As a blogger, it’s time to start dog-paddling now.
The madness of a packed anime season is fully upon us, as the trickle of signature premieres is about to turn into a flood. Bungou Stray Dogs is the third to enter the fray among the shows I considered to be the headliners going in, the first two being Boku no Hero Academia and Joker Game. On balance I didn’t like this opener quite as much as those two, though it still ranked as the third-best of the season so far in my book. And one gets the sense that this show held most of its cards close to the vest in the premiere (though so did those other two, I would judge).
Bones is in the midst of what should be a huge season and a huge year for them, and they’ve put what you might call the “Star Driver Team” in charge of Bungou Stray Dogs. Director Igarashi Takuya has done a smattering of work elsewhere but he’s basically a Bones man, and has more of a signature style than most Bones directors. Igarashi is definitely the bishounen specialist in the the stable, with a minor in general kawaii. And (looking at stuff like Ouran Host Club, Soul Eater, Captain Earth, et al) he’s also a director who’s fond of broad comedy – exaggerated facial distortion, tipping the gag coming up by pointing arrows at it, stuff like that. It’s not a style that agrees with everyone, but it’s pretty much unmistakable.
Here’s my take on the matter. Igarashi-sensei’s sensibility isn’t my favorite when it comes to Bones, but I sense it’s a pretty good fit for the material here. I haven’t read Asagiri Kafka’s (that’s a nom de plume if ever I’ve heard one) seinen manga, but there’s a certain almost Kuroshitsuji-esque vibe to the story here. It’s seemingly modern and set in Japan, but there’s a distinctly Victorian look to the characters (and their wardrobe) and even the premise. Everything about Bungou Stray Dogs seems a bit foppish and over-the-top, and Igarashi seems like the right guy to bring it to the screen.
The hero of the story is Nakajima Atsushi (Uemura Yuto), an orphan who’s been kicked out of the workhouse he lived in (how’s that for a Victorian storyline) for no good reason as far as he can tell. When we meet him he’s at the riverside on the brink of starvation, bemoaning fate for making him a castoff yet too timid to rob anyone to survive. He resolves to do so to the next person that comes along, but that doesn’t work out too well. Eventually Dazai Osamu (Miyano Mamoru) floats by, seemingly drowning. Atsushi saves him, but Dazai doesn’t seem too grateful – it seems he was trying to commit suicide (there’s a lot more to this that we’ve been told so far, surely). Nevertheless, he takes responsibility for the incident and orders his colleague Kunikida Doppo (Hosoya Yoshimasa, very much on autopilot) to buy the starving boy whatever he wants to eat.
This all has a relatively by the book quality to it, though it’s quite entertaining in a breezy sort of way and general successful in its forays at humor. Things pick up quite a bit in the second half of the episode, though – first when Dazai reveals that he and Kunikida are members of the oddly-named “Armed Detective Agency”, which specializes in the supernatural, and then what their current job is. And second when the other members of the agency show up, an interesting bunch. Apparently everyone in the agency has a special magical skill, and it turns out Atsushi-kun does too – he’s a were-tiger, which happens to be both the reason he was kicked out of the orphanage and the subject for the hunt Dazai and Kunikida are currently on.
It’s not as though any of this is especially gripping, but it’s intriguing and fun to watch. The most successful element of the premiere is the world-building, and you can also factor in the usual stellar Bones visuals and a very distinctive score by the talented Iwasaki Taku (who in fact did the music for Kuroshitsuji). Bungou Stray Dogs is going to be a split-cour series and I’m glad of it, because the sense is that there’s a lot more here than meets the eye – a very distinctive and stylish fictional universe with many secrets still to reveal. The deal isn’t closed yet for me, but I very much get the feling that the best is yet to come.
OP: “TRASH CANDY” by GRANRODEO
ED: “Namae wo Yobu yo” (名前を呼ぶよ; Call Out The Name) by Luck Life