Bungo Stray Dogs Series Review: Guys With Super Powers, What More Do You Need?

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.

Review:

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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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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Thanks,

Karandi James.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.