Note: Review copy supplied by Manga UK
Title: Bungo Stray Dogs: Season One And Two
Anime Studio: Bones
Genre: Action / Supernatural Mystery
Stalked by a beastly white tiger, Atsushi Nakajima has no idea that the menace lives inside him a power that catches the attention of the Armed Detective Agency. Using inhuman abilities to combat crime, this team takes Atsushi under the wing of their most eccentric member, Dazai. Together, they tear through mafia-muddled mysteries while enemies keep an eye on the tiger s lofty bounty.
At its core, Bungo Stray Dogs is a paranormal mystery series. While not filled with the greatest mysteries you’ll see in the medium, what we have is more than serviceable. It sounds strange to say, but the fantastical battles actually make it feel more realistic. By that, I mean that the supernatural aspects of the setting, and the way the ‘gifted’ are divided into groups, make it feel like action should exist here. Thankfully, while the fight scenes are consistently good, the series knows how to balance them out and doesn’t let them become the main focus on screen until it’s needed.
The focus of the first season is on Atsushi Nakajima. I like him as a main character. We see very quickly that he’s strong enough to survive but untrained. He’s also at a point in his life where guidance and place to call home are sorely needed. That all makes for a good start point that offers plenty of opportunity for character growth.
While Atsushi is clearly the main protagonist, Bungo Stray Dogs is really an ensemble cast piece. In this department, it really shines. On the one hand, you can certainly see some common character types here; the hothead, the girl with the brother complex, the harsh taskmaster that really cares, and so on. At the same time though, each character is sufficiently interesting in their own right that they rise above this. The unique abilities they all have are suitably different to set them all apart, and the way they all interact with each not only each other but their own motivations is a joy to watch.
Once you hit the second season, you’ll see things shift from arcs where Atsushi leads the proceedings to building a darker tale that allows more focus on other characters. Osamu Dazai, for example, gets to stand centre stage for an entire flashback arc.
This is all aided by some excellent aesthetic work. Bones have always been strong in terms of animation, and this stands shoulder to shoulder comfortably with their other releases like Noragami and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Throw in that the characters have standout designs, and you’ve got a real visual feast here.
The soundtrack is strong throughout, though I’d say it’s stronger in the second season. There, Taku Iwasaki’s score really finds its feet. The voice cast in both the Japanese and English dubs are consistently strong and clearly had fun with the dialogue. I was happy to see that as it’s such an interesting premise.
In terms of weaknesses, I think it really comes down to how open you are to tonal shifts. The earlier parts of season one do feel a little like they’re following a ‘supporting character of the week’ format at times, and that’s very different to the feel of the second season. It helps, I think, to view the two seasons as one piece, as that allows for you feel like it has an extended introduction before committing fully to the bigger arcs. If you can do that, you’re onto a winner here.
Honestly, this was, in my opinion, one of the more fascinating series to be released over the last five years or so. It combines an interesting concept with quirky, well-designed characters, and wraps it all in an aesthetically pleasing package. This is an easy recommendation and one that deserves the full 5 out of 5.