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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Friday’s Feature: Consistently Inconsistent – Or Why I Would Struggle to Recommend Bungo Stray Dogs

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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.

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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.

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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 19

Review:

Bungo Stray Dogs seems to be stepping back to end of season 1 style, which isn’t too bad because it wasn’t as though season 1 was terrible, but it just lacks the impact and punch that the start of this season gave us. Kunikida finally does something this season as does the sister obsessed guy (I never remember his name) and while the fight is short it was interesting (though what that grape power is pretty disturbing considering the vines grow out of his neck and how would you ever he learn you had that power given most people don’t go around cutting themselves and inserting seeds into the wounds). The second half we get a lot more of Atsushi and we kind of head back down the vaguely pathetic path. Who would have thought that Dazai would actually give some practical advice?

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Why didn’t someone tell Atsushi that 18 episodes ago?

All and all, this episode was okay and continues on from where we left off but isn’t exactly thrilling.

Anyway, 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 Episode 17

Review:

We have transitioned back to the present but this actually wasn’t such a bad thing. Given at the end of the last season they had already introduced the Guild they didn’t waste any time with introductions and just kind of plunged us straight into a three way war. It’s amazing how much more tolerable characters can be when they aren’t just being goofy for the sake of it and actually have a real and pressing danger to deal with. It wasn’t all smooth sailing though as the most obvious criticism is that there are so many characters that it is difficult to care about them, and the ones we’ve already met have pretty much established themselves to be death proof already. Still, a fairly enjoyable episode and a smooth enough transition from Dazai’s past exploits. Last point, I have to agree with Kunikida in asking why is Atsushi back to acting like the damsel in distress when we saw last season that somehow he magically became an awesome fighter in one episode.

Bungo Stray Dogs is available on Crunchyroll.

Bungo Stray Dogs Episode 16

Review:

This episode is all about triggering Dazai’s transformation from Mafia to Armed Detective and so the inevitable has now occurred. This whole episode felt like a season finale and will undoubtably be the most intense episode for this week because most other shows aren’t writing a climax into episode 4 of their run time. Anyway, Oda is probably going to remain my favourite character Bungo Stray Dogs has introduced me to and I’m probably going to rewatch these four episodes by themselves at some stage because that was a good story. Admittedly, it only really works if you are waiting for the event that forces Dazai’s decision and that only works if you’ve watched the first season of Bungo and know that Dazai isn’t still in the Port Mafia and doesn’t really rein in his crazy anymore.

From the very beginning this episode begins with Oda arming himself and saying farewell to the orphans (who I was kind of hoping had somehow survived but apparently these four episodes really wanted to go for a darker tone than the rest of the show had managed). You know where things are going. Dazai tells Odasaku what will happen and Odasaku agrees but goes anyway. He randomly runs into Ranpo who does his best detective act and puts on his glasses and then tells Oda that if he goes where he is going, he’s going to die. Once again, Oda agrees. This is definitely a case where it is the journey that is worth watching even knowing the destination very clearly.

I’ve said earlier that I don’t much like prequels because you know where things are going. Bungo has managed to make that knowledge a strength and as a result this prequel hits harder than it would have as a stand alone story. Oh well, totally blown my 100 words but given the end of the episode makes it clear we’re jumping back to where we left off at the end of season 1, I’ll probably not be so thrilled with next week’s episode.

Bungo Stray Dogs is available on Crunchyroll.

Bungo Stray Dogs Episode 15

Review:

Oda’s alive, though I’m guessing after the way this episode ended he probably wishes that wasn’t the case. That was such a great episode. Even though you kind of saw where things were going to go for Oda after the fight with Mimic’s leader it was still a beautiful emotional punch right at the end of the episode. Ango’s return for a drink and the contrast in the mood from the first episode of this season where the three friends went drinking was a fantastic reminder of just how much they’ve been pushed in just three episodes. The one character doing very little, Dazai. All and all, I loved watching this.

Bungo Stray Dogs is available on Crunchyroll.