Why it’s Fantastical:
This is an urban fantasy where the world is aware that some people are gifted with supernatural powers. Those powers are often openly used and are a normality.
Nakajima Atsushi has been kicked out of the orphanage where he lived a miserable, abused life. One day, he saves a man named Osamu Dazai from the river, who just so happens to work for the Armed Detective Agency, a group of gifted people who solve problems the normal police can’t touch.
As Atsushi discovers his own gift and slowly learns to accept himself, he takes on the challenges of being the newest member of the Armed Detective Agency. He is thrust into the dark world of organized crime when the Port Mafia sets its most violent member to the task of hunting him down.
Let’s start with the fact that everything about this show is preeeeettty. Omg. I’ve said this before, but I reiterate that environments are a pretty big deal to me, and this show delivers. The environmental art is often glowy, highly detailed, and very beautiful. Whether it’s a sweeping shot of the Yokohama skyline, an abandoned waterfront storage yard, or a shot of the moon. It’s lovely. To say I decided to watch this series because of the art would be true.
On top of that, they make a point of adding in actual background noise. The sound of a motorcycle engine as it passes, or the roar of a plane. This noise sometimes punctuates conversations and gave a really grounded feel to some of the scenes.
But it’s not just the backgrounds that are pretty. The people are perfect. They’re all beautiful and range from the youngest, who is super cute, to the wisened leader who… what did Irina say about mullets in anime? Yeah, that’s a thing here in some cases, and I am not entirely sure what I should make of it!
(Seriously, this is a thing I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. After reading her blog post I see them EVERYWHERE now! In almost EVERY anime I watch! I had never thought about it before but… they are actually mullets and I don’t know how I feel about it! Can’t be unseen!)
The main characters are Nakajima Atsushi, our protagonist, Osamu Dazai, the ridiculous-yet-mysterious agent who takes Atsushi under his wing, and Doppo Kunikida, Dazai’s tall, blond partner who likes to sock Dazai in the face whenever he’s being an idiot. While the other characters make regular appearances and each has their own well-developed personality, it’s the dynamic between these three that really kicks off the show. Atsushi is both pitiful and lovable and loses faith in himself frequently because his perceived worthlessness has been pounded into him from an early age. Dazai serves as the light-hearted pick-me-up who has an odd obsession with suicide and seems know when to say just the right things to Atsushi. He also maintains an underlying ‘worldliness’ that shows itself from time to time. Kunikida is the strict older brother type who has very strong ideals, but often finds himself overwhelmed with Dazai’s antics. At first, it seems like Dazai and Kunikida are the worst possible match-up, but get them in a sticky situation and it’s another matter entirely.
The cool thing about this show though, is that it punches you right in the face pretty early on. For all its light-heartedness and bantering between Agency members, it goes dark real quick. The Armed Detective Agency’s primary enemy is the Port Mafia, which is also run by a bunch of people with gifts. This is where we meet Akutagawa, whose role in the early parts of the series is to be the definitely-crazy, uber-violent enforcer for the Port Mafia. He is indeed that. In all the ways he can be. Dark, brooding, overtly violent, permanently angry, with a thirst to prove himself, and an abhorrence of pretty much all the people he meets.
It shifts back and forth between light and heavy storytelling and I really like this turn in the feel of the show when it happens. The first two episodes give you the standard dose of sadness with Atsushi being as pitiful as he is, but it was still relatively light. Then, in rolls Akutagawa just laying waste and causing mayhem. The show doesn’t pull punches in this respect and I am glad for that. There are some anime out there that have a mafia-type organization, but they never show that organization being the truly bloody, torturous, filthy thing it is. With Akutagawa being their poster boy, the Port Mafia really does introduce itself as the overpowered monstrosity that an organized crime group of its caliber should be. They aren’t to be messed with, they won’t be defeated, and they don’t care how they obtain the things they want.
The story continually progresses to include new and different challenges. The Port Mafia is the main antagonist, but other threats are also introduced from outside this primary conflict. There is also story development happening at the beginning that I didn’t even realize until it was revealed later on. It was very easy to stay interested. There were several times when I was surprised by a turn of events, or by certain characters revealing more of their personalities that I originally expected. Everything blended very well, which lent to the show’s binge-worthiness.
Where the magic is concerned, any anime that involves magic in battles are bound to introduce more and more ridiculously over-powered characters. It just seems to be the way it happens. This one is no exception especially as it rolls into season two. However, Bungo Stray Dogs does not make the mistake of trying to make Atsushi fight all these increasingly powerful characters alone. Or if he does, his conflicts almost always seem to force character development, or it changes the dynamics between himself and other characters. For the one enemy who is most over-powered he doesn’t fight alone, and it’s made very obvious that he can’t. I found it very well done.
Honestly… this had a very Cowboy Bebop vibe to me.
Not in that they are similar in story or animation or anything, but that Cowboy Bebop is my all-time favorite anime. Bungo Stray Dogs has the potential to be on that shelf with Cowboy Bebop. It just felt epic and full, like an amazing book you never want to put down.
It’s got a great story, it’s got great character development and backstory, it adds magic. And if I’m really honest, I’m a typical fangirl so this show makes real life look shabby and unwelcoming haha! It sweeps the spectrum of all the things I love. I watched both seasons in one day, then started it over again. I am limiting myself to two episodes per day so I can properly enjoy it and get to know the characters. The only other anime I’ve ever done that with to any serious degree is… yeah… Cowboy Bebop. There is definitely a box set of Bungo Stray Dogs in my future.