" might have been more appropriate.

Here's an example that just made me shake my head:

"Without giving an audible answer to that question, Lua nodded silently." (48)

Can we say "redundant"?

As in Volume 1, the writing was almost completely devoid of descriptions. Nearly all of the book's historical and setting details were limited to pages 61 to 62 - otherwise, it was all character introductions, dialogue, and action, pretty much in that order.

It's a sign of how excellent Ladd Russo's English-language voice actor was that I kept hearing him every time I read Ladd's dialogue. Of all of this book's many characters, Ladd and Jacuzzi probably stood out the most. Jacuzzi was a relatively fun and interesting character, a young man who tended to cry and panic about everything but who nonetheless inspired intense loyalty within his group. Ladd, unfortunately, just came across as an excuse for occasional mindless bone-crunching violence.

Isaac and Miria were a disappointment this time around. They continued their role as the series' comic relief, but instead of being oblivious to the violence around them, they were presented as being well aware of what was going on, but so used to it that they were unfazed. Honestly, it made them seem more creepy and disturbing than, say, a more in-your-face monster like Ladd.

I don't expect the series' writing to improve, but I'm hopeful that I'll like Volume 3 more than this one, because all of the fantasy elements that Narita only hinted at in this volume will actually be on-page in that volume. Also, my favorite character from the anime, Claire, will finally get more than just a few vague mentions.

I'll wrap this up with a couple things that made me go WTF. Was the fingernail thing in the anime? I can't remember, but in the book it made me wince. Fingernails don't work like that - I don't care how you shape or cut them, you're not going to be able to saw through multiple ropes with them, and certainly not quickly enough to do any good. Also, if you did arrange to have one of your nails shaped like a tiny saw, you would constantly regret it as you accidentally cut yourself or other people or even just got the nail caught on cloth or whatever. And then there was the thing under Nice's eye patch, which I know was definitely in the anime, although I'd completely forgotten about it. So much wincing. Just a bad, bad idea.

Extras:

Several color illustrations at the front of the book (with text that will likely only confuse readers who haven't yet read the volume and haven't seen the anime), several black-and-white illustrations throughout, and an afterword by the author.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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text 2019-06-23 17:33
Reading progress update: I've read 233 out of 233 pages.
Baccano!, Vol. 2: 1931 The Grand Punk Railroad: Local - Ryohgo Narita,Katsumi Enami

Well, I'm done. This barely squeaks into the $3 range, bringing my Booklikesopoly total to $34. Can I make it to at least $50? We'll see...

 

Although I admit the anime was confusing as heck the first time around, I really enjoyed it. I had originally hoped that reading the books the series was based on would add another level to my enjoyment. The first book was fun enough, despite the terrible writing, and I'm looking forward to getting to the point where the anime was left behind (Book 4? or Book 5?). But man, Volume 2. This time around the bad writing actually did interfere with my enjoyment, and it didn't help that Narita chose a confusing way to tell this portion of the story. All of the fantasy elements that could have been present in this volume as part of a big, climactic reveal were instead saved for Volume 3, something I only know because I watched the anime and know where all of this is going.

 

I'm reminded of this article about a Japanese editor who blasted the light novel publishing industry for being filled with authors who just plain can't write. “The version they put out on the Internet was the result of them using every last bit of their skills, and there’s no way they can do any better.” Ouch.

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text 2019-06-21 19:04
Reading progress update: I've read 147 out of 233 pages.
Baccano!, Vol. 2: 1931 The Grand Punk Railroad: Local - Ryohgo Narita,Katsumi Enami

"Nice objected to that idea. Since she was talking to Nick, even under these circumstances, she meticulously parsed out casual speech and polite speech to the appropriate listener; Nick received the latter."

 

::eyeballs and brain melting::

 

I'm pretty sure that this is just saying that Nice objected to Nick's idea, but that her words remained polite/formal rather than more casual (which is still an awkward way of putting it). I hate it when I'm moving happily along in this book and then stumble across a speed bump made of words.

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text 2019-06-21 16:20
Reading progress update: I've read 116 out of 233 pages.
Baccano!, Vol. 2: 1931 The Grand Punk Railroad: Local - Ryohgo Narita,Katsumi Enami

I'm going to be sitting in customer waiting areas for a while today, waiting for car stuff to be completed. Let's see if I can finish this while I wait.

 

There's one character, the "magician," that I don't recall seeing in the anime at all. No idea if he's just someone who slipped my mind, since it's been ages since I saw the series, or whether I'm in for some new-to-me content.

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text 2019-06-18 00:35
Reading progress update: I've read 48 out of 233 pages.
Baccano!, Vol. 2: 1931 The Grand Punk Railroad: Local - Ryohgo Narita,Katsumi Enami

"Without giving an audible answer to that question, Lua nodded silently."

 

Writing like this is why I can't bring myself to recommend these books to people who aren't already fans of the anime or at least generally inclined to want to try Japanese light novels.

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