Episode 24 - "If I May Shed Away My Burden Now"
Now this was a great final episode. It had action, an ebb and flow between victory and loss, an instance of sacrifice in the service of redemption and then a happy, satisfying ending with a hint of larger, or at least different, things to come. The story of Bungou Stray Dogs isn't over, just this first volume.
But let's deal with this episode first. Everything in it was an elaborate chess gambit set up by Ranpo and Dazai to get their pieces where they needed to be and do what they had to do. Except nobody knew it except Dazai and Ranpo.
The whole plan centered on Dazai forging a new fighting duo that was better than his old Double Black team of himself and Chuuya. The inside-outside game of Atsushi's and Akutagawa's powers working together had to be better to drain Francis of all his money so his powers gave out.
We already knew the team was complete when they also started on their comedic relationship.
Akutagawa is obviously going to take on the Doppo straight man role. He just can't make silly faces like Atsushi and Dazai. Doppo's silly faces are only to show his frustration. He's really good at it, but he's never going to be silly on his own prerogative.
How scary is Dazai and Ranpo to stick in an Agency entrance exam for Kyouka so she could counter the expected interference of the bad guy manipulating all three gifted agencies. I mean, dayum, they knew Dostoyevsky (his power is Crime and Punishment, of course) was already lurking in the background. He's probably the one who put the bounty on Atsushi! Well, the manga has those details since the story is ongoing.
Kyouka needed to pass that exam because it's how Fukuzawa's power works. We've never seen it invoked, but his All Men Are Created Equal gift works by controlling the output of his subordinates' powers. It seemed a little ret-conned in to explain how Atsushi is able to control his Tiger power now, because even in the first episode, he showed his partial transformation. I suppose that can be explained away that he did those transformations unconsciously but now he can choose to invoke them.
Because Kyouka passed the "saving a stranger's life" test, that let Fukuzawa allow Kyouka to use her full power beyond the suppression the Military Police had used to confine her on that C-130. The details on all that aren't really clear, but the point is she became an Armed Detective and successfully escaped.
Poor Akutagawa. He got his wish of Dazai acknowledging his strength to his face and it was just too much for him. What a day. What a day!
It really was a final episode, because almost everybody, from the Guild to the Port Mafia to the Agency got their epilogue scenes. I liked how Herman Melville's White Whale power was never really that huge ship. He only controlled it through the spirit of the Moby Dick. Should be a useful thing to take over large sailing vessels and what-not. I wonder if that's how he got his start: as a pirate who eventually became the head of the Guild.
So, nobody knows what Lovecraft is. He's just an Old One who would like to go back to sleep.
Kouyou tried to flirt with Ougai, but the Port Mafia Boss said he only deals with kids under 12 years old. Ha! and Ick!
Party time! Because everything had been under the time compression of war after the prequel interlude, we just didn't have prolonged funny stuff. The final episode gave us a good dose of how the Agency characters deal with each other in more relaxed moments. It was a great callback to the first half of the series when we were introduced to everyone.
Huh? Ranpo brought Edgar Allen Poe into the Agency? I'm sure he'll get an entrance exam soon enough too. I suppose Karl is going to be a fixture too. I thought Atsushi was going to be the pet cat in the office...
Tanuzaki sure is protective of his sister, in as creepy a way as she is attached to him!
Of course, we couldn't end the show without some kind of hint at a change in Atsushi's and Akutagawa's relationship. Adversarial? Competitive? Collegial? All three at the same time? Probably that last one. Akutagawa's issues with Dazai are over, but he still has that rivalry he developed with Atsushi over Dazai's attentions. Having both Beasts Beneath the Moonlight is good coda to show the story is over, but only for now.
The hook for a story where all the main characters are literary figures with powers based on the themes and titles of their works was always going to be interesting for people who paid attention in class. It made it fun to see how the characters would incorporate parts of the real authors' lives and books and poems.
Because the show was so character driven, with an obvious hook that wasn't obvious to the world in the story, these characters had to have a way to show off these literary quirks. This was done through gag humor! I couldn't believe how funny these people were from the very first scene where Atsushi met a suicidal Dazai. The mix of super powered action and gag comedy reaction faces worked so well for this show.
For humor to work, there has to be an emotional depth too for contrast and to mine for material. The main sources of conflict differed for each character, but the main ones, because the audience's avatar was the newbie Atsushi, were fitting in somewhere, becoming a family and forgiveness of one's past. Having the setting as a war between a detective agency and two criminal gangs made it pretty easy to have characters with shady pasts full of regret and loneliness. With all that grittiness baked into the world, the humor really stood out and worked well.
Because this is a Japanese show, the authors were mainly Japanese, but the introduction of the Guild as the new bad guys showed the consistency of the premise. I found it much easier to look for the literary hooks in the American and Canadian writers since I had read them already. Feeling those little pangs of realization gave me clues to how a Japanese audience would have received a characters based on their literary canon. As it was, I couldn't complain when we had the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret Mitchell, H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott and Lucy Maud Montgomery. Now imagine the Japanese equivalents whose literary prizes are named after them and they appear on their money. It's a big deal for literature nerds.
If you like crime and action and the themes of loyalty, revenge and redemption that go with that genre, you'll like this show. If you like super powers and strategic planning, you'll like this show. If you like gag humor, you'll like this show. I like all those things, so I had a good time all the way through.