Bungo Stray Dogs Season 2 Series Review

Overview:

Season 1 ended with the Guild attacking the Agency and essentially declaring war. Season 2 continues following Atsushi (mostly) as he works with the Agency to protect the city. I reviewed this episode to episode if you want to check out my thoughts (which progressively got more negative as the series continued).

Review (full of spoilers):

Bungo is such an odd show to try and review because there are moments and little snippets of plot that I absolutely love and then there is everything else that the show mixes into its little pot and tries to serve up to us as something resembling a character focused narrative. I say character focused because it surely can’t be plot focused. There is still nothing in this show that resembles an overarching plot.

Villains are introduced and  then as quickly discarded in this season as the first. Remember how bad Akutagawa  was supposed to be in season 1? If you see him, run. And then by the end of the season, absolutely nothing. He was easily dealt with and turns out he isn’t all that impressive. This season does it again. Over and over. Talk someone up. Show them being unstoppable and powerful. And then nothing.

Even the ‘final’ boss (who it turns out is not actually the final boss) is stupidly overpowered at first but his power has one very obvious flaw. Eventually he will run out of funds so just keep hitting him. Apparently Atsushi is completely untouchable given regardless of damage he seems to regenerate (but only when he is mid-battle and only when he really knows he can’t afford to lose) so just keep flinging Atsushi at the guy and eventually he’ll fail.

This doesn’t make for compelling viewing.

The best moments of season 2 come from the fairly independent arc showing Dazai’s past with the Port Mafia and the moments between Kyouko and Atsushi. While that isn’t a romance made in heaven and isn’t exactly brilliantly written or balanced in any way, it is one of the stronger narrative arcs going through the series and the reunion between the two at the end was actually kind of touching.

Another positive is the half episode devoted to Rampo. Locked door mystery and no Atsushi made this one of my favourite post-flash-back moments in season 2 and I really enjoy watching Rampo. He’s one of the few characters in the show I find consistently entertaining.

Last positive point, Lovecraft. Okay, we got zero explanation for this guy but he kind of sold every scene he was in and when he finally dove into the ocean I just kind of thought ‘oh, are we not getting to see any more of you’. One of the few characters I am sad to see leave.

So this leaves everything else. Dazai continues to be smugly perfect at everything and while I loved his flash-back episodes and brief reconciliation with his old partner from the Port Mafia, pretty much everything else Dazai related grated on my nerves, yet he still managed to be on my top male character list  from 2016 because when Dazai is entertaining he is very entertaining.

There are just too many characters chopping and changing meaning none of them get proper development, their motives are explained in info-dumps and then they leave. The fight sequences range from awesome to completely tacky to just plain dull so it is always hit and miss what you will get. Oh, and did I mention the absence of an actual plot other than Guild wants something so Guild smash city?

Overall, Bungo Stray Dogs season 2 can’t be called a disappointment as most of these issues are just continuations of the flaws of season 1, but I’m disappointed anyway that none of these seem to have been dealt with. Is it watchable? Definitely. Will you enjoy it? That entirely depends on whether you liked season 1 and whether you will put up with the issues. Pretty much if you thought season 1 was okay, check this out and you’ll probably get a few good moments from it.


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Bungo Stray Dogs Episode 22

Review:

The first half of this episode of Bungo was great fun. Rampo was doing his thing and coming to the realisation he doesn’t have a gift and really not wanting to admit that.

Bungo22b.JPG

Okay, I just like Rampo so the diversion from the Agency/Guild/Mafia war to have a confrontation between two ‘detectives’ through the use of a locked room mystery novel was kind of awesome and thoroughly enjoyable.

Then we move to the second part of the episode which sees Dazai and Rampo concoct a plan involving getting Atsushi back on the Moby Dick and of course things go a bit wrong with the plan except that Dazai has of course accounted for that.

It’s weird that when Rampo figures things out that he really shouldn’t be able to I find it an endearing character trait but when Dazai does it I just find him obnoxious.

Anyway, looks like next week should be interesting.

Bungo Stray Dogs is available on Crunchyroll.

