Bungo Stray Dogs, which literally translates to Literary Stray Dogs, just started airing its fourth season. With over 100 manga chapters published and no end in sight, Bungo Stray Dogs became an unexpected hit both in Japan and abroad.
Kafka Asagiri began writing this quirky, delightful mishmash of classic literature and superhero comics in 2012. Sango Harukawa draws the story in a jagged, unique style. Japan’s studio bones adapted the manga into anime in 2016, and its popularity exploded. The series has since spawned a movie called Dead Apple in 2018, stage plays, and a whole series of spin-off light novels.
Unlike most manga and anime light novels, these novels are not just nice slices of fun for fans. They end up being incredibly important, even if not necessary, to the plot of the main manga. As a result, this anime often incorporates light novels into the story. Season two adapted Dazai Osamu and the Dark Era, season three Fifteen, and season four started on January 4th with The Untold Origins of the Detective Agency.
Literary AbilitiesRemember the literature and comic book mashup? Well, Bungo Stray Dogs does this by basing its superhero powers (called “abilities”) on literature. It’s certainly a worthy addition to anime’s often unique power systems.
Each major character is named after a major world author. Their ability is based on, and usually named after, one of that author’s most famous works. For example, Tanizaki Jun’ichiro is named after a Japanese author. His ability, Light Snow, is named after the real Tanizaki’s popular novel. This novel references delusions and his ability creates illusions.
However, there are more references than just the ability. The real-life Tanizaki was known for his stories about complex family situations, which were somewhat based on his own life. Bungo Stray Dog‘s version of Tanizaki also has a weird relationship with his sister… who may or may not be a real person.
Comic TwistsBungo Stray Dogs isn’t content with just adapting authors, though. It’s still very much a superhero story, albeit a psychological one. As a result, Asagiri often weaves in unique twists on common superhero tropes.
For example, Izumi Kyouka’s “Demon Snow” spins the hereditary power idea. Kyouka inherited her power from her mom, but Kyouka’s power also killed her parents. Since it is inherited, Kyouka can’t even control it fully. Her power is instead controlled through her mother’s aging cell phone.
Another example is Ranpo Edogawa, who holds the title of smartest character. His ability, “Super Deduction”,” is not named for the real-life author’s work. While at first, this seems like something inconsistent, it’s actually a twist on the genius trope.
Ranpo has no ability.
He is just an ordinary kid who notices a lot of things. This gets at the heart of Bungo Stray Dogs’ themes. While abilities help save the world, the characters’ internal development is where the real conflict lies. What they believe about themselves is just as necessary to save the planet as what their abilities can actually do.
Let’s look at ten more of the best-adapted characters.
Bungo Stray Dogs’ Twist on the God CharacterNakahara Chuuya works for the Port Mafia. He’s a frequent antihero and fan favorite.
Chuuya’s ability is “Upon the Tainted Sorrow,” which is the title of a poem by Nakahara. The poem describes the crushing weight of sorrow using imagery of snow, a fox, and the setting sun. The poem’s speaker feels as if they are dead while still alive.
How does this apply to Bungo Stray Dogs‘ character? Well, Upon the Tainted Sorrow allows Chuuya to manipulate gravity. In its purest form, it is known as “Corruption.” Essentially this multiples his gravity control to the point where he becomes invincible.
There’s a catch, though. To control gravity completely, he gives up control of himself.
Chuuya’s ability stems from his being a god. Chuuya was originally Arahabaki, a mysterious and very real chaos god in Japanese mythology. Yet if he uses Corruption for too long, his physical body gives out from sheer exhaustion. The god character’s godhood is his weakness, and his humanity is his strength.
The only way to save Chuuya in Corruption is by relying on his ex-mafia partner who previously betrayed him. Chuuya’s struggle between life and death, humanity and god, are all themes from the original poem. Like the speaker, Chuuya lacks control over his life.
The Great FitzgeraldBungo Stray Dogs doesn’t limit itself to Japanese literature. F. Scott Fitzgerald leads an organized crime group from North America. Called “the Guild,” it includes H.P. Lovecraft, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, and more.
