Title: Bungo Stray Dogs Vol. 1 Author: Kafka Asagiri (Story), Sango Harukawa (Art) Publisher: Yen Press Language: English Format: Paperback Pages: 192 Genre: Mystery, Supernatural Publication Date: December 20, 2016
Bungo Stray Dogs centers around Atsushi; an orphan who was kicked out of his orphanage due to budget cutbacks. He comes around a man named Daizai who attempts to commit suicide, but Atsushi inadvertently stops him. This begins the story in which Atsushi becomes part of the Armed Detective Agency: a group of individuals, each who possess special abilities.
Bungo Stray Dogs has a very interesting premise. One thing I noticed when we were introduced to the members of the Armed Detective Agency was that one of them was named Edogawa Ranpo. Edogawa Ranpo was an author who dabbled in the to the macabre side of detective mysteries as seen with the Game of Laplace and Trickster animes which were based off his work. It is nice to see a nod given to him in this series!
With that aside, the story for the first volume takes on several forms. We transition from character introductions to the introduction of the detective agency right into Atsushi’s first case as its newest member which further develops the world that the story is set in as well as gives us our first major storyline, complete with an opposing force to our detectives. It does a wonderful job laying down the groundwork and then expanding on it.
When you get past the supernatural abilities, this story boils down to a very tried and true basic premise: cops vs robbers, or more specifically, detectives vs mafia. The nice balance here is that once you are introduced to the Armed Detective Agency, your perception is that these guys are called in when the police or military can’t solve normal crimes due to their powers, but when you’re introduced to Akutagawa and the mafia, you come to learn that even “the bad guys” get special abilities as well, making it that much more interesting!
While the story is a supernatural twist on something pretty straight-forward, the characters seem to have a bevy of layers to them, which I believe get exposed a little too quickly.
Atsushi is probably the least interesting of the lot and that’s because he’s the main character. In this day and age, the side characters are becoming more interesting that the one that gets the most spotlight and that’s really a shame. Atsushi is an archetype you’ve seen many times over. He’s timid, shy, a bit afraid to get his feet wet or take responsibility and simply just wants to live in peace. He’s wrapped up in (and even becomes to focal point) of the Mafia vs ADA conflict and just wants nothing to do with it, but in typical fashion, he somehow finds the courage to stand up to Akutagawa which is a common trope for any character with this archetype. For once, I would love to see a main character with an edge about him instead of the “Why me?” timid-type.
Daizai, on the other hand, is probably the most interesting character, but they blew the big secret WAY too soon with him. So Daizai is a man who could be described as a suicide enthusiast. His skill is called “No Longer Human” and it can negate anyone else’s ability simply by touching them. This reminds me of the Imagine Breaker ability from To Aru Majutsu no Index or even Atsa’s Negate Magic ability from Black Clover. It’s nothing really new, but it’s his personality that shines through. He simply just doesn’t take anything seriously and his will to die adds some comic relief to the series. He certainly is a fun character that is serious when he needs to be and even when he is, he still seems a bit carefree. They also spin up a bit of mystery about him as no one can guess what his profession was prior to joining the ADA. There is even a pot up to 700,000 yen for anyone who can correctly guess it. This could have been a great mystery… had they not given it away for free on the very last page of the volume. This is a case of the trigger being pulled WAY too soon because now all we’re left with is just pointless suicide attempts as running gag humor. Despite this flaw, he is my favorite character from the group so far.
Kunikida is rather brash and easily gets annoyed by Daizai’s existence. His ability is a bit like Sai’s from the Naruto series where he can write down something in a notebook and then whatever he describes will materialize in the real world. He is a former math professor who got dismissed from his position, but won’t say why. However, much like with Daizai, they pulled the trigger on that mystery almost immediately in the form of a flashback bubble which insinuates that his poor attitude got him dismissed. Kunikida seems to be the voice of reason character type, but he is kind of a male tsundere as well.
Speaking of “-dere” characters, we get introduced to Tanizaki and his sister Naomi. Tanizaki isn’t really the combat type as his power is called “Light Snow.” He can create illusions with it and even conceal himself inside it. His sister Naomi, however, is probably one of the biggest undere characters I’ve seen. Undere is the type that will pretty much do whatever the one they love says and since she’s absolutely obsessed with her brother to unhealthy levels, she falls perfectly into this category. Heck, she even states that she would do anything he asked her to. I kind of found Naomi a little bit annoying and Tanizaki’s character seems more concerned with peeling his sister off of him than what’s happening around him. Unless we get more backstory on them in future volumes, they seem like a couple of throwaway background characters.
Lastly, there is Akutagawa. He is one of the members of the mafia and before Atsushi goes out on his first mission, we get the “dangerous character alert” when Kunikida tells Atsushi that if he sees this man, just simply run. They build him up to the point where it seems as if he is an unstoppable god, yet Atsushi was able to handle him rather decently. I think they over hyped his character as he didn’t really seem overly powerful. His ability is called “Rashomon” and it can negate space itself so that anything it touches or travels into its path ceases to exist. While it is an impressive power, Atsushi and Daizai didn’t seem to have much trouble dealing with it due to their own abilities. This immediately shows that Akutagawa’s power has flaws and weaknesses which degrades all of the build up they gave to his character upon his introduction.
Even though I do have a few qualms about the character development, Bungo Stray Dogs does do a pretty good job pulling you into their world. It kept me turning page after page as it genuinely had me interested in what would happen next. While I was disappointed with the big reveal on the final page, it did serve as an excellent stopping point to make the reader want to see volume two. I just wished that they picked something equally as appealing and saved the big reveal for much later down the road. You have to tease these kind of mysteries and make people beg to find out what it is and Bungo Stray Dogs didn’t do that with Daizai’s character.
Even still, this seems like it is going to be a great series. I can foresee some rather interesting battles in the future and once these characters get fleshed out even more, they should become more enjoyable. The characters do create a great potpourri of personalities that helps support the story and drive it forward. If you haven’t read the series beforehand nor seen the anime (which I haven’t on both counts), then I think this series is interesting enough to get into. It has a lot of things in place to allow it to shape up into something special!
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