Reviewby Lynzee Loveridge,
Bungo Stray Dogs: Dead Apple
Atsushi and the Armed Detective Agency have saved Yokohama not once, but twice from the machinations of The Guild. The city has barely recovered when a remnant of Dazai's past, a Gifted named Tatsuhiko Shibusawa, reappears in the midst of a supernatural fog. The Gifted of Yokohama find their powers materializing into incarnations that run amok in the city, killing whoever crosses their path. Meanwhile, Dazai appears to have sided with Shibusawa, and another ominous figure resurfaces to make the most of this chaos.
Homeowners insurance in Yokohama must be exorbitant, because it seems like the place is always on the brink of caving in on itself. In the series' last installment, it was killer mind-controlling trees and the threat of a giant whale ship exploding over the cityscape. This time a green fog wafts through the streets, sapping special abilities from their owners and giving them physical form, and none of these materialized phenomena want to be friends. Despite the wide scope of Yokohama's latest disaster, Bungo Stray Dogs: Dead Apple hones in on the key players of its ever-expanding cast and focuses on their personal motivations and weaknesses, resulting in an emotionally satisfying film.
Like earlier seasons, Dead Apple does have an overarching conspiracy central to its story, but it's all too convoluted with evanescent connective tissue at best. Two new foes are introduced, Tatsuhiko Shibusawa and Fyodor D., but their individual personalities aren't laid out to the audience, at least not enough to justify their actions outside of just being villains, both intelligent but one more pointedly twisted and another who simply enjoys sowing chaos. Dazai's own motivation for teaming up with them, mainly to betray Shibusawa and destroy his enormous collection of Gifted skills, seems incredibly flimsy given the stakes. All three are prepared to be betrayed at any time, only working together tenuously in the hopes of outsmarting the others and achieving their own ends. Shibusawa hopes to regain what he's “missing” and Fyodor, using some rather elaborate in-universe rules for how Gifted powers work, just wants to watch everything go “boom.”
If the villains are the film's weakest point, Atsushi's journey is its strength. The previous two seasons established that he still suffers mentally and emotionally from the abuse he experienced while in an orphanage. He has since struggled to believe he has the right to live much less any place to belong, after the adults in his life abandoned him and reinforced a negative view of himself. In moments of crisis, these feelings well up again, and Atsushi is only able to reconcile them by willingly sacrificing himself for others. Dead Apple opens the door (literally) on the extent of Atsushi's abuse and a deep guilt he's carried from one of the few times he lashed out. Atsushi's central conflict becomes accepting what he did, acknowledging his right to fight back, and accepting that part of himself that has always existed inside him. Watching Atsushi grow to ultimately reach this point by the film's end was satisfying, even if some of the plot technicalities surrounding the journey were hardly smooth. Atsushi's backstory ties into one of the film's villains and manages to only be a little tainted by another big leap of logic the film tries to sell the audience about the pair's preexisting relationship.
Kyouka also gets a chance to shine in this film, and her conflict with Demon Snow mirrors Atsushi's own. I wasn't immediately sold on Kyouka when she joined the series' cast. She seemed to be little more than a demure girl to play partner to Atsushi, but Dead Apple allows her to play opposite him and establish herself as a character with her own moral compass that can differ from his. Akutagawa also finally finds some honesty within himself about his need for acceptance from his former mentor. If I had to say there was one major underlying theme within Stray Apple, it's accepting the less desirable aspects of oneself.
Of course, this wouldn't be the Armed Detective Agency without some high-flying battles where characters smash abilities against one another, so it's got plenty of that. It's actually pretty amazing that all the aforementioned emotional development manages to happen during this extended Gifted Battle Royale. Highlights include Atsushi taking a boulder with Demon Snow's broken sword lodged in it and shoving it down the throat of his newly independent tiger power to regain control of his ability. That sequence and any battle where Akutagawa gets to show off Rashomon are exciting treats that stand out in the overall spectacle.
On a technical front, let's just say viewing this film in a convention setting is not ideal. Crunchyroll will be screening this film next month in select theaters, and I doubt those showings will suffer from the same issues that happened at Sakura-Con. The audio was pretty much out of control, so listening to the film was not a pleasant experience. The bass and voice track were so loud that fight sequences, car chases, and any time a character merely raised their voice were physically painful. The loud hum of the bass, even at quieter moments, ruined most of the film's music. An encode mix-up also caused the film to start late, played for approximately 10 minutes without subtitles, and cutting off during the end credit dialogue. I was able to grasp the film's plot and enjoy it despite this, and plenty of excited fans in the audience seemed to as well. (However, these technical problems are reflected in the unassigned grade for music in this review.)
Bungo Stray Dogs: Dead Apple is a great example of what can happen when a series with a larger cast takes the time to find what makes its primary players essential. I'm actually more stoked to see a potential third season because of the character growth shown in this film. The end of the second season left me a little cold, but I feel much warmer toward Atsushi, Kyouka, and Akutagawa now, even if the film's villains were somewhat rote.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : N/A
+ Satisfying emotional journey for the anime's main cast, action-packed fight scenes, Atsushi's reveal packs a wallop
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