Bungo Stray Dogs
Episode 23

by Rebecca Silverman,

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It's easy to forget that older authors wrote more than just their most famous novels. While some, like Atsushi Nakajima, died before producing a lot of work, others like Louisa May Alcott and F. Scott Fitzgerald were more than just Little Women and The Great Gatsby, something that comes into play in this week's episode of Bungo Stray Dogs. Alcott's power, which is confirmed to be precognition based on whatever information she has at hand, feels much more like a tribute to her work in Gothic fiction (published under a pseudonym), while Fitzgerald appears to owe more to This Side of Paradise. Granted, a lot of Fitzgerald's work dealt with the same basic themes, but it is the final line of his 1920 novel, “I know myself, but that is all,” that really sums up his character interactions this week.

Although Dazai and Kyouka both put in token appearances, it's really all about Atsushi, Akutagawa, and Fitzgerald this time. These three are among the last people on the good ship Moby Dick, as she begins her final voyage to destroy Yokohama. While Atsushi is there to make sure that never happens, Akutagawa seems to be onboard just to take out Atsushi. Fitzgerald, meanwhile, just wants to make sure that his plans go through. Like many a Fitzgerald character, his goal is simultaneously self-serving and in service of impressing a woman. His beloved wife Zelda went insane after the death of their daughter Scottie (who in real life outlived her parents), and Fitzgerald wants to get his hands on a book that could bring her back to life. He doesn't care how many lives he destroys in the pursuit of this goal, and he has no problem with warping the Guild to his needs either – ultimately his thinking is that because he wants it, it must be good.

This stands in direct opposition to both Akutagawa and Atsushi, both of whom grapple with issues of self-worth. For Akutagawa, everything is about winning Dazai's approval. He feels betrayed by Dazai's defection, so blinded by his own needs that he can't understand how Oda's death could have taken his mentor away from him. He believes in his own worth and value, but he has an almost pathological need to make Dazai acknowledge them as well. Meanwhile, Atsushi doesn't feel that he has the right to exist because of his past trauma. As Akutagawa puts it, he wants some nebulous entity to sign a form granting him the right to live, which actually isn't that far off from what Akutagawa wants from Dazai. What's particularly interesting is that Fitzgerald sees himself as that entity, entitled to grant or take away a person's permission to exist.

At this point, it's uncertain if any of the characters beyond Dazai truly know themselves. Dazai's the only one who appears to have the quiet confidence to help others find their way, something he appears to have inherited from Oda, but that was likely one of his qualities all along. He used it to save both Akutagawa and Atsushi, and now he's trying to help Kyouka to see that she has more than just bloody hands to offer. You get the feeling that this has been a long road for Dazai, but now that he's lost Oda, it's one he can't bring himself to leave, no matter how much he appears to want to kill himself. (As a side note, I'm so glad the suicide “humor” has largely left the series.) He's well aware of the power he has over Akutagawa and Atsushi, and he does use that to further his goals in a way that's reminiscent of Fitzgerald, but his motives don't appear to be selfish. He's just trying to fulfill what he sees as Oda's legacy, where Fitzgerald only seeks to secure his own.

Most of this episode is getting Akutagawa and Atsushi to the point where they're ready to join forces and fight, as the opening theme has been foreshadowing for most of the series. They do get there via an uneasy truce and a mutual disgust of Fitzgerald, with Atsushi showing what he's learned when he manipulates Akutagawa by reminding him that if Moby Dick goes down, Dazai's dead too. The big fight will happen next week, hopefully with Kyouka's help as well, since Dazai's really working the pep talk on her. Will it end with a joint victory for the Agency and the Port Mafia, or will they both end up face down in the swimming pool? It depends on whether or not Atsushi and Akutagawa can come to understand themselves and what they really want.

Rating: B

Bungo Stray Dogs is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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