Bungou Stray Dogs, an anime from the Spring 2016 season, has received a lot of credit from the otaku community for being an extremely unique series. Doing what few shows before it have, marrying the historical setting of the Victorian Age with the common superpower tropes in shonen manga, Bungou Stray Dogs has little reason to be rejected from the outset. However, behind the glitter, makeup and appearances you will find that the anime is only mediocre at best and in my opinion one of the worst shows that I have ever had the pleasure of watching.
Even though the series did not meet my personal expectations, it did have some good references to the human condition of belonging that gave it some weight in regards to Christianity. Some parts of the show displayed pure genius while others revealed why you cannot judge an anime by its cover. Overall, the series grabbed my attention quickly and despite the unenjoyable experience I pulled a lot away from the show. So without further to do, take a look at my extensive, minor spoiler review of Bungou Stray Dogs!
Atsushi Nakajima, a young man living on the streets because he was thrown out of his orphanage for unknown reasons, is the main protagonist for Bungou Stray Dogs. We find him lying down near a riverbank, starving to death due to a lack of food, when a strange man named Osamu Dazai takes him on an investigation for the search of a mysterious tiger that has been terrorizing the city. Once the case has been solved, discovering that Atsushi himself is the tiger, Dazai offers him the chance to join a supernatural organization known as the Armed Detective Agency, a group that solves crimes that the police force cannot. He has the chance to master his powers under safe conditions and use them for good.
From episode one, Atsushi unlocks his abilities to transform into a weretiger and fight with incredible strength and speed. He can also turn certain parts of his body such as his legs or arms into that of the beast so that he can gain power in those specific areas. However, he cannot control his ability for a large portion of the show, so it is activated mainly through emotional turmoil, desperation and life-threatening situations. What confused me the most about his weretiger transformations is that the show had major time skips where he could fully control his powers whereas the episode before he could not. There was no explanation in-between to tell how this major event happened and it bothered me a lot.
Atsushi’s backstory was interesting at first, but it soon became apparent that he was another added to the long list of “cookie-cutter characters” that anime tends to use. Teenage male, painful memories of the past, gains superpowers to overcome his trials, and saves the day in the end. I can honestly think of ten other characters that fit this same description and it was disheartening that the writers decided to take the easy way out by creating such a bland character. The only real uniqueness that Atsushi holds is that he tends to mold his personality to the people around him, and that isn’t really a great character trait anyways in my humble opinion.
Osamu Dazai is the next main character for Bungou Stray Dogs and is the sole person that saves the entire show from becoming a complete train wreck. This man has the most creative writing out of many characters that I have seen in an anime and has such unique quirks that cannot be duplicated. He has a special place in my heart because he somewhat brings to mind Tamaki Suoh from Ouran High School Host Club, but that is only personal bias.
For some odd reason, Dazai has the strange desire to commit suicide, especially a double suicide with a beautiful young lady, and the series plays off of this constantly with comedy. Some would wonder how such a dark subject could come off as funny, but I can’t explain it myself. Drowning himself in a river, getting stuck in an oil drum, and other non-painful methods of suicide are his specialty and I feel guilty to say that I laughed so hard at all of them! Even Dazai’s lame attempts at wooing a girl from a restaurant and then asking her to commit a double suicide were hilarious to watch and were very entertaining.
What sets Dazai apart from the other characters is that he appears to be a straight-forward man that shows all of his cards, but in reality is hiding who he really is. The laughter, smiles, and suicide attempts are all facades that cover up the real Dazai. His past is unknown to the viewer from the beginning, but once you get to a certain point you begin to learn who he was before he worked for the Armed Detective Agency. And once you learn about the crimes and mistakes that Osamu Dazai commited, you will never be able to see him in the same light again. He is like a man behind a mask and I really liked that about him.
The last character that definitely receives notable mention would be Kyouka, a young assassin for a local gang known as the Port Mafia. She was taken in during childhood by the leader of the group and developed her gift called Demon Snow. This power allows her to take orders of assassination from her cell phone and have her guardian phantom follow them by cutting down her enemies. Because of the condition that another person has to issue orders through the cell phone, it made controlling Kyouka easy work for the Port Mafia and soon the young girl had committed over two dozen murders.
She has a quiet personality due to her guilt for her crimes and excludes herself from others. However, once she meets Atsushi and the two “go on a date” it is easy to see her guilty pleasure for the small things like bunny rabbits and stuffed animals. I mean, have you seen this girl put down tofu? She somehow maintains her small stature, yet eats massive amounts of food, which was always a funny quirk that she had! Meeting Atsushi completely changed her and allowed her to be herself instead of the cold-blooded killer that she was trained to become. This was her redemption from good to evil and the idea was appealing. However, the way the anime pulled it off, turning her into a complete maid loli in order to give her a second chance, frustrated me to the core.
