Bungou Stray Dogs Ep. 1: Literary giants strike a pose

Bungou Stray Dogs - 0103

Atsushi — Nakajima Atsushi, to be exact — believes he was kicked out from his orphanage, because a vicious tiger attack left them in dire straits. Due to budgetary concerns, the orphanage had to turn exactly one kid out onto the streets. Penniless and starving, our hero nevertheless steels his will to survive: he refuses to die, and to avoid this fate, he will rob the next person he sees. The next person soon turns into the next easy-to-rob person, who just happens to be a drowning Dazai Osamu floating down a river. Apparently, the latter was trying to kill himself, but instead, he ends up being saved by Atsushi. Our twist of fate echos the episode’s subtitle: “Fortune Is Unpredictable and Mutable.” We’ll get to the Mutable part in a second. Not only does Dazai seem to brush off his suicide attempt like it was nothing, he also belongs to cool and stylish group of detectives, and currently, they’re on a hunt for a man-eating tiger. Oh hey, Atsushi knows about a tiger. Alright, it doesn’t take a master detective to realize where this is going: Atsushi is that tiger. Or rather, he has the ability to turn into one. But y’see, even when Atsushi tries to be a bad person, like when intended to rob Dazai, he ended up doing the right thing anyway. So I bet our black-haired, suicidal author saw that same goodness in our easily frightened hero, and as a result, Atsushi now belongs to that cool and stylish group of detective. Fortune certainly is mutable….

Bungou Stray Dogs hasn’t exactly got the most scintillating of premises, does it? Did anyone finish this episode, and think, “Man, I can’t wait for the next one!” Still, the show does have some flair. Most of the characters look so goddamn dapper. Even though Atsushi is dressed in rags now, they are well-fitted rags. That’s a big key to attractiveness; you have to have clothes that fit you. And that hairstyle! Japanese orphans are something else. So to take stock, these guys are tall and slender, have kickass powers, and they dress nice. In true anime fashion, they’re also attractive. All this style almost makes you forget that these characters are based on literary figures, which brings us to the big question: why are they literary figures? I don’t know anything about any of these guys. Being a dirty American, I’m sadly not an expert on Japanese literature. I can thus only assume that the anime Atsushi is reasonably inspired by the real Atsushi. Since I don’t know anything about the latter, however, that inspiration is lost on me anyway. Furthermore, had they not been literary figures, would I have known the difference? But hey, perhaps the onus is on me. Maybe I should go and do research on Nakajima Atsushi to fully enjoy this show. Take Dazai, for instance. I’ve covered a couple of his works thanks to the Aoi Bungaku series, so when I saw him floating down the river, I said to myself, “Oh hey, the real Dazai literally killed himself! I totally get that reference!”

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But later in the anime, Dazai reveals his secret power, which is appropriately — or, depending on your perspective, inappropriately — named “No Longer Human.” That… is a little cringeworthy, I gotta admit. Having said that, I must ask if it’s even fair for me to cringe. I don’t know. The thing for me is that No Longer Human is such a painful, vulnerable story about a troubled young man. I consumed that book in one sitting, and there were so many moments during that reading that I felt utterly gutted by Yozo’s experiences. The whole thing is bitterly ironic: the main character feels helplessly alienated from the society around him, but thanks to Dazai’s prose, you can’t help but relate to Yozo. But enough about that. The point is that No Longer Human has now been reduced to some cool bishie power. Uh… yeah. In fact, “uh” is pretty much my reaction during the reveal. On the one hand, I feel like I need to get the stick out of my ass, because it’s not like this hurts anybody. So an anime appropriates some Japanese author and his novel in a stylish way, and in doing so, maybe Bones gets people who don’t know anything about Dazai to read No Longer Human. But on the other hand, to be completely frank, there’s a bone in me that’s mourning, “Not like this. Dazai didn’t kill himself for this.” Or maybe he did. Again, I don’t know if I’m being fair or not. I’m just telling you guys how I feel. In the end, it’s not that I can’t enjoy Bungou Stray Dogs. Honestly, it doesn’t look bad. It’s just not going to whet my appetite. It’s just too much style and too little substance.

Eh, let’s try a couple more episodes.


3 Replies to “Bungou Stray Dogs Ep. 1: Literary giants strike a pose”

  1. I cringed through most of “funny” scenes and literally facepalmed at No Longer Human. It just dissipates abilities, why it’s so flashy? When Atsushi saw his tiger paw, I just closed the videoplayer.
    Seriously, it’s like one of two series I actually waited for and after checking PVs, I didn’t expect to be -so- disappointed:( Like, yes, characters are “tall and slender, have kickass powers, and they dress nice”, but it didn’t look so… flashy? so “look at our cool powers and poses!”
    Though when they don’t try to be funny, it’s OK (apart from very unnecessary special effects), so I’ll keep watching and hoping it’ll get better…

    P.S. The knowledge about writers isn’t prerequisite, but it helps. After reading through wiki, Naomi makes more sense and jokes about Chuuya’s fashion are funnier.

  2. I felt this was the equivalent of trashy american films where famous dead presidents/authors/other famous people become zombie hunters and the like

  3. Seems like just being a successful writer is not cool enough, you’ve also got to be a well dressed bishie with crazy super powers, then again I’m a sucker for the show that had a fiction writer help the police solve mysteries so what do I know about writers action heroes.

    I just hope this not just flashy action and they provide interesting characters or some deeper meaning behind the story. Please tell me I’m not asking for too much.

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