The past week or so I’ve been catching up to Takuya Igarashi’s latest endeavor Bungou Stray Dogs as part of my big Spring 2016 marathon now that shows are coming to a close. I was particularly excited for this one as it was one of the ones I was the most excited for when first starting it, but the show had gotten surprisingly little love from the community and now that I’ve seen it myself I can somewhat understand why.
Bungou Stray Dogs is a bit of a slow burner. It doesn’t really have much to offer during its first few episodes. Sure it’s humor is great and the directing is looking absolutely stellar thanks to Igarashi himself, the expressive faces are very fun, but other than that it just doesn’t live up to what it promises. For the first 2 or 3 episodes it’s relatively hard to find much of a reason to care for any of the characters and the individual cases themselves up to this point don’t exactly add much to that at all. So far the only thing carrying the show are its more lighthearted moments and although those certainly are fun on their own, they wouldn’t have been able to do so until the very end. Luckily this quickly changes as our first actual villains are introduced to the story.
The first confrontation with the somewhat antagonistic Port Mafia and what follows it is what really creates the shows main driving forces. Character motivations that had previously been mentioned a good amount of times finally get fleshed out more, Characters that had previously seemed fun but didn’t have much more to them finally get their deserving amount of characterization and Akutagawa over the course of the series functions brilliantly as a villain that in the end is even surprisingly easy to sympathize with. From here on Bungou Stray Dogs‘ previously weak parts for the most part only get stronger and stronger whereas its already good parts take a bit more of a backseat but don’t lose in quality at all.
In fact I’d argue the comedy of the show only gets better the more of it we see! Getting to know Dazai properly makes his antics all the more entertaining, Kunikida being made fun of doesn’t get old as fast as you would think and the entire humor just never stops being insanely entertaining while also adding a lot of additional depth to the show. My favorite part about it in the end is that it’s always relevant.
It’s never absolutely dumb and ridiculous humor but always seems to have a point to it. In trying to get close to a woman in episode 3, Dazai in the end has a much bigger plan than just….getting close to her, something that’s revealed later on in the episode. At other points he would make fun of Kunikida for his strict adherence to his ideals, something that eventually ties into the arcs main themes. Towards the end, Dazai almost toying with a Port Mafia member to a hilarious degree reveals a ton of information about him, the setting and other things. Comedy rarely seems to purely exist for the sake of being funny in Bungou Stray Dogs, but also for the sake of conveying information and I find how well it does it absolutely fascinating, even if it is a relatively basic technique.
In terms of the comedy itself Bungou Stray Dogs is heavily reliant on character interactions. There’s little situational humor, no real comedy through things actively happening, but simply through the dialogue between specifically the members of the detective agency and really every single one of them is in on this. Be it the eccentric Dazai, the strict Kunikida, the overly positive Kenji, or anyone else that’s part of the agency they all have their own little quirks that their character seems to be designed around and despite this probably sounding like something negative initially I think it works wonders for the show
The characters that need to be explored more thoroughly are given the time they deserve and although some are a little left out this, I never felt like they needed more time for what they were supposed to accomplish. The super colorful cast is in the end really the main attraction of the show and it does its job perfectly well. The banter is hilarious when it has to be, they bounce of each other insanely well and are just generally very entertaining.
I’ve mentioned them quite often by now of course but the main trio of Atsushi, Kunikida and Dazai especially is a highlight even in this. While the actual main character of the show, Atsushi, takes some time to become a character I actually liked, the other two must be one of the greatest 2-man teams I have seen in Anime recently, not only through their banter, but through their interpersonal differences as well. Although the two do argue a lot for the sake of humor, the show also makes it clear that they are more than different in their way of thinking and I think that makes them all the more fascinating to me.
Sadly that’s one aspect the show doesn’t really pick up on more often, something I would’ve really liked to see not only for this, but for several things the show seems to have almost forgotten or conveniently ignored in the end, but I’m hoping that’s what a second season is for.
As a final conclusion, Bungou Stray Dogs has despite my initial worries turned out to be some of the most fun I’ve had this season. Between its gorgeously constructed visuals, its silly humor and relatively strong Soundtrack it manages to tell a surprisingly engaging story and has so far been one of the most entertaining things in Spring 2016, something I certainly hope to see continue whenever it comes back in Fall!