Bungo Stray Dogs
Episode 17

by Rebecca Silverman,

How would you rate episode 17 of
Bungo Stray Dogs 2 ?

The problem with starting the main story of Bungo Stray Dogs's second season at episode seventeen (five of the new season) is that we have to go back to the beginning in terms of storytelling and setup. With Oda's death marking the conclusion of the past story arc, we return to the present, where the Guild, a group of Gifted American and Canadian authors, is making its presence known in Japan and further complicating relations between the Armed Detective Agency and the Port Mafia. But first we have to get back to Atsushi helping Kyouka settle in, remind viewers that Kyouka's gift was responsible for the death of her parents, and reintroduce the antagonism between the three separate agencies. While this whole thing is 100% orphanage flashback-free, it also marks a return to the first season's stumbling attempts at humor – we open with Naomi and Junichiro Tanizaki having breakfast, which is ostensibly to reintroduce the idea of Kyouka's tragic past, but it also indulges in Naomi's excessive love for her brother. Later stabs at being funny involving Kyouka's unique problem-solving skills (tasing the guy who hired you is rarely a good plan) work better, but it all still feels like an abrupt tonal shift from the previous four episodes.

What's more interesting, apart from imagery in the opening and ending themes that suggests a personal showdown between Atsushi and Akutagawa, possibly as a parallel to the Oda/Gide storyline, is the introduction of a new Port Mafia player. It seems Kyouka is not the only woman to have a demon as a Gift – Ozaki Kouyou is one of the Mafia's top executives, and she has a Golden Demon who does her bidding. Even more fascinating is that both women were the female pen names of male authors – Ozaki Kouyou was Ozaki Tokutaro, a Meiji-era author who, like most of the others in the show, died young. He was also Izumi Kyouka's teacher, and Izumi's style is said to be very similar to Ozaki's. In the show, it's clear that Kouyou feels responsible for Kyouka, somewhere between a mother and a mentor, and she's concerned that Kyouka will be blinded by the “light” of goodness after so long spent in the dark. She calls the two of them “flowers that bloom in the dark,” seeming to indicate that they lack the stamina or ability to flourish in the light, which has the unfortunate side effect of making me picture these lovely things, which grow in shadowy parts of the woods and are kind of creepy to stumble upon. In some ways, that suits Kouyou's image well; while her concern is beautiful and touching, her reasons are more than a little unsettling. As to the idea of both characters being based on male authors with female pseudonyms and both possessing demons as gifts (Ozaki's best-known story, The Usurer, can also be translated as The Golden Demon, which adds a layer of meaning), that's also worth considering, although we don't know enough about Kouyou as a character yet to come up with a solid interpretation.

Other new characters are introduced this week on the Guild side as well: John Steinbeck, H.P. Lovecraft, and a few who remain currently unnamed. (If one of them isn't Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind, I'll be shocked.) Mention is made of Edgar Allen Poe and Louisa May Alcott, but apparently they're staying behind in America, which is a shame, because what literary geek wouldn't want to see a Lovecraft/Poe team-up against Akutagawa? Neither new character does nearly as much as Kouyou, although Steinbeck looks to be close with F. Scott Fitzgerald, which could put him in a similar position to Atsushi and Akutagawa.

At the end of the day, this episode is a lot of setup designed to ease us back into the main story. It's a definite let down after the previous story arc, but this does have the potential to recreate a lot of what was good about the Oda storyline: once again we have three competing agencies, Kyouka who could play the Ango role in her association with (thus far) two of the three, and Dazai's lingering regrets over the loss of his friends to fuel things. If it does successfully take this route, it will be interesting to watch for parallels. If it doesn't, at least we'll always have those four episodes to look back on, as a memory of what Bungo Stray Dogs could have been.

Rating: C+

Bungo Stray Dogs is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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