Manga Review: Bungo Stray Dogs 01 Story by Kafka Asagiri, Art by Sango Harukawa
Atsushi Nakajima has had a rough life growing up in an abusive orphanage. When the orphanage was attacked by a tiger that wrecked the place, the people who ran the home decided that Atsushi was somehow responsible and kicked him out. Since then the boy has wandered cross-country towards Tokyo, the mysterious tiger following him. Starving and at the end of his rope, Atsushi decides to rob the next person he sees. But as fate would have it, he winds up saving that person from drowning instead.
This man, Osamu Dazai, is less than grateful. He was attempting to commit suicide, which puzzles Atsushi and enrages Dazai’s colleague Kunikida. The men belong to the Armed Detective Agency, a group that uses unusual abilities to solve crimes. Right now, they’ve been hired to track down a certain tiger. Atsushi panics, but is strongarmed into being bait for the beast.
As you might have suspected, Atsushi is himself the tiger, who emerges under the moon. His special ability “Beast Beneath the Moonlight” was unknown to him, but now that he knows the truth, the Armed Detective Agency takes in the orphan to help them while learning to control his ability.
The gimmick of this seinen (young men’s) series based on the light novel series by the same author is that the major characters are all named after literary figures, and their special abilities after one of their famous works. For example, Osamu Dazai’s ability, “No Longer Human” is named after that author’s last published novel, and allows him to turn off other special abilities (usually.) In this early volume, it’s all Japanese literature that would be familiar to high schoolers in that country, but eventually gets to American and British literature.
Other than the literary injokes (Dazai’s suicide attempts echo both the ending of the novel and the author’s real-life suicide) this is a pretty standard battle manga. Quirky characters face off using their individual weird powers, and try to figure out a way to win, often despite a bad match-up.
After a couple of chapters to introduce the basic concepts, the plot proper begins with the introduction of the Port Mafia, organized criminals whose leaders also have special abilities. They want the still active bounty on Atsushi’s (or rather the tiger’s) head, and are willing to kill for it. They’re also kind of steamed at Dazai for leaving them to join the Detectives.
Honestly, this series is pretty middle-of-the-road for me; the art’s decent, the characters are okay, but the literature jokes aren’t enough to carry it to the next level. (And the stretching necessary to come up with powers and personalities becomes much more evident once the authors I recognize show up.)
There’s an animated adaptation I haven’t seen; that may be more excellent.
Content notes: In addition to the suicide humor, there’s some gore in this volume.
Recommended for battle manga fans who also enjoy literature jokes.