Bungo Stray Dogs
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 31 of
Bungo Stray Dogs (TV 3) ?
Little as I enjoy Atsushi's Sad Orphan Flashbacks, I think that the second half of this episode would have benefited from a deeper exploration of them. Actually, this story deserved an entire episode to itself, and much as I liked the sillier first half (well, silly to a point), the lack of attention given to the revelation that the orchestrator of Atsushi's childhood trauma had died really dragged the episode down. It also isn't fair to Atsushi as a character – he's so shaped by what happened to him at the orphanage that he ought to have the full half-hour to process the fact that it's truly over now, which will leave him with conflicting emotions.
Ultimately this is a failure of adaptation, because the source material for this half-episode in volume ten of the manga does an excellent job specifically with those conflicting emotions. As Dazai points out, that man was the only father Atsushi had ever known, and he's going to have issues processing the resulting loss, even if the man abused him horrifically. The fact that the director at one point told Atsushi that the abuse (like nailing his feet to the floor) was for his own good and Atsushi would eventually “hate [him], not yourself” really speaks to the tormented relationship between the two. It implies that what the director did was out of love. Like a proud father, he was coming to congratulate Atsushi on his recent triumph over the Guild further, indicating that the man thinks he did nothing wrong. More troubling is the seeming implication that Atsushi should excuse some of the abuse he endured because of this – Dazai's words that most people cry when their fathers die might be interpreted this way.
On the other hand, we can instead read it as Dazai acknowledging Atsushi's conflicted feelings about this loss. His tears can be seen not so much coming from sadness as relief, and that's what the anime doesn't do a particularly great job showing us. In part this is simply because of a small artistic change, but it's also because the time allotted to the story is too short to allow an exploration of Atsushi's feelings. We're also shortchanged on the Rampo front, although that's less an adaptation issue – it's clear that Rampo had already solved the case when he handed the file to Atsushi, but we don't know entirely what his motivation was in doing so. Perhaps he simply wanted to give the younger man the chance to work things out firsthand rather than hearing about it from someone else. Or maybe he really was just being lazy – it's kind of hard to tell with Rampo.
In any event, the pairing of these two separate stories does make sense. As Atsushi grapples with the death of his abusive father-figure, Kyouka learns from her own not-so-awesome mentor (albeit without realizing it) that she is not responsible for the deaths of her parents and should absolve herself. It's an opposite revelation, but one that still speaks to the ways that stories can outpace truths, and that emotions surrounding families are seldom easy to work out. This is a theme that should continue into another storyline (although not perhaps next week), and it also serves Lucy, who like Atsushi and Kyouka has a difficult past as an orphan.
That Lucy's going to be sticking around feels like a given right now, and not just because she's living and working at the café frequented by the Agency. She and Atsushi do have a sort-of friendship and there's potential for a love triangle between them and Kyouka (or rather, between Lucy and Kyouka for Atsushi), which could be an interesting element to introduce to a story that's largely been devoid of romance. She's also good for comedy – even if we all saw the naked thing coming, it was still worth it for Kyouka just walking past nude Atsushi floating face-down in the harbor.
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