The “Baccano” of Pulp Fiction: Omake

This was my original first chapter for “The ‘Baccano’ of Pulp Fiction,” detailing how both Baccano! and Pulp Fiction are descendants of pulp magazines. I’m pleased with how a lot of it turned out, but I ultimately made the decision to cut it for two reasons. The first is that I’m not an expert on either pulp magazines or the light novel industry as a whole, and most of the comparisons I made are generalizations pulled from Wikipedia research. I would’ve needed to put in more detailed research to reach a point where I was fully happy with the section. Of course, that would’ve taken more time than I was dedicated to giving it, considering the second and more important reason I pulled it: it just doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the piece thematically

The original idea was to compare the works of Quentin Tarantino and Ryohgo Narita as a whole, but I found that focusing on Baccano! and Pulp Fiction worked best as the two works had thematic and structural parallels rather than just stylistic ones. In digging into those works more deeply, I discovered just how much both works owed to the legacy of pulp magazines and included a segment in the main post about it. However, as the post ultimately focuses on the idea of chaos and coincidence present in the works, it ultimately just ended up being a tangent that distracted from the overall thesis.

So I’m presenting it here instead. The segment itself is still a bit unpolished (again, one of the reasons I cut it), but I was really happy with how a lot of it turned out, especially with the image I managed to find. Black Mask was the crime pulp that Pulp Fiction was almost named for, and I managed to find a cover that is at least close enough to Pulp Fiction‘s poster to evoke recognition, but that includes costumed criminals and a story about someone who “wouldn’t die.” Ha! They managed two unintentional Baccano! references on one cover!

Anyway, here’s the original “Chapter 1” of “The ‘Baccano‘ of Pulp Fiction.” I hope you enjoy it!

Chapter 1: The Legacy of the Pulps

Or, Quentin Tarantino and Ryohgo Narita Write Low-brow Stories for the Entertainment of the Masses

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“It’s a pointless, dumb story… But it’s fun.” If they said that, I think it would be the best compliment ever. At least for books with the Baccano! title, I plan to focus on creating that kind of story. ~Ryohgo Narita, Baccano! Volume 3 afterword

To understand the similarities between Baccano! and Pulp Fiction we need to look at the DNA the two share, which the latter is outright named for: pulp magazines. Pulp magazines were cheap fiction magazines popular in the 1920’s and 1930’s, named so for the inexpensive, low-quality wood pulp paper they were printed on. These were usually genre fiction, and they  were designed to be cheap, easily consumable entertainment.

The light novel industry could be considered in many ways to be a Japanese successor to pulp magazines. Both are also known for their sensational nature, and while light novels are rarely as outright exploitative as pulps tended to be in terms of violence or substance abuse, light novels have a reputation for being filled with degenerative sexuality in the same way that many pulps had a reputation for being saucy. They both are known for being industries with a lot of interplay, with light novel authors frequently referencing each others’ works and well-known pulp characters being written by multiple authors. Many light novels are published in anthology magazines in a similar manner to pulps, and both are known for seeking out a lot of new talent. Their authors are frequently, perhaps because of the low cost of pulps and light novels, known for being prolific. Perhaps because of this, both have a reputation for focusing on quantity over quantity, and are often seen as cheap, poorly-manufactured low-brow entertainment.

The pulp style also extends into films, usually with blockbuster films (especially in the current superhero-saturated market, considering that superheroes comics were descended from hero pulps). These are sometimes referred to as “popcorn movies,” as they’re the types of movies one might eat popcorn to. However, it’s also an apt term since the movies, like popcorn itself, have a reputation for being light, fluffy, and enjoyable, but not filling. They’re simply snacks rather than something more substantial.

This is the legacy that both Baccano! and Pulp Fiction fall into even more than their contemporaries: violent, exploitative stories filled with crime, drugs, and alcohol, designed to entertain the masses instead of scintillate a more high-brow crowd.

This is not, of course, to diminish the value of the pulp style. Just because a style lacks substance does not mean it lacks artistry. In fact, works dedicated purely to entertain can be surprisingly difficult to pull off. To truly be good, a pulpy story usually needs to find the perfect blend of action, grit, and levity. Too much levity and it becomes campy, too much grit and it becomes unpleasant. If the right balance is struck, however, the action becomes exhilarating, the grit adds some kick, and the levity makes it entertaining. This is the style of story Tarantino and Narita excel at: stories that are pointless and dumb…but they’re fun.

