Bungou Stray Dogs First Impressions
The first episode of Bungou Stray Dogs made one mistake that was bound to annoy me for a while. It failed to properly establish the nature of the setting right from the beginning. It isn’t until roughly a third of the episode has passed by that Stray Dogs reveals that it takes place in a world where some individuals have supernatural powers. Up until that point, there wasn’t anything to suggest that the events that were happening took place in a world that was radically different from our own. As someone who went into this particular show almost completely blind, I would prefer that it do something to establish where the borders of my suspension of disbelief should lie, such as providing an opening narration or using news feeds to help flesh out the world. This is probably a nitpick, but it made it difficult to establish expectations for the show as it was underway. That being said, Bungou Stray Dogs’ first episode provides a relatively fun and almost nostalgically simplistic story that might actually have some potential behind it.
When I say nostalgically simplistic it is because aspects of the show remind me of series like Black Cat or Getbackers where characters have bizarre powers because… well they just do. That admittedly isn’t a high pedigree of series that I’m referring to, but at the very least they have the capability to be fun with a bit of silly humor on the side, and so far Stray Dogs fits the bill. The plot centers around an orphan named Atsushi Nakajima, who, while contemplating robbery for the purpose of feeding himself, ends up saving a man from drowning in the river. The man turns out to be Dazai Osamu, a supernatural investigator based on the real-life author of the same name. He and his partner, Kunikida Doppo who is also based of a real-life author, are investigating a tiger that has been sighted in the area. The concept of basing characters off of actual authors is an interesting one, but I don’t really know how I feel about it. I’m not sure how much having that connection to reality actually aids the story, and the jokes about Dazai’s numerous attempts at suicide become all the more morbid with real world context. Still, despite the aforementioned morbidity, most of the jokes still land rather well.
As far as production is concerned, it’s Bones. Of course it’s gorgeous. The episode doesn’t actually get to show of much fighting, but the little that it does get to show off is quite beautiful. Furthermore, the animation does a superb job of accenting and accentuating the humorous moments, particularly when it is utilizing slapstick. The voice cast does a good job as well, though we only really get to hear from three characters, so judgement on that front may need to be reserved for when more of the secondary cast is given a more proper and complete introduction. At the moment, there is certainly an sense that some of the subtext regarding the identities of some of the character will most likely be lost on western audiences. It is my understanding that characters such as Agatha Christie and Fyodor Dostoyevsky show up later (Dan Brown apparently shows up as well. I’m assuming he has the supernatural ability to keep writing the same plot over and over again), but, as of this first episode, all of the authors being referenced are Japanese and are not likely to be well known to foreign viewers. I didn’t find that my lack of familiarity hindered my enjoyment, but it is difficult to predict whether or not that will remain true.
Before I wrap up, a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- For the record, my familiarity with Black Cat was from reading the manga, not watching the anime. I saw an episode or two of the anime and found it to be a very problematic adaptation of an already moderately moronic series.
- Another anime that this slightly reminded me of was The Unlimited – Hyobu Kyosuke. While I don’t have extensive memories of that title, I do remember it being stronger than both of the other titles I referenced… Also, if I remember correctly, I think it included an image of the Angry Video Game Nerd and the Nostalgia Critic at one point. They were standing in a crowd, I think.
- Apparently, the manga that this is adapted from is targeted towards a seinen audience. Setting the suicide-based gallows humor aside, I don’t really see why it wouldn’t be considered shonen.
The first episode of Bungou Stray Dogs promises a weird experience with notably high production values. Elements of its premise are certainly peculiar, but there does appear to be some promise here as well. It is worth checking out, especially if one is in the mood for some silly wackiness that is reminiscent of older titles like Getbackers or Zombie Loan.