Bungo Stray Dogs
Episode 21

by Rebecca Silverman,

How would you rate episode 21 of
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Mori Ougai is a bit of an anomaly in the world of Bungo Stray Dogs. Yes, he was an author (who interestingly enough held tanka parties with Akiko Yosano, his enemy in the show so far), but he was also a military man and a doctor, rising high in the ranks of the Japanese Imperial Army before his appointment to the head of the Imperial Museum in 1916. His literary work was also much more varied in tone and style than a lot of the other authors represented in the show – along with his erotic novel Vita Sexualis, he also wrote The Wild Geese, praised for its sympathetic view of women's issues, and translated literary fairy tales, such as the works of Hans Christian Andersen. All of this begins to become clear in this week's episode of the show, as Atsushi's proposal to team up with the Port Mafia leads to a meeting with the Agency. At first Mori seems to utterly reject the idea, but a flashback of him killing the previous head of the Mafia gives us a hint that he's much more of a strategist than he appears at first – the former leader was in the grips of some form of dementia, and Mori took him out to stop his increasingly insane orders, a consciously strategic move to save the organization. Why would the man who did that, and then never cleaned the bloodstains from the walls afterwards, presumably as a ghoulish reminder of his past sin, refuse an alliance that could only benefit his group?

The short answer is that he wouldn't, and ultimately his refusal proves to be only for show. Not only does he recognize that neither the Agency nor the Mafia alone stands a chance of taking down F. Scott Fitzgerald's merry band of gifted lunatics, but he also sees an opportunity to renew his ties to Dazai, who he hopes to entice back into the Mafia fold. To this end, Mori sends one of Dazai's old partners, Chuuya Nakahara, to aid Dazai in the effort to rescue Q. Of course, thanks to dear old Louisa May Alcott, Lovecraft and John Steinbeck are already waiting for them. (Not that Louisa managed to predict that the two Japanese groups would team up.)

Louisa and Lovecraft are two of the more objectionably portrayed authors, in my opinion. I'm not entirely sure how the author of Little Women, the book from which Louisa takes her powers, ended up so shy, since that's not a trait that any of the March sisters really have, and her prediction/strategy gift appears to be a reference to Jo March's writing. In fact, Louisa is far more timid than any Alcott heroine, even An Old-Fashioned Girl's Polly, and Alcott herself was known for having been highly independent. Hopefully this will be addressed later, as Lovecraft was this week – as it turns out, he's not so much “gifted” as “actually Cthulhu.” In a way, this feels like a cop-out for one of the fathers of literary horror – yes, he's primarily known for one particular thing, but surely a bit more effort could have been made to incorporate aspects of the man himself, as we have seen in other characters like Dazai, Mori, and Kyouko & Kouyou.

Fortunately, this is the only serious issue with the episode's cast of characters. The team-up between Dazai and Chuuya is really something, and the revelation of Chuuya's true power once the gloves come off, along with seeing how Dazai always thinks several steps ahead, makes Lovecraft's takedown worth it. It's interesting that while the Mafia may still be looking backward to the good old days when Dazai was one of them, the man himself has completely moved on and has no regrets at all. While the fight resolves more humorous than anything, it makes the final image of the ending theme all the more symbolic: Dazai is now looking toward the light.

More importantly, at least for this literary nerd, apparently Edgar Allen Poe and Edogawa Ranpo are going to fight next week! I haven't been this excited since Captain Hook fought Captain Nemo on Once Upon a Time. I hope it can live up to my fevered imaginings.

Rating: B+

Bungo Stray Dogs is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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