Structurally, Bungou Stray Dogs reminds me a lot of recent Bones efforts. If you can dig through the not-so-amusing hijinks, the largeish cast of characters (that we can’t possibly flesh out in a single season), and the show’s primary gimmick, there’s an overarching story somewhere. Bones has had varying success with this sort of storytelling. Noragami was alright even though it could have used judicious editing. Bungou Stray Dogs, however, doesn’t look like it’ll be as successful. Everything feels very shallow at the moment. Case in point, there’s a huge bounty on Atsushi’s head, and the Port Mafia would really love to get their hands on him. Why? We don’t really know yet. Sure, we could speculate, but a lot of information is deliberately withheld, and I suspect it’s because Atsushi’s story simply isn’t very compelling. After all, he himself isn’t a very compelling lead, and as a result, the story is largely disjointed to cover up these flaws. We are introduced to Akutagawa, the villain. fairly early on — in the third episode, in fact. But until we reach the series’ final episodes, I suspect he’ll appear sporadically from here on out if only to remind you that there’s an endgame to all of this. Again, I’m only guessing, but I don’t think there’s enough meat in the primary conflict, so they have to resort to this tactic. Likewise, neither Atsushi nor Dazai even are very deep or compelling characters. As such, we need to trot out as many people as possible to distract the audience. So in the meantime, we’ll take a half-hearted plunge into the universe of Bungou Stray Dogs.
There’s not much depth to the anime’s world or its characters. The biggest running joke in the series is Dazai constant desire to commit not only suicide but a double suicide with any beautiful woman as well (this should remind you of No Longer Human). I’m not sure if any of these jokes are actually ever funny, though. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I can’t separate the anime Dazai from the real Dazai, so I can’t really find any humor in the double suicide schtick. All I know is that 1) I’m not laughing with or even at Dazai, and 2) all of this is really just, again, a distraction. The narrative hints at a larger backstory for our semi-suicidal member of the Armed Detective Agency. Apparently, he used to be a part of Port Mafia, but he left for reasons unknown. And I suppose we’ll get around to it some day, but until then, Dazai’s character is razor thin. He sees potential in Atsushi, and he clearly isn’t as idiotic as he lets on. But other than that, I’ve got nothing. The guy is either a running joke that isn’t very funny, or he functions as the wise man who clumsily spews exposition at us. Take this week’s episode, for instance. He’s only around to clumsily explain to us that the Ranpo doesn’t actually have a Gift. Rather than allowing Atsushi and thus the audience to arrive at this conclusion organically, Dazai simply has all the answers. It’s lazy, and it’s indicative of the type of story that Bungou Stray Dogs wants to tell.
Beyond Dazai, we meet a slew of characters that have shallow defining traits, but nothing more. Kunikida yells a lot, and gets angry at Dazai a lot. Unfortunately, there’s not much else to him at the moment. There’s some creepy brother-sister incest pair. We’ve just met Ranpo, the gifted detective who doesn’t actually have a gift. There’s a doctor somewhere who heals you by taking off her clothes? Last but not least, they have a leader, but as important as his position may imply, he’s only shown up once to give Dazai the power to recruit Atsushi. You might say, “Well, we don’t have that many characters.” But these are just the good guys. I haven’t even gotten to the bad guys. Plus, it’s the way Bungou Stray Dogs treats them that really irks me. We jump from person to person, never dwelling too long on any of them. It keeps the pacing up, yes. There’s always “action,” I suppose. But it’s hard to get attached to any of these characters as a result. And even when they do sacrifice themselves, it’s hand-waved off. The incestuous brother-sister pair looked as if they met their demise at the end of the third episode. It certainly seemed as though the girl had taken a fatal wound to her chest. But nope, according to Kunikida, they are both fine. That may have worked with Yang and the rest of the other Final Fantasy IV denizens when we were kids, but it’s just cheap and stupid now. As if I didn’t already care so little about them, their sacrifices are rendered meaningless too.
People do die in this show, though. The story isn’t afraid to off a few characters… as long as those characters are meaningless nobodies. Some dude in a warehouse gets his body painfully mangled by a Port Mafia henchman. Some poor girl is accidentally shot by her own lover, then shot some more before being tossed into a river. But beyond this, we won’t kill anyone important. Hell, we can’t even kill some of bad guy’s henchmen. Instead, we’ll jokingly toss them out of a window instead. You get the sense that Bungou Stray Dogs doesn’t really know what it wants. Then again, it’s very reminiscent of Noragami with this half-joking, half-serious tone, so maybe our anime does know what it wants and it wants this… whatever this is. We have crime-fighting heroes, but one of them constantly tries to kill himself ’cause literary reference and… lulz? We have a dangerous mafia killing innocent civilians left and right, but they just get defenestrated like bags of garbage when facing our heroes. Atsushi is traumatized by his experiences as an orphan, but here’s a sister who’s way too into her brother cause anime incest is hilarious. As I’ve said earlier, there are a few very important people that we’ve only seen for a second or two. The story will get around to them eventually, but until then, we run Dazai’s suicide complex into the ground some more, or perhaps we’ll amuse ourselves with Atsushi’s silly faces some more.
As you can tell, Bungou Stray Dogs is a frustrating watch, because I know Bones is capable of so much more. Are they phoning it in for this series since they’re also busy with two other shows right now? Shrug. From what I hear, they’re doing great things with Concrete Revolutio. Unfortunately, I’m not watching that show. Not only that, I have nothing else to write about on Wednesday nights. I mean, it’s between this or that creepy-as-shit anime where an older guy is basically grooming a kid to be his lover. So I’m pretty much stuck with Bungou Stray Dogs, this orphan that no one really wants. This apparently includes Bones as well. Well, that’s probably too harsh. After all, there’s apparently a second season coming out in the fall, so Bones does want Bungou Stray Dogs to stick around. It’s too bad the execution seems to imply otherwise.