Bungo Stray Dogs: A Novel Portrait of Good & Evil

How does one sanction evil?

The end goal of any traditional story of good versus evil is to battle to a point at which good has triumphed and evil has been defeated. The setting returns to or discovers a comparably peaceful status. From there, it can be assumed that peace will persist for as long as it can after the curtain has closed.

But what happens when a story paints that perpetual conflict between good and evil not as a disturbance or ongoing plague, but as the goal? Furthermore, what if a story progressively affirms it to be preferable to another, worse turn of events. While it may not be clear at first, Bungo Stray Dogs is the very thesis of this notion.

On the surface, this show is about the conflict between the simply named Armed Detective Agency and the Port Mafia, set in modern-day Yokohama, Japan. Every main character is named after and based on a popular author or poet, each possessing supernatural abilities based on their works.

Beyond the first season, the story evolves slowly into something far grander in such a way you might not notice it. It’s the kind of stylish show that could be unfairly criticized as lacking, narratively. My purpose in writing this is to parse the purpose of a story that I consider to be the very essence of character-driven storytelling.

[Spoilers for Bungo Stray Dogs Seasons 1-3 Ahead]

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An Obligatory, Arbitrary List of Anime Fight Scenes

While not necessarily in vogue among anime critics lately, it isn’t hard to find rankings of very specific subjects within the community. “Top 10 Strongest Anime Characters”, “Top Ten Anime Villains”, “Top Ten Anime Couples”, etc. And of course, who could forget the perpetually memed “Top Ten Anime Betrayals,” which I don’t think I’ve ever seen created unironically.

However, while overdone, it has never felt like the kind of thing that anime critics do begrudgingly out of some unspoken tax as per the job. After all, anime has a lot of cool shit and fights are no exception. It’s only obligatory so far as such a thing is relatively easy to create and an ample excuse to ramble about things we like. That’s half the reason people like me become critics anyway.

So in no particular ranked order, here are a few my favorite anime fight scenes.

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Still Thinking About Devilman Crybaby

Devilman Crybaby wasn’t my favorite show. In fact, about a year after its release, I was surprised to find that I gave it a 6/10 on MyAnimeList.net. I must have been somewhat underwhelmed upon finishing it. After all, I wouldn’t call it a show with an incredibly satisfying ending. But it was an ending appropriate of the source material it was adapting.

Go Nagai’s Devilman taps into the darkest reaches of the human condition and juxtaposes it with the horrors of demonic monstrosities. The story tells of the end of days; the brutal end to an imperfect race consumed by sin, depravity, and hatred. Masaaki Yuasa’s vision of the story modernized the doom and gloom, creating a unique series with far more of an international appeal than many anime.

It had issues, to be sure. The abundance of Engrish lessened the impact of big narrative moments and certain characterizations paled in comparison to previous adaptations. The animation – while lively – could be laughable at times, teamed with some inconsistent artwork that I could take or leave. Despite all that though, I think I was too harsh on this series. I came to that conclusion when I reflected on one scene which has stuck with me to this day.

[Spoilers for Devilman Crybaby]

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What Do The Evangelion Rebuilds Do Better?

When you take an established property with a certain level of fame in the cultural gestalt and try to do it again, you are asking for criticism. Remakes have these nasty labels attached to them because in principal a worthwhile piece of art should be able to stand on its own. Why remake something when the old work still exists?

Apart from being a cash-grab, maybe to update art that is arguably out of date and hasn’t aged well. Better yet, perhaps the remake signifies an intention to take a work in another direction to use the original’s framing device in a new innovative way. Either way, it’s easy to divide people over a new vision. Too close to the original and it seems pointless, but too different and it could be seen as a betrayal.

But what happens when the same mind behind the original comes back to remake his work, albeit with new help? Hideaki Anno’s classic Neon Genesis Evangelion certainly gained fame over the years despite how infamous it was at the time. The psychological drama fueled by Anno’s anguish made it legendary and yet Anno felt there was more to be done.

Anno split off from Gainax and together with his underling, Kazuya Tsurumaki, he decided to “rebuild” Evangelion. These films have been praised and lambasted in equal measure over the years. Most often people find an issue with the lack of thoughtful psychological pathos that made NGE‘s characters so real despite the premise. You can find plenty who will praise the visuals of the rebuilds, but many who will argue it doesn’t make up for what is lost.

But is there nothing here of value? Are these films not without some quality that is superior to the originals? I like to think that isn’t the case and after finally watching them recently, I think there are plenty of reasons to fall in love with these films. With the fourth and presumably final film coming in 2020, now is the perfect time to ask, what did the rebuilds get right?

