Atsushi didn’t miss being locked up in that stone room with only the one window high above to let in a ray of light; but being lost and alone outside seemed even scarier… especially knowing what was after him. Atsushi had proper manners and humility, but no life skills that might help him find a job or a home, or even enough spare change to buy a bowl of rice. He had nothing but the clothes on his back, and those were slowly and steadily falling to pieces. Homeless, the outcast orphan Atsushi wandered through the streets of Tsurumi and into the port city of Yokohama. A great tiger followed him, in the moonlight, with silent steps.
Bungou Stray Dogs is a reasonably popular but still widely underrated anime based on the manga by Kafka Asagiri and Harukawa35. Animated by studio Bones and directed by Takuya Igarashi, the 12-episode series aired in Spring 2016. The main genres are action, super-power, comedy, and seinen, with a little bit of mystery thrown in. Protagonist Atsushi encounters the Armed Detective Agency of Yokohama, a group of crime-solving detectives with powerful supernatural abilities, or Gifts. Dazai Osamu, an eccentric Agency member, recruits Atsushi to help find the huge tiger that’s been wreaking havoc in the city.
Much to the Atsushi’s surprise, he himself turns out to be the feline at fault. He’s one of the Gifted, with the ability to transform into an unnaturally large and strong white tiger. Though Atsushi can’t control his ability, Dazai can cancel it at any time using his Gift, which deactivates any other Gift through touch. With the boy having nowhere to go, Dazai decides to take care of Atsushi and put him to work as a member of the Armed Detective Agency. It was the first time Atsushi ever felt welcomed or wanted. He was no longer just a stray dog. So the story begins. In this review of the first season of Bungou Stray Dogs, the following factors will be examined: Visuals, Audio, Characters, Story, and Personal Enjoyment.
Bungou Stray Dogs uses unique art style and character designs. It isn’t a realistic style, but it also doesn’t have the usual “anime” look. It’s more like a comic. Instead of having iris and pupils that are circular or ovular, the characters are often shown with iris and pupils that are diamond-shaped with four rounded points. The characters are drawn with many sharp, straight lines and pointed shapes, usually with thick, black lining. They have tall, thin builds, some with almost femininely-shaped bodies, and unique hair styles. Each character’s design is memorable, but Atsushi’s is probably my favorite. I love all the colors used, too. There are nice color gradients to some character’s eyes; those of Atsushi go from gold to purple.
Face expressions are drawn well and evoke emotion. Some are over-the-top, but I like them. It’s easy to fall in love with the funny, simplified, and exaggerated animation used for comical moments. You can get some great reaction images or material for funny gifs. The fight scenes probably aren’t among the best you can see, and they’re not frequent enough for me to consider this a high-action series. Nevertheless, action sequences are still way above average in quality, speed, visual effects, and choreography. When it comes to backgrounds, sets, and scenery, Bungou Stray Dogs truly delivers. Cityscapes, sunsets, buildings, streets, vehicles, greenery, and more are detailed and beautiful. Lighting and shading for this series is very fine, as well.
Now, there are plenty of shots where the faces of the characters at a bit of a distance are not drawn in. That’s a money- and time-saving technique used a lot in this franchise. I can easily forgive something like that, since the characters’ general forms are obviously drawn by hand. There is no CGI. That’s a major plus in my book. I’d rather have some shots of faceless characters than those weird, out-of-place CGI renderings. At first, you might think the frequency of those simplistically-drawn comical moments suggests a low budget, or even laziness. However, I believe those scenes are in keeping with the style of the series, and always done intentionally.
When I first randomly picked Bungou Stray Dogs to watch in summer 2016, a lot of the humor was lost on me, I didn’t get many of the literature references, and I wasn’t thinking optimistically about the male-dominated cast. In episodes 1 and 2, there was nothing yet tying me to the characters. So at first, only one thing held my attention and got me to episode 4. (By then I was in love with the show.) That one thing was the unique art: those eye-catching visuals with their sharp lines and shapes and vibrant colors. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being so horrible it shouldn’t exist, and 10 being absolutely perfect, the visuals in Bungou Stray Dogs earn 8/10.
I’m familiar with the majority of Japanese seiyuu in this show, and their talent is a key part of why my interest in Bungou Stray Dogs is still alive three years after I stumbled on it randomly. The cast includes veterans and one-of-a-kind talents like Miyano Mamoru (as Dazai), Kamiya Hiroshi (as Edogawa), Hosoya Yoshimasa (as Kunikida), and Hanazawa Kana (as Lucy). Some gifted seiyuu who were less experienced and/or less known were cast as main characters. They include Uemura Yuuto (as Atsushi), Morohoshi Sumire (as Kyouka), and Ono Kensou (as Akutagawa). Other random favorites pop up here and there, like Chuuya’s seiyuu, Taniyma Kishou, made famous by playing Jean in Attack on Titan.
All of these seiyuu, and more that I didn’t mention, deliver on-point and sometimes amazing performances throughout the anime. Miyano Mamoru rarely, if ever, goes wrong playing a character, and as the witty, eccentric Dazai he is just the perfect fit. Hosoya Yoshimasa also stunned me, on several occasions, with his voice acting. Atsushi was one of Uemura Yuuta’s first major parts in an anime, and because of it, he has appeared as main characters in a variety of anime series starting in fall 2016. So his performance was, to me, one of the very best in the show. (Plus, I just like his voice.)