Bungo Stray Dogs Episode 21

Review:

Things picked up again this week (no whale and no Atsushi really helped) and we saw an attempt at making an alliance with the Port Mafia by the Agency. What I like about this is that both sides know they are going to cooperate because they are kind of just used to one another and neither of them like the interlopers, but they also know they don’t want to admit that so are posturing like crazy. However, posturing aside, Chuuya shows up just as Dazai knew he would when Dazai walked into the Guild’s trap to retrieve Q (who seems to mysteriously disappear during the battle at the end of this episode but whatever). Chuuya is awesome in this week’s fight and we see exactly why Chuuya and Dazai worked as partners. It’s over the top and crazy but they may have finally actually killed someone (who knows, he may turn out to just be injured like everyone else yet). It’s a fun episode and has the right mix of comedy and drama to keep you engaged and the chemistry between Chuuya and Dazai as they banter and then team up to battle is fantastic to watch.

Also, I love how Dazai just casually slips this comment to Kunikida during the opening sequence.

Bungo21.JPG

Bungo Stray Dogs is available on Crunchyroll.

 

Bungo Stray Dogs Episode 20

Review:

Bungo Stray Dog does a lot of things well, but it also has a lot of problems in terms of writing a cohesive narrative. We just seem to keep piling on more characters, abilities and craziness for the sake of novelty and for every explanation we get there’s a whole bunch more questions (and usually the explanations are a throw away line about someone’s ability). Did we really need a giant, mechanised, floating whale? Hello? Does anyone need that?

Kyouko has probably been arrested and is lost in despair, Atsushi is momentarily in hero mode before we get his next break down of patheticness, Dazai is still showing up to save the day even though there is no logical way he should have had any idea that Atsushi was going to dive out of an airship, have his parachute shot down and then run sprinting down that particular street (and don’t tell me Ranpo foresaw it because that actually makes it even worse), and lastly we have Atsushi suggesting an alliance with the Port Mafia. Who would have thought that both Japanese agencies would come together to defeat the Americans?

Anyway, even if the alliance does happen, and it does seem like the only plausible next step but that doesn’t mean much for this show, we know the Port Mafia  will ultimately betray the Agency when it is to their best advantage so it isn’t like we’re all going to forgive and forget the casual murder and property destruction the mafia have engaged in up until now.

Oh, and in case you think after reading that I disliked this episode, that’s not exactly right. I smiled most of the way through it and got a great laugh from the end. It’s crazy, over-the-top and absolutely ludicrous story telling running at full tilt and hoping no one looks closer because it all kind of falls apart and yet it was a really fun episode on the back of a so far superior second season.

Bungo Stray Dogs is available on Crunchyroll.

Bungo Stray Dogs Episode 18

Review:

Bungo Stray Dogs is going to get the award for most inconsistent not just in tone but in airing time the way this season is going. I could probably search and find out why the release date of the episodes has been all over the place but I’m really disinclined to bother. It just seems weird.

Anyway, episode 18 gets action heavy as we blow up a ship and then have a minor skirmish between the Port Mafia and the Agency. Atsushi and Dazai were both mysteriously absent from the whole episode this time (save for a few flashbacks of Dazai’s expressions) which gave us a bit of time to try to remember who all the other characters are. They all still seem death proof which makes you wonder how we’re ever going to get a victor out of the three way conflict, but that’s another story. The way this season is going this is actually going to be one of the few season 2’s I enjoy more than the original season of a show.

Bungo Stray Dogs is available on Crunchyroll.

Bungo Stray Dogs Series Review

I watched this series week to week and if you want to see my thoughts on individual episodes, click here.

Overview:

Down on his luck orphan, Atsushi, rescues a man attempting suicide in a river and then finds himself working for the Armed Detective Agency, an agency comprised of unusual individuals with powers (and the unusual part generally isn’t the power). There’s some stuff about a bounty and a group of mafia but otherwise that’s about the story.

Review:

I remember the first episode of this. I didn’t watch it in the week of release because I’d kind of decided I wasn’t all that interested in it. I don’t know anything about Japanese literature and so the fact that the characters are kind of personifications of the subject matter of the authors that they are named for (or something like that) didn’t really fascinate me. Though I must admit this season has been educational as reading the blogs of people who clearly were fascinated has actually introduced me to a whole lot of factoids about Japanese literature but that’s a separate matter. When I watched the first episode it was firmly with the view that I was watching the anime and I wasn’t watching for the references that are heavily interwoven into the story.

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.

I abruptly stopped the episode and rewatched the sequence. And laughed again. A few episodes in to this show I introduced it to someone else with the clear warning that, the first few minutes are golden, everything after is a bit hit and miss.

