Bungo Stray Dogs
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 36 of
Bungo Stray Dogs (TV 3) ?
Original intentions can often be lost over time, and that certainly appears to be the case in the Yokohama arc of Bungo Stray Dogs. This week reveals (or perhaps reminds) us that the Port Mafia, the governmental department made up of those with Abilities, and the Armed Detective Agency were all founded by the same man, Natsume Soseki, with the goal of protecting Yokohama at all times of day – the government in the day, the Mafia in the night, and the Agency in the twilight times. Over the twelve years since the groups were brought under Soseki's umbrella, however, things have morphed, with each group evolving in their own different ways – and as Mori points out to Fukuzawa, if the head of the Agency dies, he'll be mourned by life will go on. If the head of the Mafia dies, there will be blood and vengeance.
Perhaps such a shift was inevitable. After all, Soseki didn't exactly do anything to ensure that the groups would remain faithful to his plans, and honestly calling one “the Port Mafia” may not have been a smooth move in peacekeeping terms. But then again, maybe he always intended this, because as Naomi notes, he's actually been keeping tabs on everyone all along. Soseki's skill is I Am a Cat, named after real-life Soseki's best-known novel (or at least, one of them), and that's precisely what the skill does: he's been masquerading as Naomi's cat Mii this entire time. Leaving aside the genetic improbability of a male calico cat (calicos and tortoiseshells are exclusively female), this has been a clever way for him to see what's going on in all three of his organizations, and the fact that he's only now interfering in an obvious way (Naomi notes that Mii disappears whenever Yokohama is threatened) says that this is the first time things have really gone awry.
Just how many people actually know what Soseki's Ability is remains unclear. It doesn't seem as if Mori knew, but Dazai almost certainly did, and I would wager that Fukuzawa was aware as well. Secrecy would be important here, because part of what's made Soseki's ploy work is the fact that cats are by reputation quiet and unobtrusive (no one told my cat Carmine any of this), and so a random feline at any given place in the city is unlikely to attract undue attention. Revealing himself during Mori and Fukuzawa's fight is basically the equivalent of Mom coming in on a play session that's gotten a little carried away and telling everyone to knock it off.
How this will work against Fyodor is at the moment uncertain. He and his totally-not-Pushkin friend are holed up in the world's most elegant shipping container, and although Soseki and a very much alive Katai have been successfully directing Dazai, Kunikida, Atsushi, and a semi-reluctant Akutakawa to the old coal mine (possibly a reference to Dostoyevsky's time served in a Siberian prison camp where he performed hard labor) that seems to be his headquarters, success is far from assured. The entire fight is basically a reference to Soseki's unfinished novel Light and Darkness, not in the plot but rather in terms of the title – because that's what the forces at play represent.
Meanwhile, we finally get to meet the real Alexander Pushkin. Counter to what we were lead to expect from previous episodes and the fact that Pushkin was both a Romantic poet and the founder of modern Russian literature, the real guy is a thuggish lout hiding in plain sight: he's masquerading as a guard in the tunnels of the mine. His appearance, although anti-Byronic, is a decent modern interpretation of the rebelliousness of some of the Romantics (and Pushkin did study British literature and would have been familiar with Byron, Coleridge, and the rest), and the name of his skill, A Feast in Time of Plague, is another signifier of rebellion: it comes from Pushkin's 1830 play of the same name, in which a character cheekily toasts Death with a line that basically means “Bring it.”
At this point in the story, it feels like things could go in anyone's favor. Akutagawa has been hit with Pushkin's Ability, but Dazai's out of the hospital. Katai's alive, but now that Atsushi is pursuing Pushkin, actually using him to get to Fyodor seems less certain. Rats, after all, are substantially more difficult for housecats to kill than mice.
Bungo Stray Dogs is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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