Bungo Stray Dogs
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 16 of
Bungo Stray Dogs 2 ?
This episode of Bungo Stray Dogs appeared quite suddenly this weekend, rather than waiting for its usual Wednesday simulcast. (Will episode seventeen appear on Wednesday anyway?) Its contents were much as I both expected and dreaded, delivering the conclusion of the prequel story arc and bringing things full circle with Dazai leaving the Port Mafia and joining the Armed Detective Agency, while also drawing parallels between the fall of Mimic and the upcoming fight against the Guild. It's more bitter than sweet, although there is an element of the latter in the final conversation between Oda and Dazai, with perhaps the best descriptor for the arc's conclusion being “Shakespearean.”
That's actually very appropriate, given the reveal of the mysterious man who told Oda to become a writer. He's Natsume Souseki, one of the most revered authors in Japanese literature – and a scholar of Shakespeare during his time in England. It feels very fitting that he's been driving Oda's plot from behind the scenes, as the story careens towards tragedy and the flavor of several Shakespeare plays add interesting notes to the episode. It opens with Oda saying goodnight to all of the orphans killed by Gide and Mimic, an echo of the “Good-night, sweet prince” line from Hamlet, which is particularly appropriate when you consider the ending scene between Dazai and Oda: “Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince; and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” Oda's noble heart is indeed breaking as he bids goodnight to each of the murdered children, and when Dazai listens to Oda in his final moments, his own heart breaks at taking in Oda's words. I mentioned before that I thought that Dazai's interest in Atsushi was largely spawned by Oda's orphans even though he had previously taken in Akutagawa; now that seems certain in the care he gives Atsushi – he gave Akutagawa a place to be, but he's more invested in giving Atsushi a place to belong.
The final battle between Gide and Oda is strangely balletic, and the episode in general is supported by strong background music, including two insert songs with vocals. Both add to the air of suspended reality that Oda's finale exudes – even as we know where this is headed, there's a distinct feeling that maybe it isn't really happening. This once again takes on a Shakespearean note in the idea of two opposing yet noble souls fighting to the death, but it also echoes Gide's novel La porte étroite (translated as Strait is the Gate,) a story about the impossible loves between three people. Gide, Dazai, and Oda are all engaged in (nonromantic) unrequited loves, Gide's with his lost honor and death, Dazai with death itself, and Oda with life. Of the three, only Gide is ultimately able to reach his love, being killed by Oda; Oda dies without becoming a writer and Dazai is guided to a path that will keep him alive as well as facilitating the lives of others. Dazai tells Oda that he joined the Port Mafia in order to form better ties with what it means to live through exposure to death.
While that's very much in keeping with the real-life Osamu Dazai's work, it also speaks to the emptiness of his soul in this fictional incarnation. When Oda tells him that this emptiness will never be filled, so he might as well help people rather than hurt them, he offers an imperfect solution. Dazai takes it nonetheless – and we can easily see the symbolism of Oda pulling off the bandages over Dazai's eye as he dies: Oda opens Dazai's worldview to something new. It's a powerful moment in the show, also echoed by many literary works – it could be Horatio and Hamlet, but it could also be Juliette and Jérȏme in La porte étroite. It also has elements of Souseki's novel The Gate, the third in a trilogy of works about self-realization and knowledge that was published only one year before Gide's book. (The similarities in the titles are interesting to note.) Could this be the book young Oda was looking for that Souseki gave him? It seems possible, and the idea of a “gate” between life and death or between major moments and decisions in life works with this episode.
Bungo Stray Dogs does try to ease us back into the main story – Oda runs into Edogawa Ranpo on his way to his showdown with Gide, and the strange relationship between the government, the Port Mafia, and Mimic foretells the Guild plotline. Still, we'll go back into it knowing more about Dazai and why he tries so hard to find his own death, about the hold the Port Mafia has on the town, and about how the story is likely to continue using the authors it has cast as its characters. Real-life Dazai blamed the literary establishment for Oda's death; show Dazai has grounds to blame the Port Mafia for it in much the same way. Natsume Souseki, real-life and in-show writer, has cast his spell over at least one character. Why was he preserved as a writer when all the others have been made into something different, and will he return? I feel like in the end, the show may have something to say about the power of words, but for now we have to bid good-night to Odasaku as we return to the present and hope that he has sweet dreams in the long night ahead.
Bungo Stray Dogs is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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