Bungo Stray Dogs
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 28 of
Bungo Stray Dogs (TV 3) ?
It isn't too surprising that Randou was really Arthur Rimbaud if you think about it. Rimbaud, who chiefly wrote prose poetry in a style that eventually lead to the surrealist genre, stopped writing entirely at age twenty-one, which can in this case be seen as a sign of Randou's death at the hands of Chuuya and Dazai; he was also a 19th century author while the other two wrote in the 20th century. Perhaps more significant is the plot of Rimbaud's poem “Le bateau ivre” (“The Drunken Boat”): a boat breaks free of its sailors and assumes that now, without human control, it will be able to do whatever it wants. It realizes, however, that it is still under someone's control; the ocean now directs its movements and it has no free will at all. The poem ends with the vessel yearning to become one with the sea, having come to love its manipulator. While there are many interpretations of this highly symbolic work, in the case of Bungo Stray Dogs, we can read Rimbaud as having come to love his role as Randou even as he continues with his original mission, perhaps unaware that he is now being led about by Mori rather than the French government. When Chuuya officially joins the Port Mafia at the end of the episode, he is given Rimbaud's hat with his true name written on the band – a sign that, like Rimbaud before him, Chuuya is trading one master for another without even realizing it.
All of this works well with themes of breaking free that we've seen in past seasons, or at least the illusion thereof. Dazai freed himself from the Mafia, Atsushi ran away from the orphanage, and more recently Kyoka escaped the Mafia. In all three of those cases, however, they joined the Agency – exchanging the sailors' hands for the ocean's currents. All three of them are arguably more free than Chuuya and possibly Hawthorne, who left the Guild to attach himself to Rats in the House of the Dead. F. Scott Fitzgerald was no great leader, but I suspect that Fyodor Dostoyevsky is going to be far worse, and that Hawthorne's “freedom” is very much an illusion.
This idea is furthered by Ango's epilogue to these three flashback episodes. Ango reaffirms that Chuuya was created as an Ability user rather than born (going back to the illusion of freedom gained by exchanging one master for another), but more importantly lets us know that Rimbaud did not kill his former partner as he told Chuuya and Dazai. Whether he honestly thought that he did, was speaking symbolically (which would make a lot of sense given the author), or was flat-out lying isn't clear, but it definitely opens the door for some interesting connections going forward. While it is possible that Dostoyevsky is the partner in question – and the shared “cold” theme of their character designs supports this notion – it would almost be better if it were some other person entirely. We know that André Gide is an Ability user from the previous flashback, so it could be him, but making it an author who's totally off our current radar would be a much more interesting move. Charles Baudelaire would be a good choice; Rimbaud was directly inspired by his work and he was a translator (into French) of Edgar Allan Poe's works, which gives him a link to both the Guild and the Agency. Clearly we'll have to wait and see, but if Baudelaire shows up, be very suspicious.
And so the stage is set once more with dressings from the past to inform our view of present events. Whether you like the flashback sequences of Bungo Stray Dogs or not, they do a lot to establish the story's world and give the main plot a more firm foundation. The fact that Ango is chronicling all of this is interesting as well – it gives the entire series an air of mis-en-abyme, a literary device which means that a character within the story is writing the story. (Notably this is a phrase coined by Gide.) We could see him as BSD's ultimate Watson figure, but that of course begs the question of what Holmes he is following.
Bungo Stray Dogs is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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