Now, at the end of episode 12 and facing a wait before we get anymore of this show, I’m going to stand by that statement.

If you’ve read anything about Bungo Stray Dogs, you will know that most people have had issues with the pacing, the comedy not always hitting the mark, the characters either being too present or too absent, the abrupt switches in tone, the abrupt changes in art style, the lack of any real substantial threat to the agency or overall plot. When said like that it kind of makes it sound like the show is dreadful. And the thing is, all of these are issues with the show. They persistently get in the way of the audience fully engaging with the world these characters are in and the events unfolding (even when we don’t really know what those events are they are unfolding).

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.

Characters – Questionable.

Atsushi has some great moments and then some dreadful ones. Worse though, he has a lot of dull moments. As the protagonist, the fact that he does very little other than give the over-exaggerated reaction to other character antics in several episodes makes him problematic. The fact that he is cowardly at times is fine, but the moments where he suddenly isn’t make him inconsistent. And don’t even start to try and figure out when he learned anything about using his power.

Dazai is amusing. For about three episodes. Then he is occasionally quirky, occasionally irritating, smug, self-confident, continuously suicidal (though why he hasn’t succeeded is also questionable), and generally just the filler of space in the series and the occasional operator of the massive coincidence required to solve an episode. He does get some good moments in episodes 9 and 10 but then he all but vanishes from existence again. Also, for those who find suicide jokes in ill-taste (enough to be offended by it), Dazai is not a character you will find any humour in.

I liked Ranpo (or Rampo – never did get a consistent reading on that one), but he features in two episodes at most and otherwise is a non-entity.

And that’s kind of the issue with all the other characters. They get an episode or two and then they get shoved to the background and kind of just blend in. The re-emerge when its time for their five minutes and then they disappear again.

Plot – Huh?

Oh, there was supposed to be a story. Maybe its Atsushi overcoming his traumatic past and dealing with his trust issue… No. We’re still having dark flashbacks up to episode 10 and episode 12 clearly illustrates he is just as hung-up on his abandonment issues as he was. The Port Mafia taking down the… No we have no idea what they are after. This new Guild thing from America challenging the Japanese agencies for… What? What did they want other than a permit? 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.

Don’t get me wrong. I actually enjoyed individual narrative arcs within this but I just couldn’t follow a greater plot thread (if one in fact does exist). Maybe season 2 will bring all of this together somehow but I’m really hoping we don’t see a teaming up of the Agency and the Mafia against the Guild. That would seriously suck.

Anything Else?

Music was appropriate and amusing. Colours and character designs were pretty cool, though I really want to trim Atsushi’s belt. Some of the transitions between dark and light storylines worked well whereas other felt flat.

Basically, I liked this show. There are a lot of flaws but it is still primarily fun. If I rewatch, I will skip episode 11 because to be honest it added nothing and bored me to pieces. Do I recommend watching this show? Not to people who dislike death, kidnapping, selling people, mafia references, weird medicine, suicide, or just things that are inconsistent. If you don’t fall into any of those categories, check it out, you may get a few laughs and a few moments of genuine enjoyment.

Joker Game Series Review

I’ve reviewed this anime week to week and if you are after my initial impressions on the episodes, click here.

Review:

When the first two episodes of Joker Game aired, I was instantly hooked by this series. It was different from so many of the other anime around and that I had watched. No teenagers or highschools or magical powers. Just a look at a spy agency in Japan in WW2. Potential dark subject matter but at least something different.

And the opening narrative arc is very strong. We meet the spies and we also meet Sakuma who is in the Japanese military and is meant to Liaise or something with D-Agency. I only know his name because I looked it up. He is perhaps the most interesting character we meet for the entire series. His outsider view of the agency, and his changing reactions from frustration with their methods to grudging admiration, as well as his adaptability made him likeable and engaging as a lead character.

Then we never see him again.

Or maybe we do but you don’t notice. I don’t know. By episode 4 I gave up trying to distinguish the characters as they did pretty much nothing to distinguish themselves.

And we never get back to the whole card thing which kind of bugged me because I really wanted this to become a recurring theme in the show as it was a little bit interesting and they could have done something with it.

