[Synopsis]: With the conflict between the Armed Detective Agency and the Port Mafia already raging on, the appearance of The Guild further endangers the balance of the city. The stage has been set for a three-way gifted war between the organizations and by the end, only one will be left standing. Atsushi (Uemura Yuto), Dazai (Miyano Mamoru), and the rest of the Armed Detective Agency confront their strongest foes yet as the city wavers on the brink of destruction.
Perhaps the most marked difference between the first and second season of Bungou Stray Dogs is the second seasons’ first 4 episodes which feature a stand-alone, prequel arc centering around Dazai’s past and the founding of the Armed Detective Agency. It offers a far more serious tone than the season that proceeds it and the characters and subject matter are similarly adjusted to fit this alternative kind of story. Gone are the dopey gags and whimsical suicide jokes and in their place is a mystery thriller full of organized crime, action, and subterfuge. It’s a promising start to the new season and it does away with many of the aspects of the first installment that most significantly hampered its success.
Due to the shift in tone, the cast of the prequel arc behaves fundamentally different from that of the first season. The characters have actual depth to them. Dazai isn’t bogged down by his cripplingly stupid suicide gag – he’s menacing and intellectual. Oda Sakunosuke, a newcomer, is wonderfully compelling and offers a genuinely engaging personality, skill set, and moral awareness that really embodies what makes the first 4 episodes of the show so interesting. For the first time you get a sense of purpose from these characters that isn’t derived from asinine comedy or Atsushi being hung up on the same orphanage flashback for over a season. In this regard, Bungou Stray Dogs pulled off the impossible and actually made me enjoy watching its characters.
So what then when the story shifts back to its previous setting and cast of familiar characters. Does it relax into its old ways and forget its recent progress? Luckily this isn’t the case but its not a complete turn-around either. The tone lightens up a good deal after the prequel arc concludes however in its wake remains a sense of gravity and seriousness that continues to influence the show for the better. The tonally disrupting humor makes a return but appears far less frequently than before, almost disappearing entirely during the show’s later episodes.
The cast remains much the same as they were before. Atsushi is still Atsushi and the rest of the Armed Detective Agency and the Port Mafia go about their business just as they did before. The majority of the characters remain fairly one-dimensional and the things that motivate them are pretty underwhelming but there are a handful of interesting additions to this season. While the convention of slapping the names of renowned authors on to various characters and giving them superpowers had about as little depth as it did before, Lovecraft and his style of horror beyond comprehension was fairly well conceived. The cast features a small number of improvements in this regard but as a whole remains almost insultingly simplistic and leaves a lot to be desired.
In respect to Bungou Stray Dogs’ visuals, not much has changed and the second season maintains the fluid and consistent style of the first series. There are a number of new flashy abilities to look at and the fight sequences are well animated and generally entertaining to watch when they don’t boil down to play-by-play ability exposition. Bungou Stray Dogs is a good looking show and if it could stand by its solid animation, great environments, and vibrant colors alone, it would be a relatively strong show.
As highlighted earlier, the beginning of the new season begins with a flashback arc consisting of 4 episodes that immediately surpassed all of the proceeding content. The more serious tone and far more measured approach to the show’s poor sense of comedy does it a lot of favors. It doesn’t escape moments like Dazai screaming his head off about a mobile game while his men recover the bodies of 3 of his underlings but this initial arc presents a significant step forward for the show none the less. It plays out as more of an organized crime mystery than the superpower action show that makes up the rest of Bungou Stray Dogs. It’s got a good character story at its core centering around Dazai, Oda Sakunosuke, and Sakaguchi Ango and features some compelling plot developments and action scenes.
The rest of the show that follows is far more in the vein of the previous series though as I’ve said it thankfully takes a slightly more serious approach this time around. While the offbeat comedy doesn’t get in the story’s way in the same way it once did, there are still a handful of narrative issues afoot that keep the second season of Bungou Stray Dogs from creating anything as compelling as its introductory arc. The season as a whole revolves around the three-way conflict between the Armed Detective Agency, the Port Mafia, and The Guild however what they are actually fighting over and what drives their conflict is a bit obscure. To some degree, its the city itself but the Armed Detective Agency is mostly out to save people, the Port Mafia is out to… do bad stuff and The Guild wants to capture Atsushi the weretiger… or find a book… or some such thing.
Though their reasons for fighting each other are a little flaky, what’s perhaps even more disconcerting is the way their bouts actually pan out most of the time. Despite boasting truly powerful and terrifying abilities and spending most of their dialogue threatening opposing faction members, none of the characters seem to have much of an interest in killing anyone. Sometimes two opposing factions clash and they fight to the death but in other instances, they simply nod and see each other on their way. It’s supposed to speak to this high-minded elegance behind the scenes but when each faction-head claims they want to win and don’t seem to be taking the most straightforward steps to doing so, it somewhat compromises the seriousness of their conflict.
Though it presents these weaknesses, between the prequel arc, the shift in tone, and the more interesting subject matter, the second season of the show is markedly more entertaining than the first. It tends to repeat itself for the sake of oversimplification, the characters are pretty one-dimensional but its got good production standards, plenty of fight scenes, and somewhat inciting character interactions to keep things fresh.
The soundtrack sees a return of the previous themes that made up the bulk of the show’s music with a few new additions. For whatever reason, the music stood out to me more this season than it did during the first and I can say it supported each scene reasonably well.
[Final Thoughts and Rating]:
This second season of Bungou Stray Dogs was more entertaining than I would have expected it to be going in after such a forgettable first season. The conclusion of the show was fairly tight but the mentalities of all of the characters involved left me kind of baffled as to why any of them would act the way they did. This season was a significant step in the right direction but not to the degree that it became anything ‘great’.
I gave the second season of Bungou Stray Dogs a 5 because, while it still suffers from uninteresting characters and a handful of narrative complications, the more sincere tone allows for the show to take itself more seriously and thus adds at least some legitimacy to its conflict and cast. The prequel arc was engaging and the action scenes that crop up throughout the rest of the show were entertaining. Bungou Stray Dogs isn’t a show with a lot going on behind the eyes. Its predictability renders it rather uneventful on some occasions but its action scenes and animation at least provide something stimulating to tide things over.
If you already enjoyed the first series and are looking into checking out this sequel season, then I’m sure it will meet and surpass your expectations. If you enjoyed it for its comedy, it’s still present. If you liked its action scenes or supernatural abilities – there are more of them than ever. If, like me, you didn’t care for the first season, I’d give the first 4 episodes a shot and see if it catches your interest any.