"Stupidity is a talent for misconception"
-Edgar Allan Poe
We've all heard the famous phrase "I'd rather be a Jack of all trades than a king of one", but what happens when you try to be at Jack of too many trades? Well, that's where you get a show like Bunguo Stray Dogs. The second anime to be produced by bones this season, Stray Dogs is an edgy, ambitious story of an abandoned orphan who finds his place with a detective agency solving crimes and battling the notorious Port Mafia. The synopsis is what really had me hyped for the show, because on the surface it sounds like it has the promise to be something really unique. However, throughout its first season's 12 episodes, Stray Dogs never really discovers what it wants to be. Throw in some sporadic comedy, unnecessary gore along with some of the poorest excuses for detective work I've ever seen and you've got a recipe for disaster.
I truly mean what I say with regard to the promise I had for the show. It loosely reminded meet of the anime Gungrave's synopsis with an orphan joining a powerful agency and excelling through the ranks. I really enjoyed the first episode or two with the introduction of our main protagonist, Atsushi and how he comes into the Armed Detective Agency. I was looking forward to uncovering his past as well as the origin of his mystical Weretiger ability. But after 12 episodes of watching Stray Dogs, I would like to throw a strong disclaimer out there: don't expect anything to be explained in this anime. People use magic abilities, characters appear out of nowhere and mysteries are solved with the level of clairvoyance that would make Nostradamus roll over in his grave. I digress, I can give a pass to the whole magic thing, as I expect this to be explained in later seasons... If I'm even committed enough to make it that far.
After being collected by the agency, Atsushi does his best to fit in. And the man that initially recruited him, Dazai does his best to send Atsushi on meaningless tasks in order to establish himself at the agency. Perhaps it was to lay the groundwork for the characters, but I felt that nothing really happened in the first five or six episodes. At one point I thought the show was a dark comedy, the next a murder mystery, but all of the ideas that it seemed to have fizzled out into one disjointed mess. It's like the kid from your high school that never figured out what he really wanted to do and instead hung around into his 20s and 30s and made attempt after pitiful attempt to be cool. Not to mention the ghastly written comedy. Perusing the forums in hopes of finding out what I was missing to take away from the show, I found statement after statement praising the comedy in Stray Dogs. Has anime become so watered-down that feeble comedy such as the kind found here is passable as funny? The jokes are so forced and random that it made me cringe. I laughed at approximately 0% of it. I know I can't be the only one that feels this way.
Another mute point that was spewed at me was how each of the characters were based off of a famous writer of American, British or Japanese dissent. There is Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe and Agatha Christie just to name a few. The moment I thought I knew who the writers were portraying, they would do something so out of character that I had no idea who they were trying to emulate. It's almost as though the creators of Stray Dogs were trying to use this as a scapegoat. They probably figured that most anime fans have little knowledge of old literary geniuses, so it didn't matter if their personalities were accurate to achieve the same amount of praise.
Forgive me, for not all the writing is bad. The last 2 to 3 episodes dwarfed The rest of the series in terms of complexity and engagement. There are still the occasional scenes where the character's moods would shift from serious to slapstick, but I felt like overall I finally got some bang for my buck. The main villain even got some backstory and the writers offered a glimmering sliver of hope for next season.
As a main character, Atsushi was one emo moment away from me chalking him up as just another whiny bitch. Honestly it was uncovering his crippled past that drew me to the series in the beginning. I wish someone would've told me how little of an explanation I would get in the long run. His interactions with Dazai at the beginning of the anime were rather entertaining, but again their relationship never really transpired past the same cheesy recycled jokes and forced authoritative delegation by Dazai. Speaking of Dazai, what is with the suicide complex? I'm assuming it has something to do with his personification as a famous writer, but I found his split personality offputting and unnecessary. I mean who could be that bad at committing suicide? His true motives for recruiting Atsushi and acting the way he does haven't fully been explained, so we'll just have to wait and see what happens. Honestly, Kunikida was my favorite character of the entire show. His methodical personality and antics reminded me a lot of myself, and of course he got berated with jokes on a regular basis. It seemed like he was the only genuinely serious thing in the entire show. The rest of the characters were thrown in to fit various tropes, and that lazy, pompous detective guy Ranpo pissed me off to no end.
The OP is actually rather strong. It punches you in the face both visually and with some ear-splitting metal riffs. It's arguably the only aspect of Stray Dogs I consistently enjoyed from beginning to end. The ED and rest of the soundtrack were forgettable but didn't necessarily detract from the overall experience. I did quite enjoy the artstyle however. There was something about the colors that really caught my eye... I can't explain it but perhaps it was a combination of the bigger budget and flashy fight scenes that kept my senses stimulated. Each character was uniquely drawn, and there was rarely a repeated background to be seen. I loved it.
It goes without saying that my feelings about Bunguo Stray Dogs are relatively negative. I will probably stick with the second iteration launching in October because I've already devoted enough time to it... but only time will tell. Hey, maybe I'll even forget about how much I disliked certain aspects of it and move on. I'd recommend this to fans of more recent series, and people looking for generic battles and a cheap laugh. As always, thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the rest of my Spring 2016 reviews!