One of the most anticipated adaptations of the spring season was that of Asagiri Kafka’s Bungou Stray Dogs; a Manga series that I was entirely unfamiliar with, but one which I thought I’d give the synopsis a glance over. It didn’t take much more than the phrases ‘detective agency’ and ‘supernatural powers’ to get me interested in the show, and with the key visuals appearing to be as smooth as any other produced by Bones (the studio that worked on Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and Boku no Hero Academia) I picked this series out as one of the very few interesting offerings from the season.
MAJOR FIRST EPISODE SPOILERS
The first episode introduces us to some of the main cast, the first port of call being our protagonist Atsushi, who is starving to death having been kicked out of an orphanage. Atsuchi Initially contemplates becoming a mugger … and then the comedy abruptly kicks in. This might surprise you, as it did me. Comedy is not one of the genres listed on the site where I found the synopsis of the Manga, and while the skits were funny, it instantly jarred my perception of the show. Throughout the entirety of Bungou Stray Dogs, the swing from seriousness to ridiculousness was very abrupt, and ruined the tone and atmosphere set up multiple times.
Anime as an art form is well known for its lack of balance in this area, but Bungou Stray Dogs pushed this beyond anything I’ve ever witnessed. To highlight this point, Atsushi’s lamentations are followed by him trying to save a drowning man, who it turns out was actually trying to commit suicide. Believe it or not, that’s supposed to be a joke. This new character, Dazai, spends much of his on screen time talking about finding ways to kill himself, and later in the series he becomes obsessed with finding a woman who he can commit a double suicide with. And it’s supposed to be funny. He becomes cartoony each time it comes up, and bemoans not being successful whenever he tries and fails. The real sad part is that when he’s not exhibiting suicidal tendencies, Dazai is a charming and funny character, but with the trait he’s annoying and insensitive.
Dazai really shines when he’s with his partner, Kunikida, a stickler for order and schedules. The two of them work for the ‘Armed Detective Agency’, a group of super powered detectives who take on jobs the police and military can’t handle. In the first episode, they’re looking for a tiger. Yeah, a tiger. Then it turns out (despite him not having mentioned it before) that Atsushi thinks he is being followed by said tiger. This is exactly as rushed and forced as I’ve made it sound.
Soon enough, Dazai drags Atsushi along to use as bait for the tiger, only to reveal – wait for it – that Atsushi is in fact the tiger. Having now being recognised as an ability user, and dubbed ‘Weretiger’, Atsushi gets his ass handed to him by Dazai, who – it transpires – is capable of neutralising the abilities of other users. Following these revelations, Atsushi is drafted into joining the agency.
END OF FIRST EPISODE SPOILERS
I felt the need to explain the major points of episode one simply because I don’t want people to be put off by it. Seriously, Bungou Stray Dogs does finds its feet, and while the comedy/severity balance is till way off in places, it becomes a lot more interesting, and sometimes even genuinely funny. The rest of the agency make for a great supporting cast, and while the bad guys are mostly lame, they’ve set up another antagonistic group for season two who not only appear to be more exciting than the ‘Port Mafia’ of the first series, but also seem to be bringing out the best (or worst? By which I mean baddest) side of the port mafia.
Simply put, the series, suffers from ‘Set-up Syndrome’, in which a series is mainly used to put out ideas and characters to be better developed later. It happens with a lot of anime that air in multiple cours, which is by no means a bad thing and it’s probable that it only affected me so much because I was unaware that a second season was planned before the first had aired. It just feels to me that whatever development actually happened in the first series was masked by everything else that was going on.
Overall; a competent series, which should (theoretically) have an excellent follow up starting in October. Just grit your teeth through the first episode.
Bungou Stray Dogs is available to watch on Crunchyroll now, with its second season due to be simulcast there in October.
GS Blogger: Kyle Hutchinson