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.
Save for a rant-filled, canceled post from this past summer, I have never formally written on the topic of My Hero Academia. That might seem sacrilegious given my prior reputation as a Studio Bones devotee, but it never felt like there was anything to be said that hadn’t already been said.
It’s a super fun show given greater clout by its colorful cast and a uniquely relatable protagonist who goes through quite a lot of punishment to become the hero he wants to be. It has also been well-produced, taking year-long breaks in-between seasons to ensure a sustainable level of quality between arcs.
After a somewhat underwhelming third season (to me at least), the fourth season has been stellar so far, and high on hype from the last arc, I think everyone had high expectations for the new film, Heroes Rising. And to make a great year even better, those expectations were most certainly met.
It says a lot when I can fall in love with a director after just one of their works. Rie Matsumoto stole mine and many others’ hearts after season one of Blood Blockade Battlefront. While at times her chaotic direction could produce scenes difficult to parse, I defend that she has a way of conducting a narrative unforgettably.
I’d always heard that there was one other show that she directed but I never got around to watching it. One day while walking through a movie store, I found a copy of a series that immediately caught my eye. Something about the art and its dynamic composition spoke to me and I thought it looked familiar. Sure enough, when I looked it up on my phone, there she was.
Kyousougiga, a Toho Animation series directed by Rie Matsumoto. Just recently I took the time to dive into it and get a sense of what an original work of hers looks like. Additionally, today I want to look at Matsumoto’s career past and present to get a better sense of her style and where she comes from.
I have tried to watch Soul Eater on four different occasions and the farthest I’ve gotten is episode four. When I tell my friends this, they are surprised (for good reason). I have long been a huge fan of the works of Studio Bones, with two of my three favorite shows of all time having been made by them. I’m also a huge fan of sakuga and consider it to be one of the coolest things about watching anime. Most importantly, Takuya Igarashi is one of my favorite directors of all time.
That I was unable to get into a show applicable to all three above qualities is entirely explainable but still a head-scratcher. Especially if you’ve read any of my posts on Studio Bones in the past, it seems like a show I would love. The short of it was that the writing and characters did nothing to draw me into the show and I was somewhat bored.
But when I saw the trailers for David Production’s adaptation of Fire Force – another work from Soul Eater author Atsushi Okubo – I got excited. The artwork and music conveyed a darker tone and got me thinking that a different kind of story by the same creator might be more to my liking. Hell, it already looked like a show by Bones anyway and David Productions has been growing steadily thanks to stuff like Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Fire Force quickly became my most anticipated show of the summer.
Now, as Fire Force‘s first season nears the midway point, I’m left a little underwhelmed. How did such a promising show fail to meet my expectations? More importantly, is it good enough to continue watching?
For a series that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to my friends, the first season of Bungo has a few more problems upon second glance. This happens a lot with good shows I feel. There is a first season that catches your attention with some elusive quality you can’t quite put your finger on. Next up, the sequels build on the formula, turning the show into something even grander than you first envisioned.
The real tricky part is getting people into it without over-hyping it purely on the grounds of how good it gets later on. I’m sure if I kept watching Breaking Bad season four I would love it, but I don’t wanna watch Skylar try to buy a God damn car wash for half a season. Where was I? Oh yeah, allow me to start by giving you an honest look at this show’s humble beginnings.
In my review of season one, I praised how ONE manages to make overpowered characters likable and their stories tense through sheer emotion. This story about self-betterment and the discussion permeating the spectacle made battles ones of ideology in addition to super-powered flair. With a sequel, how does one continue this discussion without becoming repetitive?
Sequels can often succumb to a temptation to be like their predecessors, but bigger and better. Doing something different, even radically so, can be remembered better, but it is far more risky. That being said, you don’t have to be radical in order to make the sequel interesting in new ways. Sometimes it simply requires a change in focus.
In American superhero culture there is an often annoying discussion about power-level in regards to fictional characters. The logic of any shonen action series or superhero story steeped in thematic morals is that the hero with the strongest will and heart wins specifically because of those components.
Yet still people will get all up in arms, partly because suspension of disbelief is often integral to the balance needed to keep audiences entertained. The other reason is that characters who are overpowered are often criticised because their power seems unearned, their victories seem illogical, or that there is no tension. It is the same reason why Superman is such a divisive character.
Funnily enough, the works of manga artist ONE seem to avoid these issues in discussion surrounding the works. It could be because the very nature of characters being overpowered are the point of the story like in One Punch Man, but there is more to it than that. After finally watching Mob Psycho 100, it is apparent that ONE’s talent comes from his ability to tackle complex themes and to produce tension and stakes through character drama rather than simply through the power levels of the characters.
Now that I have finally watched it, One thing is for sure, and it is that I am even more angry that Mob Psycho 100 did not win best animation back in 2016.
Some months back I went on a whole tirade about finding my “perfect” anime and ended up determining my three favorite shows of all time. One of them was Kekkai Sensen, an episodic action series by Studio Bones, which remains to be the closest to perfection I have found. However, when making that decision, I had a significantly difficult time picking between that and one other show: Bungo Stray Dogs.
Bungo Stray Dogs follows the Armed Detective Agency, a group of superhuman detectives who keep order in the port city of Yokohama. Meanwhile, they frequently face off against other supernatural organizations such as the aptly named Port Mafia. All major characters are named and based on real literary authors.
They are somewhat similar in premise. Both shows follow a team of sometimes serious, sometimes whacky superhumans keeping the peace in their respective towns. Kekkai Sensen captures the packed insanity of New York City while throwing in aliens and monsters. Bungo favors a more comparably peaceful and modern Yokohama. Both shows are episodic with a through-line narrative, both straddle the line between dramatic and comedic and they are both produced by Bones.
Eventually, it was no contest that Kekkai Sensen won the battle for being a bit more put-together throughout, whereas BSD was mixed in the first season. It helps that the former has the single greatest season finale I’ve ever witnessed, putting at least the first season comfortably among my top three.
That being said, Bungo Stray Dogs rides much the same line that Kekkai Sensen treads in winning over my heart and could easily make my top 10. It has managed to continue strong, with a feature film and a currently-airing third season. Six episodes in, it doesn’t seem to be losing stride.
Towa no Quon’s upwards trajectory in quality is not a perfect one. It was marred in its beginnings by mediocre storytelling and inconsistent animation quality. It only won me over when it began to truly… well… begin.
But what a pair of sequels three and four were. The main cast shined as a team, Quon became more compelling and Epsilon stole the show in some surprising ways. One cliffhanger later, and it was time to see if Towa no Quon could stick the landing with its last two entries.
After the first two films left me unimpressed, I went into the subsequent entries with lowered expectations, yet an open mind. After all, the drought of trailers available for the series didn’t really give me much to build an idea of what awaited me. I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t see the potential for the series to save itself. Sure enough, the third film, The Complicity of Dreams, was the first truly great entry in the series.