This is part of a series of re-posts of older reviews on 100 Word Anime. The original review came out in July 2016 and can be found here.
Now this post originally had those random circular images in it that just look kind of hideous and didn’t really have much in the way of flow. So I was kind of happy for the chance to revisit and to restructure just a little bit.
The first time I watched this series, my familiarity with the authors it was referencing was pretty much zero. I’d heard some of the names but knew little about them. After watching this and reading various blog posts that looked at how they were used in this series, and coming across many of these names in other anime, I spent a bit of time reading about these authors and their work and have even read small bits and pieces of some of their work. I don’t know that it appreciably adds to the viewing experience in the anime though I guess some things make a little more sense (but at the same time some things make a great deal less sense because while there is a reference there they seem to have taken a lot of artistic licence).
The other thing with revisiting this series is that I’ve since watched season two and that of course very much changed my impression of season one and where things were going so I’m trying to just focus on this season as I revisit it.
The first few minutes of the first episode remain my favourite part of this entire season. My original post summed it up best:
So I watched. And within the first few minutes just fell over laughing. The opening scene with Atsushi starving by the river and deciding to rob the next person who comes by. Then the motorcycle screams past and you see him realise that was never going to happen. Then the military group. Lastly, we see the floating legs going down the river. It was a beautifully written piece of comedy and the timing was perfect and the predictability of it and yet the still refreshing reveal just hit the spot.
However, as glorious as those first few minutes are, the rest of what follows will be a mixture of success and failure and none of it ever quite lives up to that opening. It kind of reminds me of Zombieland Saga n that I loved the opening act of that, however, I will admit what follows in Bungo Stray Dogs certainly held my interest better than what followed so far in Zombieland Saga.
My biggest issue remains the pacing, though characterisation when watching again seems even rougher at times with some characters overstaying their welcome in a scene and other characters seemingly missing in action for no reason other than the plot said so. I also never found the comedy quite as solid as that opening scene, though I will admit there are some genuinely funny moments to be had. Again, the original post kind of captured my feelings perfectly.
Watching Bungo Stray Dogs makes you feel like you are on a see-saw. This joke hits the mark and things go your way, and then the next falls flat and you are just stranded up in the sky because someone left a rock on the other end of the see-saw and it won’t get off. That plot twist grabbed your attention… and then it went nowhere. That villain looks super-cool. Did they just unspectacularly knock him flat and move on without really dealing with why he even attacked? For every moment of ‘now it’s getting going’ you get at least two moments of ‘what the?’. When reflecting on the whole, you realise the series seemed like fun but lacks anything of substance.
As for the characters, Atsushi and Dazai tend to dominate a lot of the screen time and that’s a problem in and of itself because both of these characters are brilliant at times and at others kind of painful. Dazai’s particular character quirks are really funny in the beginning but feel stale and repetitive, or just ill-timed, elsewhere. While he is an interesting character, he is also quite annoying. As a protagonist, Atsushi has a lot of dull moments where he is kind of propelled along because plot said so and the jumps in his ability to use his power seem really inconsistent.
The supporting cast are made up of some interesting characters but not enough is done with them in this first season to really make any kind of connection. They are there, they have the potential to be really fun but it isn’t really ever achieved. I just kept thinking how much I’d like to get to know more of the cast but always feeling like they were just kind of there.
And it is a shame that I still feel much the same way about the plot presented in season one. There is a plot and it does continue into season two, but it is really scattered all over the place and there’s a lot of different ideas that never really seem to consolidate. It is more just watching the characters reacting to events rather than having a clear goal and that is partially what hurts this anime in its pacing because we’ll have a series of events coming one after the other and falling over each other and then we’ll have moment of kind of aimless meandering before the next thing happens.
Um… Okay, plot? Look, our characters are quirky and amusing and they have super powers. They fight each other over things that may or may not turn out to have any meaning and we’ll drop just enough hints that you think something may emerge from all of this.
Still, it is fun enough and even rewatching it and seeing that I wasn’t mistaken and that the plot really does just trip all over the place, I actually enjoyed watching these characters in action. The cool moments are cool enough and there is enough humour and action to keep things going and enough potential for the story in the future to bring things together if it chooses to do so.
The music was pretty solid and I like the visuals. The first time I had a bit of an issue with the way things hang off of characters, ties, belts, hair, etc, but this time around I just kind of liked how the show seemed to have a consistent style in its character design and that kind of made the whole thing seem very together so as much as I’d still like to trim Atsushi’s belt I think I’ll just go with it for now.
I still like this anime, though Bungo Stray Dogs is one of those that I probably won’t ever buy on DVD. I don’t feel I really need to watch it over and over and while there’s fun enough to be had there’s plenty of other titles I’d rather watch. Still, if you haven’t seen it and Dazai’s suicide joke isn’t going to upset you, watching this series is probably a fun way to spend a weekend.