There are many other characters in Bungou Stray Dogs that were not mentioned above that also have impact to the course of the story. Some notable characters that would be in this category but definitely have presence in the show are Kunikida, Akutagawa, and Higuchi. The plot is not changed in any major way because of the inclusion of these certain people, but it does give it a bit more color.
As I already mentioned, Atsushi goes from living homeless with starvation to joining the Armed Detective Agency from an invite given by Dazai. The job given by this organization is to complete mysterious investigations that the average police force cannot complete such as those with spiritual influences or criminals with powers. The plot takes this and looks at these different crimes solved by our protagonists as well as focus specifically on the Port Mafia, an underground organization that carries out assassinations and thefts. Most of the conflicts are caught between these two groups because Atsushi has a 8 million yen bounty on his head and the Port Mafia desire a piece in it. This causes a lot of turmoil among them and even gives outlets where the audience can learn more about the antagonists in ways that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.
Bungou Stray Dogs’s structure is mainly episodic with a loosely intertwined plot wrapped around it. This leaves a lot to be desired in regards to the content of the show if you have seen anime packed with a lot of meat, series that thrive on complicated stories. It’s not to say that the episodic style was bad, but it could have been heavily improved on. For instance, there was a large cast of different characters that all had to have introductions that ended up taking half of the show alone. This can slow down/make uneven the pacing that the show keeps going and it can throw the audience for a loop. Also, like most other short episodic anime, the show was never wrapped up properly. Sure, there was a “To be continued” message at the end of the anime, but the last few episodes to lead to that announcement were poorly executed.
Bungou Stray Dogs keeps up with the current expectations for the average modern anime and receives even more praise given that it was produced by the famous Bones. There is nothing particularly noteworthy about the animation that grabbed me in a special way. The fight scenes were fantastic as usual, and it was nice to see how the show put just as much of a large budget in normal gun fights as two people with superpowers. However, there was no one unique quality that let the anime stand out above the rest. The show gave normal quality anime production and did that job well.
As for soundtrack I was very pleased with what was provided and I can only give high praise for what was provided. The show went into the typical instrumental and jazz pieces like most mystery/crime anime dive into, but Bungou Stray Dogs went further by including genres that you would not normally see, some that I had no idea would blend so well together. For example, one song that is used in cooperation with fights against the Port Mafia is called Good For Nothing and it has a high-pace mix of rap and techno. I would also say that the opening to the anime receives special attention simply because it sounds so incredibly good to my own personal ear and it got me excited to watch the show. It was a beginning that I never skipped and always looked forward to. The ending, however, did not have as great of an impact on me, but these are merely opinions by my own musical taste.
The name of the show, Bungou Stray Dogs, can be translated from the Japanese to English as “Literary Stray Dogs” and this quickly becomes a continuing theme. We as the audience learn about many different characters that have trouble satisfying their human craving for belonging and it can even be seen in our own lives too.
Atsushi immediately comes to mind since he was thrown out of his orphanage due to his power to transform into a weretiger. The show refers to painful flashbacks of rejection that he experienced with the people that he trusted the most and it seeks to destroy his present. The happy-go-lucky Dazai has his own issues too like how he has split allegiance between the Armed Detective Agency and the organization he used to work with. This pulls his conscious on a moral tug-of-war that causes him a lot of stress and turmoil. Even the Port Mafia’s Akutagawa struggles with belonging and feels like he can never live up to the expectations of a boss in his gang. No matter how hard he tries to surpass this person they continually beat him down, calling him worthless.
These kinds of attitudes don’t just live inside of anime though. In fact, the Bible makes it very clear from cover to cover that every human longs for acceptance. Most try to fill this hole inside of their heart by indulging in what sin has to offer or try to forget that the void even exists. These two coping methods are also used by our protagonists in Bungou Stray Dogs and it never ends up satisfying the drive that always seems to exist. But God says that belonging can be found when we accept Jesus as the Lord of our life. And this kind of relationship isn’t some kind of tyranny where we have to stay a great distance from our master, but Jesus says to call God our “Abba” or daddy which provides the greatest acceptance possible.
Overall, I did not enjoy Bungou Stray Dogs like most of the otaku community. There were some parts of the anime from the characters, Biblical themes, and soundtrack that helped stomach the show, but looking at it as a whole it was not created well. Most importantly, I was reminded of my craving for acceptance that I had before I became a believer and that earns the anime a top marking for Christianity in my book. However, the actual score that I gave Bungou Stray Dogs was a four out of ten on Myanimelist.