The seinen manga series Bungo Stray Dogs has won the hearts of many with its likeable cast and action-packed story. The manga has so far been adapted into three seasons of anime and received a movie, both of which have drawn many of us into this lovable tale. Today I’m here to check out the latest spin-off in the form of the first light novel, which tells a history many of us have been eager to hear about.
Set two years before the beginning of the main series, this book covers Osamu Dazai’s first hectic days at the Armed Detective Agency. The story is told from the perspective of Doppo Kunikida, a man who lives by his ideals and plans his days down to the second – and who is paired with Dazai. The two are opposites, and Kunikida hates Dazai’s carefree attitude toward work, but with a kidnapper on the loose Kunikida can’t afford to waste his time complaining!
If you’ve read or watched much of Bungo Stray Dogs before, you’ll already be well aware that Dazai and Kunikida are considered one of Yokohama’s top detective duos. Sure, they bicker but they can be trusted to solve even the toughest of cases. With this in mind, it’s certainly nice to find out how they got to this point and how Dazai even joined the Agency.
In this volume Dazai’s past is still shrouded in mystery, having been wiped clean before joining the team. Kunikida does his best to dig up information but comes up empty-handed. This offers a satisfying nod to readers who are well aware of Dazai’s past, thanks to the main story, while also keeping the novel self-contained enough to work for newcomers.
Bungo Stray Dogs Volume 1 offers an interesting murder mystery story. Alongside the serial kidnapper, there’s also a terrorist with a grudge against the Detective Agency to contend with. The two cases are intertwined somehow and will keep you guessing how until the end, especially as it tries to paint one of the main cast as a potential suspect. As a standalone book, I don’t think you’d be disappointed reading this without any familiarity with the main series.
One of the nice things about this series of spin-off novels (of which there are 7 volumes in Japan so far!) is that they’re all written and illustrated by the same creator duo as the main series – Kafka Asagiri and Sango Harukawa.
Asagiri notes in their afterword that this was their first time writing a light novel, which is surprising given how well it was written! There were points where I feel like Asagiri has put too much information into a scene where it wasn’t needed, but these seem like issues that will be straightened out as the series continues. As far as the illustrations go, Harukawa does a great job of bringing the Bungo Stray Dogs cast to life in a slightly different medium. Having more space to work with compared to the small panels of a manga allows Harukawa to put more detail into each scene, which she does wonderfully.
The only minor problem with this series is that I wish it had a slightly different name to the manga to distinguish it as a spin-off. Although this first volume is subtitled (Osamu Dazai’s Entrance Exam), it’s in rather small print next to the volume number and I worry potential new buyers won’t know whether this or the manga was the original series.
This series comes to the West thanks to Yen Press and has been translated by Matt Rutsohn, who is a different translator to the manga series. The translation reads well and the cast all sound like the characters we know and love, which is important for a franchise as big as this! Included in this release are various colour pages at the beginning of the book depicting several of our heroes in adorable poses. At the time of writing Yen Press have the second volume scheduled for release in October and the third in February.
Overall this first instalment of Bungo Stray Dogs proves itself a worthy investment for both new and existing fans alike. Those of you who care about Dazai and Kunikida, in particular, will enjoy reading their back-and-forth bickering as they work hard to crack the case.