After the first two episodes, all the other episodes (with one exception) are a self-contained story. A situation is set up and a bunch of conspiracy stuff happens before the spy of the week reveals his clever ploy to outsmart the others. Over and over again. With indistinguishable spies that we don’t remember anything about or care about on missions that are never explained or given any significance.

I will say this: Individual episodes of this show are entertaining to a degree. A single story about a spy outsmarting an enemy. While we might want a little more explanation or details about the spy, as a stand alone story it works well.

What didn’t work was week after week of more of the same and no reason to feel any more investment in either the plot or the characters.

Moving away from that, the music is actually quite pleasant. I remember earlier in the season another blogger (and I don’t remember who) compared the soundtrack to Baccano and that’s fairly apt, though Joker Game is a far more subdued fair even in its music.

The colour palette is also quite subdued. It isn’t washed out or anything like that but there’s definitely a lot of blues, greys, blacks and browns in this anime only broken by the occasional object of significance that might get a slightly brighter hue (flower, ring, whatever).

If you didn’t watch this anime, it would be worth watching an episode of it, but I’m not going to recommend the series as a whole.

You could stop reading here if you want. I’m just going to make one further point about the final episode.

I really do try to avoid feeling insulted about the role of women in anime, given it is pointless to take offense over every slight or perceived slight, but this one kind of made me think ‘was that really necessary?’

Why did Yuuki feel the need to articulate why only men were spies in the agency?

Anyone watching this show already figured out that women only had three roles in this show. Damsel in distress, oblivious support, or overly emotional killer of the week who of course was stuffing up the plans of the men. And given the era the show is set in and the greater focus on the espionage, even if this seemed a little trite we could just watch the show and ignore the fact that not one female character was given a decent character role.

And then they felt the need to have a main character, and one of the only characters people remember, state clearly that women were less rational than men. That they could not control their emotions to respond appropriately to situations.

Wow.

I had to wonder what Joker Game was doing. After initially drawing me into this world and then kind of holding me in a pattern of unrequited anticipation for 12 episodes it then felt the need to make me dislike the only character I could remember the name of without searching for it.

Be that as it may, Joker Game is a drama type thing about spies in WW2. There are some clever moments and then there are some slow moments. Occasionally there are some surprises and shocks. But mostly, what it delivers is a fairly clear story 10 times over in different settings.

 

Bungo Stray Dogs Episode 12

Review:

While offering no resolution to the overall plot (such as it is) this episode was quite satisfying. Events moved briskly as the Guild (who names these groups) attacked the Agency and the Mafia were mixed up in the story in a fairly satisfying way for once. The American Guild certainly didn’t waste any time finding a way to establish themselves as the most hated of the groups. Their cavalier disregard as they park a helicopter on a main road and their arrogance are extraordinary. By half-way through the episode you kind of forget that these guys only really existed two episodes ago and weren’t mentioned at all last episode.

For a final episode (of the season) we get a satisfying fight and our protagonist has grown a lot while still being a complete wimp. It works and was quite enjoyable but I’m well over my word count.

Full series review to follow later.

Bungo Stray Dogs is available on Crunchyroll.

Bungo Stray Dogs Episode 11

I’m cheating with my word count so first some thoughts on the series:

I’d say it was an interesting choice to all but ignore Dazai after last week, but no, not interesting. And it is far too late in the series to try to humanize or make us sympathise for anyone in the Port Mafia.

Basically Bungo continues to be plagued by too many issues with focus and pacing and it still hasn’t really figured itself out. And while it might be fun to still be guessing what something is going to be back in episodes 1 – 4, but episode 11 when you still can’t classify something and you still can’t even conclusively say whether you enjoy it from week to week, there’s a fundamental flaw in the delivery of the narrative.

Review:

We get an intro this week about Kyouka being dressed up by the agency and the boss hiring her. Then we follow the Port Mafia girl from way back as she deals with the fallout from last week. Finally, we see tiger boy paired up with farmer boy and solve a random and totally unrelated case.

There is no consistency even within this episode and despite the mafia link to the previous episode there is really nothing else to connect the random mess of this episode to anything else. Which is kind of unfortunate because the last few weeks had seemed to finally find a pace and tone.

I was enjoying this series even with its flaws but this episode may have been the breaking point. Curiosity and occasional pleasure turned to irritation. Next week is going to have to do something brilliant to get me back on board.

Bungo Stray Dogs is available on Crunchyroll.