In addition to the voice-acting, the music in Bungou Stray Dogs entertains me to no end. There’s quite a variety in styles. I don’t know when/if somebody will come along and delete it soon, but as of now, the OST for season one is on YouTube. My 8 favorites are “Good for Nothing,” (track #1), “Sore wa Hajimatte Iru” (track #6), “Riverside Mafia” (track #10), “Run, Atsushi” (track #12), “Fojou/ Impurity” (track #15), “Rashoumon” (track #16), “Eye of Tiger” (track #19), and “Armed Detective Agency” (track #20). The memorable opening song for the series is “Trash Candy,” by Granrodeo. I prefer the ending song, though. It’s “Namae wo Yobu yo,” by Luck Life.
Overall, on a scale of 1 to 10, Bungou Stray Dogs’ audio elements would be a 9.
For a 12-episode series, Bungou Stray Dogs has quite a lot of characters. If you can get to know the supporting cast a little bit on the first watch, that’s great, but mostly, the characters to focus on are Akutagawa of the Port Mafia, Kyouka, and the members of the Armed Detective Agency— in particular, Dazai, Atsushi, and Kunida. Those five are developed very well. Considering there is such a huge and varied cast, this series does a fantastic job of including all of them, and making most of them memorable. The supporting Armed Detectives each got an episode focusing mostly on them: Tanizaki in ep 2, Rampo in ep 5, Yosano in ep 8, and Kenji in ep 11.
All the characters are highly interesting to me as someone who likes “studying” anime characters. There’s a lot to work with and think about with so many. Their quirks, issues, and individual psychologies are fascinating. In particular, in season 1, I like the comparing and contrasting of Dazai and Kunida, and Atsushi and Akutagawa. On a scale of 1 to 10, the character concepts and development in Bungou Stray Dogs earn a solid 8.
The story category encompasses many elements such as comedy, suspense, series structuring, and themes addressed. Though it has its ups and downs, I still say the story category overall for Bungou Stray Dogs deserves 8/10. The show features a unique mix of comedy, action, and drama. The comedy is genuinely funny, and it’s great how it keeps surprising you. The sense of suspense and the intensity was just right throughout the story. Another good thing about Bungou Stray Dogs is how it throws in a little bit of a mystery into most episodes. They’re usually simple to solve… if you’re paying close attention.
In a sense, the story is well-crafted. If you’ve seen all the seasons and you go back and watch the first season, you’ll see how the creators already knew what would happen when, leaving hints and facts for you here and there. But in another sense, it can seem like the plot is all over the place. Episodes 1-8 are mostly single-episode mysteries or conflicts to resolve. Then episodes 9 and 10 contain the climatic face-off of Atsushi and Akutagawa. When that ends, we’re still left with 2 episodes to fill. They were filled well, with introductions of new characters and a few good action scenes. However, it’s still strange to have the climax of the series be in episodes 9-10 instead of 11-12. Those are my thoughts anyway.
The various themes in Bungou Stray Dogs are often thought-provoking and sometimes classic (in a good way). They include finding yourself, the will to live, idealism vs. realism and pessimism, misfortune, personal struggles, determination, courage, disillusionment, and the less than rosy nature of life in Yokohama. I don’t have the attentiveness to write examples for each one in this review, but I’m sure I’ll be making posts about this series and its themes in the future. I’m particularly interested in the characters’ world views and values.
There was a shit-load of content to enjoy in Bungou Stray Dogs. I enjoyed an assortment of different components of all the above categories: story, art, characters, and sound. There’s just one other topic I wanted to include.
Bungou is Japanese for “literary.” As you will notice if you watch the show, character names are the same as names of literature authors. I couldn’t think of where to fit this in the story category, so I’m discussing that aspect of the show under enjoyment. It’s incredible to see the amount of detail and thought put into the literature references in/of the characters. Anything from their character design to the name of their Gift/ability can be a nod to the real author. Among those with the names of Japanese literature authors, I only knew Dazai Osamu at first. He wrote the famous novel No Longer Human, a sad tale of a man who struggles with suicidal ideation and drug abuse. Now let me mention two others.
Nakajima Atsushi wrote mostly short stories and poems, which were only compiled, translated, and published after his death. The Moon on The Mountain and The Poet who Roared to The Moon and Became a Tiger are two of his works. According to the source that none dare doubt, Wikipedia (lol), Nakajima Atsuhi was born in 1909 and died young in 1941. In Bungou Stray Dogs, Atsushi is a weretiger, and at first, his Gift/ability only activates at night. The name of his Gift is “Beast Under the Moon,” which sounds similar to the names of his stories and poems. Atsushi’s clothing design looks like what was worn in the 1920s-1950s.
Akutagawa Ryuunosuke wrote many short stories in his short lifetime (1892-1927). He died by suicide, which is terrible, but less surprising if you know that many of his stories were dark and hinted at a hopeless and embittered attitude. Akutagawa wrote the famous story The Spider’s Thread, about a man who tries to escape hell. Another famous work of his was Rashoumon, which demonstrated the theme of the poor needing to do despicable things to survive. The main character steals a robe/coat from a woman robbing a corpse. In Bungou Stray Dogs, Akutagawa grew up in hellish poverty and became ruthless. The name of his Gift is Rashoumon.
–Scoring the Series–
Let me explain how I usually do my series reviews. A number score is assigned to each of the five elements being judged: story, art, sound, characters, and personal enjoyment. These numbers run from 1 (shouldn’t exist) to 10 (perfect masterpiece). When I have those five numbers, I add them up, divide them by five, and thereby arrive at my overall series score. The following are my numbers for Bungou Stray Dogs (season one). Art= 8/10. Audio= 9/10. Characters = 8/10. Story = 8/10. Personal Enjoyment = 9/10. Therefore…
Final Score = 8.4 out of 10.0
Thank you so much for reading my review here at Anime Rants! 7mononoke wishes you health and happiness! Sayonara until next time!
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Images from: Bungou Stray Dogs. Dir. T Igarashi. Bones. 2016.