If you’re familiar with my work on Anime UK News then you’ll know I have a fondness for popular manga series Bungo Stray Dogs. The franchise has led to many spin-offs and anime adaptions and today I’m here to take a look at Manga Entertainment’s release of the first two seasons!
The story follows a young man known as Atsushi Nakajima, who finds himself homeless after being kicked out of his orphanage. As he wonders how to feed himself, he spots someone floating by in the river. Atsushi rushes to save the man, who turns out to be detective Osamu Dazai. As thanks for rescuing him, Dazai and his companion Doppo Kunikida (who arrives at the scene just after Atsushi has rescued Dazai), agree to feed him as thanks.
Over food, Dazai asks Atsushi if he knows anything about a tiger that has been roaming the streets of Yokohama recently. Atsushi reveals that the tiger has been following him, appearing at night in the shadows. What Atsushi doesn’t realise is that this tiger is a product of his supernatural ability!
In the world of Bungo Stray Dogs, there are gifted humans who wield supernatural powers. In Atsushi’s case, he can transform into a white tiger, which is a powerful ability to possess. Realising this, Dazai decides to bring Atsushi into the Armed Detective Agency that he and Kunikida belong to. Together, the group take on government cases that no one else can solve and fight against the Port Mafia, a group of evildoers in the city.
Almost everyone in the Armed Detective Agency has a special power. In Dazai’s case, he can nullify the abilities of others, while Kunikida can create objects from his special notebook. Other members of the group include Ranpo Edogawa who can solve any mystery, Junichiro Tanizaki who can project illusions and Akiko Yosano, a medic who can heal any wound (although she has to half kill her patients first!). And that’s just a few of the team!
The first few episodes of Bungo Stray Dogs set up the plot and rotate through the cast as we get to know them, their powers, and the kind of cases the Armed Detective Agency takes on. These include murders, bomb threats and generally putting a stop to anything nefarious going on. While these opening episodes are mostly heavy on action and showing off the cast’s abilities, the real depth to the show comes a bit later.
Toward the end of Season 1 and throughout Season 2, the series goes through a tonal shift. Instead of being about who can out-power whom, the story is more focused on the connection between the characters. Even the Port Mafia is shown to be more complicated than simply being villains (especially as some of the cast have a history with them!). In Season 2 the two groups even have to team up against a bigger enemy that threatens all of their existence.
I love everything about Bungo Stray Dogs. The characters are well written with varied personalities, backstories and beliefs. With such a large collection, it’s easy for every viewer to find their favourite even if they don’t like Atsushi or Dazai who are undoubtedly the ‘protagonists’ of the series. As the anime goes on, the cast only continues to expand, bringing new friends and foes who are equally as intriguing.
Also, as you may have noticed already, each of the characters in Bungo Stray Dogs is based on a famous author or poet and their abilities are often a reference to that particular creator. For example, Dazai’s ability is called “No Longer Human”, which is no doubt a reference to the book written by Osamu Dazai. You don’t need this knowledge to enjoy the series, but if you do notice the nods here and there, you’ll no doubt find even more reason to like the show.
However, there are a couple of negatives. The first is that Atsushi has had a difficult life before joining the Armed Detective Agency and struggles to overcome it, which is fine but the series brings it to the forefront a lot and that could be irritating if you don’t like the character. Second is that Dazai makes several suicide jokes and although this is toned down in Season 2, it’s almost certainly going to rub some viewers the wrong way. Neither ruins the anime for me by any means, but they’re things to be aware of.
All of this is supported by some brilliant animation from Studio BONES (Fullmetal Alchemist, Noragami, My Hero Academia). The team capture the tone of the series well, with a mix of beautiful backdrops and keen attention to detail in fights. Of course, their eye for comedy is present too, with some hilarious visual gags and cute chibi versions of the cast here and there. Bungo Stray Dogs swaps between serious and comical at the drop of a hat and BONES do a great job conveying all this to the viewer.
Where music is concerned this has been handled by Taku Iwasaki (Noragami, The Irregular at Magic High School, Gurren Lagann) who also does a fine job. There is a great variation in the amount of music used and it fits well with the show, helping to amplify the drama or battle scenes. The first opening for the anime is “Trash Candy” by Granrodeo, while the ending theme is “Namae wo Yobu yo” by Luck Life. The second half has an opening titled “Reason Living” by Screen Mode, while Luck Life return with a new ending “Kaze ga Fuku Machi”. While I don’t find the first opening all that memorable, I do like the rest of the songs and they fit well with the series.
With so many characters, the show has a large number of voice actors behind it, both in English and in Japanese. Both sets of the cast do a great job playing their characters and I think viewers would be happy watching in either language. My personal favourite among the performances is Mamoru Miyano (Zero Kiryu in Vampire Knight, Death the Kid in Soul Eater, Rin Matsuoka in Free), who plays Dazai in Japanese and captures the eccentric personality of Dazai extremely well. He’s a perfect fit for the character.
As previously mentioned, this release comes to the UK thanks to Manga Entertainment, who have released Season 1 & 2 in one set. The release is available on Blu-ray and DVD, which both contain the whole of Season 1, 2 and the OVA episode. On-disc extras include clean opening and ending videos as well as a selection of trailers. The distributor currently has Season 3 and the movie scheduled for release in February, which will bring us up to date with this huge franchise!
Overall, Bungo Stray Dogs is a fantastic anime that deserves to be in everyone’s collection. While there are a couple of minor issues with the show, the likeable cast and intriguing story more than overcome them. With the might of Studio BONES behind it, the anime looks wonderful and will no doubt be remembered for years to come.