Welcome to Anime Rants! For this week’s Thoughtful Thursday, I’m ranting about a certain scene in Bungou Stray Dogs. The meaning of that scene and what it reveals about the two characters’ philosophies will be discussed, as well as my personal opinion on the matter. The scene is close to the end of episode 7 in Bungou Stray Dogs season one.
1. What Happened
Years ago, there was a terrorist who called himself the Azure King. He made it his mission to eliminate white-collar criminals or those the law couldn’t reach. He was passionate about his ideals. When cornered by the police, the Azure King set off a bomb, killing himself and four detectives. But it turned out the Azure King wasn’t alone in his work. His wife and partner, Sasaki, helped him every step of the way, and built many of the bombs they used. Kunikida from the Armed Detective Agency was the one who tipped off the police to the hideout of the Azure King. Because of that, Sasaki wanted revenge on him and the Agency.
Sasaki’s plan to set off a bomb and shut down the Agency failed. After realizing Sasaski was the villain, Dazai called her to meet him in an abandoned house. He also called Kunikida to come and witness. Another person arrived before Sasaki: a friend of Kunikida’s, the son of one of the detectives killed by the Azure King. When she arrived, Sasaki tried to shoot Kunikida, but the detective’s son pushed him aside and took the fatal bullet. As Sasaki was wavering between shooting Kunikida or having Dazai shoot her, the detective’s son took one final action. He shot and killed Sasaki to avenge his father, dying right after.
(Note: The boy had used Dazai’s gun, which Dazai pretty much handed to him. He directly helped the vengeance shooting.)
Kunikida, considered the most moralistic and upright member of the Agency, is also a perfectionist. He can’t stand not living up to his ideals. He can’t stand failing to save people or accomplish what was right. On top of that, he had a crush on Ms. Sasaki. Needless to say, Kunikida is furious at everything— himself, Dazai, and the situation. This is the exchange of words between Kunikida and Dazai at that point.
Kunida: “Why? Why did it have to end this way?! What went wrong? Who is at fault?”
Dazai (calmly): “No one was wrong. This was the only possible outcome.”
Kunikida (angrily): “Shut up! You could have saved her! Are you saying this was the right thing?”
Dazai (cool and detached): “‘The right thing’ is a weapon. It can be used to cause harm, but it cannot protect or save others. In the end, what killed Miss Sasaki was the Azure King’s sense of ‘right’ and your own.”
Dazai again (grimly): “Kunikida, as long as you pursue your ideals, the flames that burned in the Azure King will one day take root in you… and raze everything around you.”
Kunikida (shouting): “Even still! Even still, I’ll push on forward. Don’t underestimate my ideals!”
What do you think of ethical or logical correctness? In Japanese, the word for either or both is “Tadashii.” The Crunchyroll subtitles as well as the English Dub of Bungou Stray Dogs translate that as “justice.” I don’t think that’s quite fitting, since that word has other connotations that get in the way, like justice as punishment/ vengeance, or justice dictated by law. Besides, the word used in anime for justice is usually “Seigi.”
Anyway, though he’s more sensible and practical than most, Kunikida can be considered an idealist— no, a perfectionist. He seeks the correct and proper way, and can’t stand developments or conclusions that are driven by selfish emotions. So he’s deeply upset by this situation’s irrational, violent ending, which resulted in two deaths. As an analytical person, Kunikida immediately seeks to understand what happened in his own terms. Why did it have to end this way? What went wrong? Who is at fault?
Dazai gives a strange answer. Nobody was wrong. This was the only possible outcome. The view or philoshophy Dazai is using here is called determinism or fatalism. Those have slightly different meanings, but amount to the same thing: the idea that whatever happened was meant to happen. This unfortunate outcome was predetermined from the start (fatalism) and/or determined by factors outside of human will (determinism). Some determinists believe that, because there is no such thing as true free will, people are not morally responsible for their actions. This is what Dazai meant when he was that nobody was wrong.
What if Dazai hadn’t dropped the gun into the hands of the Detective’s son? What if he, a skilled former mafia member, had instead shot Sasaki to disarm her, or in a place not likely to be fatal? Then Dazai could immediately give the boy first aid and or comfort him as he died; meanwhile, Kunikida could subdue and arrest Sasaki (and bandage her up if necessary). Loss of life could be avoided. One person at least would be saved. No vigilante justice would have had to happen. Things could have unfolded in the “proper” and “correct” way.
