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Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Bungou Stray Dogs S2

Bungou Stray Dogs
Series 2

I had the relative good fortune of only watching the first series a matter of weeks before the second one started airing, so I didn't have to wait long for the second series to show up -- which was pretty nice for me, since I'd enjoyed the first series a lot and was eager to see more of it, especially as it had, unfortunately, ended on a somewhat open and perhaps even somewhat lackluster note.

Set in modern day Yokohama in a world where superpowered people exist, each one bearing the name of a famous real world author and an ability named after their seminal works, Bungou Stray Dogs follows Atsushi Nakajima, a young man who has become an agent of a private detective agency in the city. As the Guild, a foreign organisation of powered people, invades the city, a three-way war begins, as the Armed Detective Agency, Port Mafia, and Guild all strive to take control of the city and eliminate their competition. 

The series actually starts with a four episode arc adapting one of the series' tie-in novels, Dazai and the Dark Era, following Port Mafia member Sakunosuke Oda several years before the beginning of the series. 

Tonally and structurally, this arc is very different from the one following it: It has a much grimmer and less comedic tone than the rest of the series, and while I wouldn't necessarily call it darker, it certainly does approach its subject matter in a much more poe-faced way than is usual for the show. Most of the comic relief characters, including Atsushi himself, are missing from this arc, and while its basic themes of redemption and finding a home for oneself are ones which run throughout the series, it approaches them from a different angle, with less emphasis on finding redemption and more on whether redemption is possible.

He's so pretty.

It's also a much more slowly paced arc. A lot of this is down to the material being adapted: While the Guild arc is a relatively long manga arc being adapted into nine episodes, and thus is condensed heavily with as much extraneous material as possible cut out, the Dark Era arc is adapting a single light novel into four episodes, and thus struggles somewhat with making that material stretch while also maintaining viewer interest. Round about the third episode of the arc, I began to lose patience with it, even though I was enjoying the story, because the pacing very often felt glacial.

It did have some definite strong points: Sakunosuke makes a much more interesting character to follow than Atsushi, as he has a far more engaging character conflict. While Atsushi's main conflict is feeling unworthy for reasons that are entirely not his fault (creating a rather Mary Sue-oid situation where Atsushi has a redemption arc but nothing to be redeemed for, as he has never done anything wrong in his life), Sakunosuke actually has blood on his hands, and his reasons for wanting redemption are at least somewhat self-serving. It makes him a much more compelling, and much more engaging, character than Atsushi.

He also has a much more interesting ability. Atsushi's ability, when you boil it down, is basically that he heals and hits things real hard, whereas Sakunosuke's actually has interesting storyline potential.

Bandage Guy and Cool Gravity Dude.

The remainder of the series, meanwhile, deals with the three-way war, and in all honesty if you enjoyed the first series, chances are you'll enjoy the latter nine episodes of the second series, and if you didn't enjoy the first series, you probably won't. There are a few key differences, in that the Guild arc is focused less on episodic stories or mini-arcs and more on one, action-focused arc, but for the most part it is more of the same, with the same balance of comedy to drama.

The only real difference is that, as mentioned before, there is a greater emphasis on action, as the powered individuals of the Armed Detective Agency (and sometimes the Port Mafia) go up against the Guild. Effort is made to give most of the Guild members time to shine, but a few -- such as Mark Twain and Louisa Alcott -- get left by the wayside, and for the most part each Guild member vanishes after their big action scene, making them feel more like disposable henchmen than anything else. The big exceptions are F. Scott Fitzgerald and HP Lovecraft, both of whom appear very frequently in the series, although for very different reasons: Fitzgerald is the Guild's leader and the main villain for this arc, while Lovecraft is set up as a strange and ominous mystery.

He's had a long day.

It's a fun romp, and worth watching if you have some free time, even if it does end on a rather underwhelming (and oddly Dragonball-oid) note, with the most interesting part of the final episode being the reveal of super-hacker Fyodor Dostoevsky. The fact that the series was left on a cliffhanger, and seems to have done pretty well ratings-wise, makes it likely that there'll be a third series, so I'll be keeping an eye out for that.

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