Fitzgerald stands out, though. His ability is “The Great Fitzgerald.” Clearly named after The Great Gatsby, The Great Fitzgerald uses the themes of the 1920s novel to examine a lot of superheroes’ wealthy backgrounds.
Fitzgerald has the super strength power. However, his strength seems to directly depend on how much money he spends. Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy super strength. Still, Fitzgerald isn’t happy: like the author, he’s grieving his daughter and wife. When he starts using his money for good, he starts finding fulfillment.
Escapism, But LiterallyLucy Maud Montgomery works under Fitzgerald as a member of the Guild. Lucy shares a lot with her namesake’s most famous character: Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables fame. Anne’s two red braids appear in Lucy’s design. Just like Anne, Lucy is an orphan whose imagination keeps her going through hard times.
However, Lucy’s imagination is a literal superpower. She creates an alternate reality called “Anne’s Room” where she can trap anyone who crosses her. A giant puppet named, well, Anne, rules over this alternate dimension. That gives a whole new meaning to the idea of escaping reality and to imaginary friends!
Fortunately, Lucy’s made some friends in the real world, too. Now she mostly uses Anne’s Room to protect her loved ones, just like Anne Shirley brought her friends into her games. It also works as a metaphor for empathy, or as Anne Shirley would say, “kindred spirits.”
The Protagonist Of Bungo Stray DogsBungo Stray Dogs‘ main protagonist is Nakajima Atsushi. His ability is the big surprise of the very first chapter, which starts with Atsushi being terrified that a white tiger is stalking him in hopes of finding a nice meal. As it turns out, Atsushi is the tiger.
In real life, Nakajima was a writer who refused to promote Japan’s colonialism in the lead-up to World War II. He also wrote “The Moon Over the Mountain,” a short story wherein a man encounters a friend who has, you guessed it, transformed into a tiger. In this story, the man became a tiger after choosing to become a government official instead of the poet he wanted to be. The poetic feelings well up, boil, and spill over into a beastly form.
“Beast Beneath the Moonlight” turns Atsushi into a beast in more ways than one. It works as a symbol of Atsushi’s denial of his less societally acceptable traits, like anger and loneliness. When he pretends he doesn’t have those feelings, they don’t get addressed. When they don’t get addressed, they boil over.
Beast Beneath the Moonlight also gives him super speed and regenerative powers. Plus, the manga implies Atsushi’s ability links to the MacGuffin of the series: the mysterious “book” that allows someone to rewrite reality. Yes, Bungo Stray Dogs is very meta. Of course, a book runs the world.
Dark MattersJapan named its most prestigious literary award after short story master Akutagawa Ryunosuke. Obviously, Bungo Stray Dogs includes this literary standout.
Akutagawa’s works include “The Nose” and “Rashomon,” which is also the name of Bungo Stray Dogs‘ character’s ability. “Rashomon” the story also inspired Rashomon the movie, which is frequently considered one of the best movies ever made. Although, the movie actually adapts a different short story from Akutagawa’s: “In a Grove.” The more you know.
Rashomon the ability grants Akutagawa the ability to control and use dark matter. It can be a weapon against an enemy or a shield to protect himself. Its many different forms take their names from different short stories, such as “The Spider’s Thread.”
Since Bungo Stray Dogs‘ Akutagawa grew up on the streets with his kid sister, Rashomon protected them. The Port Mafia even recruits Akutagawa because of his ability. Rashomon keeps him alive, even if he has to do morally questionable things like, y’know, murder.
In this, Rashomon the ability mirrors its namesake short story’s central ethical dilemma: a starving man contemplates whether to steal a coat from a stranger in order to survive.
The Clown In Bungo Stray DogsFew animes or superhero stories are complete without a trickster character. Hunter x Hunter‘s Hisoka. Batman‘s The Joker. Marvel’s Loki and Deadpool. Tokyo Ghoul’s Furuta Nimura.
Bungo Stray Dogs has Nikolai Gogol.