That is why Kunikida becomes so furious. By giving the boy the gun and letting him kill Sasaki, Dazai directly influenced the course of events, using his own sense of “rightness.” And at the same time, by arguing determinism, he’s asserting that he did nothing wrong, either. It’s natural that Kunikida is be livid. Shut up! You could have saved her. Are you saying this is the right thing?!
Dazai’s reply is again strange, and immediately screams logical fallacy. The ‘right thing’ is a weapon. It can be used to cause harm, but it cannot protect or save others. Putting aside the fact that it’s demonstrably incorrect, this sentiment shows another part of Dazai’s worldview. Kunikida is an perfectionist with pro-social morality. In contrast, Dazai is an amoral determinist who is strongly influenced by pessimism. (“Amoral” can mean being without morality, being unaware of moral questions, or being indifferent to morality. Dazai is probably most like the third item.)
What Dazai is really trying to express here is the fact that one can go too far with their sense of correctness, resulting in ruin. In the end, what killed Miss Sasaki was the Azure King’s sense of ‘right’ and your own. Kunikida, as long as you pursue your ideals, the flames that burned in the Azure King will one day take root in you… and raze everything around you. Dazai sort of has a point. The Azure King(s), Sasaki and his wife, took things way too far and became terrorists to promote their ideals. Kunikida had a hand in leading to this outcome because he reported the Azure King’s hideout to the police, which made the Azure King decide to kill himself, which in turn made Sasaki seek revenge on Kunikida.
However, blaming the whole situation on people following their own sense of rightness is far too simple. It fails to take into account the many other factors that influenced this unfortunate situation. It also isn’t quite correct on another level. The desire for revenge felt by Sasaki and the Detective’s son, and the radical feelings involved with becoming a terrorist, are not things that could ever be justified according to Kunikida’s pro-social ideals. His so-called “ideals” are more like the “rules” he holds himself to, and are bound to reasonable degrees by common sense and the avoidance of unecessary loss of life. So, pointing to Kunikida and his ideals in this case is actually nothing more than gaslighting on the part of Dazai.
Thus, Kunikida asserts that even if Dazai made one hal decent point, it won’t stop the perfectionist from striving to live by his ethical and logical rules. Even still, I’ll push on forward. Don’t underestimate my ideals! The episode ends abruptly after that, packing such a deep, tragic, and philosophical scene into the last five minutes.
Long story short, Dazai may have a point that one can go too far with their own sense of what’s right, but the other extreme of just forsaking morality is also “going too far.” This scene is the first one in the series that really lets you see what kind of person Dazai is: a pessimistic nihilist who does what he feels like, even if it costs human life, and a fatalist who does not hold himself — nor anyone else, actually — to moral responsibility.
In this case, from the viewpoint of pro-social person, Dazai’s thinking is wrong and Kunikida’s is closer to being correct. Please don’t think that I dislike our dear Dazai, though. He’s probably the smartest, most fascinating, and most perpetually interesting of all the BSD characters. I wouldn’t have stayed so interested in the show without him. Despite the way some people use them, words like amoral and nihilist are not insults, but descriptors of a person’s worldview. I myself am a determinist who believes free will is a complex neurological and psychological delusion; but I believe people must be made to take responsbility for their actions, regardless, in order for society to function. That’s the logical, practical answer.
A few times now, I’ve mentioned Dazai is pessimistic. There are perfectly happy nihilists and amoral people, but Dazai isn’t one of them. Deep down, it bothers him that there’s no point in life, which is part of why he remains tied to suicidal ideation. His pessimism shows most strongly in this scene when Dazai says that “the right thing” cannot save or protect people. I said earlier than this is demonstrably false, and it is, because I can think of so many cases where people have been protected and saved by others doing what is just and correct. Plus, altruistic and semi-altrusitic social behaviors would never have evolved if they weren’t helpful to our species.
Those are my thoughts on the worldviews of Doppo Kunikida and Osamu Dazai from Bungou Stray Dogs’ first season. Thank you so much for reading. It means a lot to me. Please feel free to comment if you want to share your thoughts and opinions. I’d love some discussion on this. Anyway, take care! Ja, ne!