Bungou Stray Dogs takes us right back to the present… but its interest as a series doesn’t progress correspondingly. The Mafia, the Guild and the Agency engage in an obvious three-way conflict without any additional interest.
The main difference is that the flashback largely focused on Oda and Dazai, two of the series’ most charismatic characters. Of course, it’s only natural the series would improve when exploring the past and mind of someone as colorful and interesting as the latter; but the drop in quality in this case is especially noticeable because of the lack of character focus. We get Atsushi and his dotting interactions with the lovely tragic Kyouka, all until a certain Kouyou comes around and nearly kills Atsushi to take the little girl back.
She’s one of the Mafia’s top-rankings, and has an ability quite similar to Kyouka’s; when, barely having decided to chase the light Atsushi showed her, she tries to resist, she can’t beat her enemy. But it’s not a matter of ability: she’s mentally weak, and Kouyou’s words about the inherent futility of a belief in good that implies the necessity to kill others force Kyouka to give it all up.
She would’ve gone back to the Mafia (Atsushi is long out by that point)… if not for the Guild guys. Steinbeck, Lovecraft, and more: all these guys have come from the West to terrify the poor Japanese who just want to protect their culture and heritage. And they do just that by swiftly wiping everyone out… and taking Kyouka with them.
Thankfully our protagonists aren’t exactly dead so Akiko can heal them, and Dazai gets an opportunity to “interrogate” Kouyou. We don’t know what he learns, however, for what comes after could very well happen even if she had escaped.
In order to take this disadvantage back, the Mafia decide to kill Yukichi. Without their boss, the Agency would be in disarray, and taking everyone down would become much easier. They send a few low-ranking killers his way; he obviously beats them all with ease (his mastery of martial arts mustn’t be underestimated), but what he doesn’t know is he’s touched radioactive tracing elements which give the location of the Agency’s hideout away. The problem is this Bankoudou place is the center of their strategy (to split into defensive and offensive teams and engage in guerrilla tactics); the defensive team must stay there in order to heal any injury, the ability to full recover from any injury thanks to Akiko being their one advantage… but of course they’d easily get murdered were this base of operations located by their enemies.
The Agency want to protect themselves first and foremost. The problem? The Mafia have an interest in destroying them (people like Kazai, Akutagawa and Kouyou connect them), and now they also stand in the way of Fitzgerald’s megalomaniac desire to take control of this city. All three parties are aware: only one of them will make it out alive.
Now, this may sound rather exciting as an idea… but the problem is watching the show and trying to engage with the characters. Dazai is great, Kyouka is attaching; but Atsushi, even on the back of an entire anime season, remains flat and boring. The others are generally better off, but they get generally less time to shine. This is kind of series (it’s shown us plenty of times) where Good triumphs – so down with the dirty Americans and their dirty dollars! As a result, we know our dear (or not) Agency is going to be fine eventually. There’s little to get excited over story-wise. The result? Bungou will have to rely on its characters. A deeper exploration of the relation between Dazai and Akutagawa would do it much good, for instance. Obviously the series has shown in its first season’s later parts that it knows to be engaging, so it’s too early to give up on it. But this episode was a terribly effective reminder of what can happen to the show when it focuses on story elements (and pseudo-philosophical tidbits, see Fitzgerald’s words to Steinbeck) instead of what strengths it has.
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