Bungou Stray Dogs Anime Review: An Entertaining Disappointment

Regardless of results it might have achieved, Bungou Stray Dogs had all the ingredients to become one of the best anime of Spring Season 2016. The synopsis sounded interesting enough, a ‘seinen’ tag is often an insta-watch for many and it had great character designs, but was that enough to fulfill viewers’ high expectations?

Mild spoilers for Season 1

When talking about Bungou Stray Dogs, there is one thing many people agree on: it’s not what they thought it would be. A story beginning by a character getting kicked out of an orphanage is as dramatic as it gets, the idea of certain humans having supernatural abilities inspired by famous authors was promising and the PV made it look like a very serious show. These are some of the reasons why the comedy in the first episode took many by surprise. In fact, the show’s biggest issue is that it struggled to balance its comedic and dramatic aspects in a wa that feels natural and hence created problematic shiftones that put the viewer off in many instances. Scenes that were supposed to be exciting or give a sense of danger ended up feeling anticlimatic instead.

An example of this issue would be Episode 4, which was very criticized for spending most of the episode introducing the villains, Port Mafia, and hyping them up only to have them get killed off screen and tossed out of the window in a comedic way. There’s also smaller details like when Episode 5 (a pretty good episode) had Dazai and Ranpo acting all goofy around a corpse that happened to be the subordinate of a character who was present in the scene and didn’t seem too care. Finding the right balance between drama and comedy is hard. Many few can actually do it right. Gintama, Noragami or even this season’s Re:ZERO are examples of series that know how to separate comedic shenanigans from the moments when it’s time to get serious. And going as far as to adding comedy in serious, life-threatening battle scenes is something that can only be done if your name is Eiichiro Oda.

They say when you’re disappointed due to your high expectations it’s your own fault, and I agree. However, the truth is Bungou Stray Dogs was not a “great” series, regardless of what we might have initially expected from it. The show was never really that funny (although Dazai’s suicide fixation was one of the anime jokes of this season) and the writers also struggled to awaken any sympathy from its supposedly dramatic moments. Sure, we saw Atsushi’s flashback from the orphanage countless of times, but we barely got to see any insight of how those experiences affected his personality, aside from having him use internal motivation speeches to power up during a battle. Overall, it was hard to care for the characters and their situations when it seemed like not even the show cared about it.

Some fans might already be hissing at me (jeez, does it have a big fandom on Tumblr!), but I would like to say first that not everything was bad inBungou Stray Dogs. On the contrary: I found watching this show quite enjoyable, which is why I kept demanding more from it, because I believe it can do better. The fact that each character and their power is based on classic authors is quite original and it makes for some interesting combats dynamics when two different powers collide. Each character also has a quite distinct personality, and while they might come off as a tad one-dimensional, it’s still fun to see them interact with each other, especially the main trio. The rest of the cast is also quite likable: Ranpo is a fan favorite and Aizakawa is eye candy for many and has probably the most badass-looking power. While BSD had episodes that irritated me to no end due to its cheesy lines and battle cliches (*cough* Episiodes 10 *cough*), there were also many instances (Episodes 3, 5 and 12) that gave me a glimmer of hope and showed the potential this series can have when it gets serious.

Studio BONES did a really great job at making Bungou Stray Dogs as visually appealing as possible. Character designs aside, this studio has always been great at making funny facial expressions and, while these were used way too often, it was hard to complain when they looked so good. Both the opening and ending songs had great visuals, and the jazzy music is among the OST I look forward to the most from this season.

The second season of Bungou Stray Dogs will air this upcoming fall and, considering there were quite a few filler episodes this season, it’s safe to say the series hasn’t really shown its full potential yet. Season 1 of Bungou Stray Dogs is a slightly above-average anime with some frustrating inconsistencies, but enough promising moments to make us hope for a better second cour.

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