I know I covered a lot of my issues with Bungo back when season 1 finished airing. In case you missed it here’s a link to my review of the season. One of my biggest complaints then was the inconsistency of the series. So now that season 2 is done, has the issue been resolved? (I will actually write a review of the show at some point rather than nit-pick at individual points.)
I’d really have to say no. The one thing I can rely on from Bungo Stray Dogs is not knowing from week to week what I’m going to get. More importantly, not knowing from minute to minute within the episode. Is this threat going to be serious or not? Are they actually going to develop that plot thread or is this just another throw away idea that will come and go in the blink of an eye?
Sometimes I really feel that Bungo would benefit from an absolute do-over. There are so many good ideas in the show and there are some really interesting moments that are well delivered and well thought out. Then there’s everything else in the show.
From season 1 to season 2 there have been some changes. Spending the first four episodes of season 2 in flashback (giving that arc at least a bit of consistency and a more serious tone) was a bold choice. The end of season 1 left us waiting for the next move in the three way war and instead we got back story on a character and more information about the Port Mafia and the show benefited overall from both of these things. It made Dazai a little more human and a lot less of a comic relief character and it allowed us to see the Mafia as an actual player in the battle to come rather than the throw away third wheel.
But this wasn’t enough to really say that this show found its tone. While the episodes following the flash back did tone down the comedy aspects that consistently plagued season 1, the comedy is still there (and rightly so given its an established part of the show). The issue is that they still aren’t really finding the right timing or placement of some of these ‘humorous’ moments and a lot of them still aren’t hitting their marks.
Okay, there are worse things for a show to be than inconsistent in tone but inconsistencies are a major problem. When a show doesn’t have consistent tone or pacing they risk alienating everyone. A lot of people will put up with bad or mediocre but when we’re not sure what is coming and we go from soaring heights to crashing to rock bottom in the space of half an episode it makes you start to resent the show.
That said, this problem isn’t exclusive to Bungo Stray Dogs though it’s probably been the one anime I’ve kept watching this year where inconsistency has been a problem. Prior to Bungo the anime I’d have pointed to with this as a central issue would be Samurai Flamenco. I never had any clue whether that show was supposed to be serious or not and whether it was supposed to be funny or not and the way it threw us around made me wonder sometimes if the writers actually knew what they were aiming for from scene to scene (and I know I just annoyed every fan of Flamenco but wow that tone shifts around a lot).
Addressing the other side of the coin though, some anime are deliberately all over the shop when it comes to tone and it works for them. D Gray Man, which is admittedly one of my all time favourite anime if not my favourite, is horrendously inconsistent when you consider the sharp shifts from comedy to character driven drama to shonen action and then to the darkest and nastiest things your could do to characters. And yet in D Gray Man the tonal shifts are actually a strength rather than a detriment in the long run (at least for me). While occasionally the comedic moments are jarring, they are placed strategically to either energize a section where the pace has slowed down for exposition or at a moment when things have been too dark and tense for too long and they are trying to bring us back into the flow of the story.
What the comedic moments never do in the original series is step on an important piece of character development or a truly dramatic moment. While Allen and Kanda will shout and yell at each other in the cafeteria or prior to a normal battle, when faced with a truly dangerous foe the characters don’t waste time with quips or other silliness. They respond to the situation they are in and that makes them feel more real. In the everyday (and facing the normal enemy that they are well used to fighting) they are more relaxed then in other situations.
The other reason it works is because ultimately the central narrative continues to drive forward. We are always moving toward stopping the Earl. It doesn’t matter what side missions they get sent on or what intrigue happens or how dark or light the tone of the show it because we are still moving toward something that was established early on. Basically the story has purpose and all the jumping around in tone just makes 103 episodes of this show actually interesting because the characters go through a lot of different things and you are going along for a ride with them. If they hadn’t had the variations in tone we might have been buried under an avalanche of depression about twenty episodes in.
Bungo lacks this drive toward anything because from episode 1 we know nothing. We don’t know what any of the characters ultimately want and we don’t have a central conflict or villain to deal with. Everytime we think we’ve met something that could be a that villain or goal, it is quickly revealed to be just another distraction in an already cloudy narrative. And that may actually be the main reason Bungo struggles to find its feet. While there may be an overall purpose, the audience aren’t in on that secret and so very little of anything it is presenting has any weight. At the end of season one we meet the Guild but are they really all that much of a threat? And will defeating the Guild mean everything is fine? None of this has been established and other than the fact that the leader of the Guild seems crazily destructive for the sake of it, if the Guild actually won this three-way battle would it matter?
What are your thoughts on inconsistent tone in anime? Does it bother you?