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I Saw Promare!!! My Thoughts on Trigger’s New Film

I’ve discussed previously my disdain for the praise aimed at Trigger in its early days. The whole “savior of anime” meme got old quick with the industry growing larger than ever, and certainly not solely because of Trigger’s work. Funnily enough, as time has gone on, there are now a lot of people who seem to think Trigger is “stagnating,” but that’s kinda bullshit.

With their catalog having built up over the years, Trigger has only been getting more praiseworthy as time has gone on. Kiznaiver was one of the best looking shows of 2016, Gridman was one of my top five from last year, and I don’t think I stopped smiling the entire time I watched Space Patrol Luluco.

Now, director Hiroyuki Imaishi and screenwriter Kazuto Nakashima have reunited for a new project, this time a feature-length film. As I am in Japan currently, I took this rare opportunity to see the film in theaters. Because I am not fluent and didn’t pick up on everything, this is not a formal review, but I couldn’t resist taking the time to give my thoughts.

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I Made A Video About Sakuga… Like… A Year Ago

So apparently I never shared a video that I made last year on YouTube. Or maybe I did and it was within another post. Either way, I’m sharing it now. I was taking a culture course to prepare me for my trip to Japan (where I currently am). It was the same course for which I wrote my review of Your Name (which oddly enough, I did share here). The story goes, I was asked to make a video about my host culture. Being a weeb, I decided to make a video about sakuga, as it is something I am deeply passionate about. Check it out below.

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If Dolls Could Speak – Ghost in the Shell: Innocence

Ghost in the Shell (GITS for short), the acclaimed manga by Shirow Masamune, portrays a future Japan after a third and fourth world war that has advanced prosthesis to the point that full-body cyborgs exist. The series has existed in animated form ever since the classic from 1995 by Mamoru Oshii and each new entry has taken a different approach to utilize this world to talk about philosophy and ethics through the lens of a post-singularity world. There is one entry, however, that has been glossed over in the past, but which I believe to be criminally underrated.

This is my unedited essay on Ghost in the Shell: Innocence. This will contain spoilers for the film, so read at your own peril. If you would like the SPOILER-FREE review, click here.

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Imagining My Perfect Anime

The “best” anime of all time is different for everyone. Across all media, in fact, you would be hard pressed to find a unanimously agreed upon “best” thing, outside of the agreements found within one’s own tight-knit group. Even then, there will be differences in taste.

“It’s all subjective,” is the point I’m trying to get across, but perfection doesn’t have to be dismissed in critique just because it’s improbable. If the perfect anime is different for everyone, and no consensus can be reached, then perfection is purely personal taste. It is absent of objective standards of quality and instead panders to the greatest amount of our interests.

I believe most people have not found their perfect movie or TV show, possibly because it doesn’t exist yet. We all have favorites though, so it stands to reason that if I took three of my favorite anime of all time and picked them apart, I could get a sense for what my perfect anime would be. Bear with me, this is going somewhere.

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What the New ‘Ghost in the Shell’ Needs To Accomplish

It was reported back in August that Production I.G. would be going forward with two new seasons of the acclaimed sci-fi series, Ghost in the Shell. Not only that, directors Kenji Kamiyama, previously responsible for the amazing Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and Shinji Aramaki (Appleseed) would be directing one season each.

With this comes excitement but also caution. Ghost in the Shell is one of my favorite series and in my view, the best sci-fi franchises of all time. However, it would be an understatement to say I.G. hasn’t made some missteps recently. This year alone, we got B: The Beginning, a show I enjoyed, but that was terribly marketed and is already obscure. Who could forget the FLCL sequels, the first of which was god awful and the second of which I haven’t finished but have heard was decent.

Having directors like these on the projects gives me hope, no doubt, but I can’t help but worry that this will just be a lifeless cash-in like FLCL Progressive. Especially after Arise, the latest animated entry that was met with mixed reception, and a poorly received live-action film (Oh look, I wrote about that). GITS needs to get back to its roots and this new series might just be the chance for that, but this new story needs to be built on a strong foundation.
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A Review of… Crunchyroll?

To the surprise of no one in this community, Anime is getting big. The movies, the exciting new projects, the growing fandom here in the states and the new players tackling this previously niche market are all very exciting. With this change though comes cynicism, as typical when the cool little clubhouse fandoms start as expand to cover more broad demographics and become something larger.

Subject to this vitriol recently has been Crunchyroll. The former illegal fansub site turned big streaming service has been growing for years, becoming one of the biggest names in Anime here in America. One that is lending a hand to the industry itself. Such growth is impressive and depending on who you talk to, really positive. Talk to the others though, and there is a different story.

Recent controversy mixed with my friends’ opinions regarding the service has given me pause to think critically about this company. Its quality as a streaming platform, it’s relationship with the Anime industry, and it’s own “agenda” (god I hate that word) are all up for discussion. So, as strange as it sounds, here is a review of Crunchyroll.
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