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The “Baccano” of Pulp Fiction

Isaac and Miria in car

“Hey, Isaac?”
“What’s that, Miria my dear?”
“What do you suppose they call the Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?”
“Hmm…well, Miria, I believe they’d call it a Royale with Cheese!”
“Wow! Is that because of the metric system?”
“That’s exactly right, Miria! Because of the metric system!”

Baccano” is an Italian word translating roughly to “raucous noise” or “crazy ruckus.” It implies loud chaos and confusion, and that’s exactly the sort of story delivered in Ryohgo Narita’s series of light novels titled Baccano!, as well as in the anime of the same name. However, it’s also the type of story delivered by Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film Pulp Fiction. Read More

Steins;Gate and the Trolley Problem

Note: this post contains heavy spoilers for the original Steins;Gate anime.

If you had the power to change the natural course of things for the better, would you do it?

What if, even if the changes were a net positive, they ended up hurting someone?

This is the question posed by the Steins;Gate anime, and ultimately by the trolley problem, a thought experiment in the field of ethics. In the trolley problem, five people are tied to the tracks of a runaway trolley. You stand at a lever that, if pulled, will divert the trolley to another track, saving the five captives. However, there is a single person tied to that track. The problem asks people whether or not they would do nothing and let the five people die, or whether they would pull the lever, killing the one person.

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An illustration of the classic trolley problem

On paper, it’s easy to approach the problem from a purely utilitarian standpoint (cue the sounds of Gen Urobuchi breathing heavily), i.e., the correct choice is the one that results in fewer people dying. However, the model can be tweaked to amplify the moral ambiguity of the choice. One popular variant is the “fat man” variant, where instead of pulling a lever, you choose whether or not to push a fat uninvolved bystander onto the track to slow the trolley. Or the “fat villain” variant, where the fat man is not an innocent bystander but the man who tied the people to the track in the first place. However, they all ultimately ask the same question: is saving five lives worth taking one life? While these variations ultimately make the choice easier or more difficult by adding context, it simply emphasizes that ethical choices like this one aren’t always as simple as black-and-white as they seem. Read More

Digicast 13: Bolgmon Spelled Backwards is Nomglob (Frontier Part 1)

The Frontier train has no brakes, and apparently neither does this podcast. Tom, Buggy, Chris, and Maddy have perhaps their least unified discussion yet as they discuss the codification of Digimon archetypes, Zoe’s hat, the sexual appeal of squidgirls, and whether or not Bokomon can be given the same Jar Jar status that Neemon can. Plus, of course, their usual digressions, such as Moon Moon Moon, unintentional Troll 2 references, and Crispin Freeman’s hentai career.

Also, Tom edited this one. Everyone thank Tom for taking over editing and doing a good job! Read More

Getting Along with Hopelessness: The Existential Joy of Girls’ Last Tour

Part 1: Zetsubou~, Zetsubou~, Zetsubou~

…So there was no hope after all. All those years, toiling away alone…. But well, now that I’ve failed…I feel so relaxed.
~Ishii, Chapter 16

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Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryouko, localized as Girls’ Last Tour, is a series by Tsukumizu that focuses on Chito and Yuuri, two girls driving around a post-apocalyptic world in a Kettenkrad, continuously moving, scavenging for food, shelter, and fuel wherever they can find it. It’s a Sisyphean existence where nothing is gained or accomplished past being replenishing their reserves to keep moving. They have no purpose beyond continuing their own existence.

Most stories set in a post-apocalyptic, posthuman world  would focus on the existential despair and dread of being alone in the world, without purpose, and constantly confronted with mortality. However, when Girls’ Last Tour delves into these ideas, it does so in a way that I can only describe as “existential joy.” Read More

Juni Taisen, Battle Royales, and Survivor Edgic

Juni Taisen is, in my opinion, about the worst possible way you can write a battle royale storyline. It’s entirely predictable, and while many battle royales are, that’s because they usually have a clear protagonist, unlike the ensemble cast that Juni Taisen has. And yet, in spite of this very complaint, I actually find Juni Taisen incredibly interesting. Read More

The Last of Us and the Importance of Player Agency

So I just recently finished The Last of Us (yes, yes, I’m years late to this party) and I am…upset about it. I was really enjoying the game until the ending, at which point everything completely fell apart for me. I’ve never been the type of person to think that something needs a good ending to be good, but at least in this case, The Last of Us’s ending ended up sullying the whole experience for me.

Obviously, spoilers are going to follow. Read More