The UK is enjoying a bit of a Bungo Stray Dogs festival the last couple of months with Manga UK finally bringing the whole series to Blu-ray. Now to join in the fun, there’s another entry in the light novel series published by Yen Press! Does it prove a delight? Let’s find out.
For Volume 5 of the Bungo Stray Dogs light novels, we’re treated to a novelisation of the film, Dead Apple. In this story, the Armed Detective Agency is tasked with getting to the bottom of several unexplained suicides involving Skill Users. All they know is that this always happens when fog settles over a major city and that a man known as Tatsuhiko Shibusawa might be connected.
However, before they can begin to unearth the truth of the matter, the city of Yokohama that our cast call home is the next to be enveloped by the fog. Atsushi and Kyouka are the first to realise the grave danger the city is in when they awake in the middle of the night to find everyone around them has disappeared; only those with skills remain. To make matters worse, it seems that the fog has the power to separate a skill user from their ability and now those same abilities are out to kill those who wield them!
Our heroes desperately need to regroup, but Atsushi and Kyouka are stuck being chased by Beast Beneath the Moonlight and Demon Snow, their respective abilities. Matters are only made worse when they run into Port Mafia member Akutagawa. Of the three he is the only one with an idea on how to regain their lost skills, but Atsushi, in particular, isn’t going to like the answer…
In many ways, it’s overly obvious that this story was made for a film. It sits perfectly between Season 2 and 3 of the TV anime, with a big focus on Kyouka (who joined the Detective Agency in Season 2) and Atsushi, who is still learning to see his skill as a force for good. The emotional themes presented are those we’re used to seeing early on in the Bungo Stray Dogs story, particularly Atsushi’s recurring struggle to see any worth in himself.
Frustratingly, this story shows a regression in the cast’s development that none of the other light novels has (although largely because they’ve been prequels, it has to be said). I think for longtime readers of the franchise it’s going to be difficult to put aside how far they’ve come in the main series to sit through another story of Atsushi whining about his tiger power.
The other problem is that if you’ve watched the film before, then there is no reason to read the book. Usually, I’d be looking for some dialogue or scenes that are unique to the book, but there’s nothing like that here. Perhaps this isn’t helped by author Kafka Asagiri handing over his pen to Hiro Iwahata for this entry, which leads to a less polished experience overall.
Iwahata’s writing is fine, but it lacks the flair of Asagiri’s. It’s simply retelling the on-screen action rather than elaborating or making the reader feel like they’re there beside the characters. I suppose what I’m getting at is that this book feels like a novelisation rather than being able to stand on its own.
Illustration duties for this volume also changed hands from Sango Harukawa to Ganjii, which also proves a step down compared to the usual. In some ways, I’m sure this is down to never seeing the Bungo Stray Dogs drawn by anyone except Harukawa, but I also feel the images aren’t as striking. Although I will say there is a nice variation in the characters depicted in the art.
As previously mentioned Bungo Stray Dogs Volume 5 comes to the West thanks to Yen Press and has been translated by Matt Rutsohn. The translation reads well with no issues to note. Volume 6 of the series is due for release in May and will see the usual author/artist team return.
Overall, Bungo Stray Dogs Volume 5 isn’t a bad read but it’s certainly not as much fun as watching the movies it’s adapting. Having temporarily swapped out the author and artist duo we’re used to, the book just feels disconnected from the series we’ve enjoyed up until now. Hopefully, a return to form next time!