What happens when two fated enemies – Akutagawa and Atsushi – meet in a circumstance where they must team up to take Fitzgerald down? This is what Bungou shows us, and the results are interesting.
Now you may ask what’s so interesting, and the answer is plain to see: despite the anticipable action-packed nature of the episode, it is as much a battle of wits as one of fists. This is one of the things that, despite naming all its characters after prominent authors, Bungou seldom does.
In spite of the situation, why would Akutagawa and Atsushi fight? What is it that pushes them so far? There is a great deal of mutual misunderstanding at play here – something they can attempt to solve now they have a common cause.
Akutagawa fights to be acknowledged by Dazai. He hates Atsushi for wallowing in misery when he is blessed with everything the Port Mafia man is desperate for. On the other hand, Atsushi loathes his enemy for his nonsensical belligerence and fixation on the notion that fear gained through violence should be a reason for respect.
The endless argument is interesting as the confrontation of two seemingly irreconcilable points of view. It is especially relevant when throughout the episode we see Dazai talking with Kyouka. The four come from rather desperate places – yet our main duo is one of reformed men, while Akutagawa has followed down the path of despair. As we see the protagonist argue with the major antagonist, we wonder: which view does this show privilege? What does it consider right for Kyouka?
While Atsushi’s mindset will obviously prevail, it is good to see that Akutagawa also has arguments for himself, and that one is never blatantly correct over the other. It’s balanced and never comes off as didactic. This quality is intensified by an off-handed comment from Fitzgerald, who mentions the two are quite alike; and he’s perfectly right in thinking so.
Speaking of Fitzgerald, the confrontation with him is somewhat more questionable, unfortunately. It’s funny (and unfortunately telling) that an author best known for his critic of the American Dream would be used here as the very symbol of a certain western decadence – the excessive splurging of money, and here on quests that can never be fulfilled via mere riches – and, in the end, Akutagawa and Atsushi naturally ally, as if it were normal for the East to go against the West (note that Bungou Stray Dogs is meant to take place during a period of intense Westernization and subsequent loss of cultural references in Japan).
While in this sense it makes sense for the Mafia and the Agency to ally, it all feels somewhat obvious and blatant. In the end, even the light scratching of the contrasting currents of thought among Japanese writers (see Dazai against Kunikida) felt more satisfying.
On more of a surface level, one may be worried over the logical sense beating Fitzgerald would make, as he seems so much stronger than anyone else.
In the end this is a contrasted episode that serves as a good summary of Bungou’s strengths as well as flaws. Good action scenes with lots of visual impact (even if the directing isn’t the most spectacular) and great fluidity accompany surprising yet pleasant battles of wits; but in the end, some rather blatant aspects bring it all down a little, as if the show wasn’t meant to be as subtle as it sometimes tries to be; as if it would be better without all these fancy names and half-assed attempts at a simplified restaging of the struggle of Japanese thinkers with growing Western influences.
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