Nikolai Gogol wrote “The Overcoat,” Dead Souls, and many more works of fiction. Known for his satire of 19th-century Russia, Gogol heavily inspired other great writers like Fyodor Dostoyevsky. “The Overcoat” inspired the ability in Bungo Stray Dogs and tells a tale of a poor man who has his overcoat robbed from him. The man dies of a fever and then haunts the officials for ignoring his pleas for justice.
In Bungo Stray Dogs, Gogol’s The Overcoat allows him to manipulate time and space with his coat. Hence, he can transfer a weapon as needed, or even cut himself in half and then repair himself. Yep, that happened.
Like the character in the story, Gogol uses his ability to mess with the government. In fact, as of chapter 105, the government is in shambles thanks to events Gogol set in motion. Yet like any true wild card, Gogol’s interests lie more in provoking people than in enacting any reform. Gogol refuses to be bound by any loyalties except to his own freedom.
Chucky, Bungo Stray Dogs VersionLook at Bungo Stray Dogs’ Q. How q-ute, right?
Don’t buy it. Or, be careful if you do. Yumeno Kyusaku is a thirteen-year-old captive of the Port Mafia. Their ability “Dogra Magra” is the stuff of psychological horror films. To use Dogra Madra, Q has to get hurt by their target. For example, they stumble into Atsushi at one point while wearing razors. Even though Atsushi had no intention to hurt them, the razors hurt Q, so it counts.
After the victim has hurt Q, Q then hurts the doll they always carry. The doll then sends hallucinations of their worst nightmares to hunt the person who hurt Q. Crying blood, the victims panic and lash out at those around them. Yes, Q almost destroyed the world at one point in Bungo Stray Dogs.
The real-life Yumeno’s novel Dogra Magra is one of the first Japanese science fiction novels. A psychotic and amnesiac patient eventually realizes he was the captive of a psychiatrist who experimented on him.
Dogra Magra mirrors Q’s story in that Q is a victim as much as a perpetrator. Maybe even more so, because they are thirteen years old. Plus, the Port Mafia keeps them locked up. Q remains terrified of those around them, and for good reason. After all, they certainly wish Q harm.
The “Healer” In Bungo Stray DogsThe healing power is standard in superhero stories. Bungo Stray Dogs, of course, includes one of these. Yosano Akiko works for the Armed Detective Agency, the same place Atsushi, Ranpo, and Tanizaki work for.
In real life, Yosano wrote one of Japan’s most famous anti-war poems. Yosano write “Thou Shalt Not Die” for her brother as he departed to fight Russia in World War II. The poeminstructs Yosano’s brother not to die for his country. Yosano argues life is worth so much more than a hollow death for land.
In Bungo Stray Dogs, Yosano is a former army medic. She has seen the reality of war and shares her real-life counterpart’s horror. However, she’s not anti-violence. In fact, she can’t be.
Her ability only works when the victim is on the verge of death. If you have a broken bone, she’ll have to stab you to put you in mortal danger before healing you. As a result, the ADA lives in fear of needing Dr. Yosano’s treatment.
No Longer Human In Bungo Stray DogsRemember how Chuuya has to rely on his ex-partner who betrayed him to save him if he uses Corruption? Meet that ex-partner: Dazai Osamu. Former mafia member, current ADA member, and flawed mentor of both Akutagawa and Atsushi, Dazai Osamu is in many ways the central character of Bungo Stray Dogs.
This makes sense when considering the real Dazai Osamu’s influence on Japanese literature. Known for The Setting Sun and the semi-autobiographical No Longer Human, Dazai’s works have been translated into dozens of languages. Bungo Stray Dogs‘ Dazai uses “No Longer Human” to nullify the abilities of others. With a single touch, he can save Chuuya or stop Q.
The irony is that this is done by touch, and Dazai is not very good at touching humans. Like his namesake, he feels alienated and inhuman, despite being very human. He’s also obsessed with suicide like the real author, but keeps forcing himself to live to honor a dead friend.
There’s a certain irony to his superpower cancelling other superpowers via touch, and his own inability to see himself as person or to connect with people. These contradictions make Dazai one of the story’s best adaptations and best characters.
If There Is No God, I Am GodDazai might be the best adaptation if it weren’t for this guy. Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” is named for the 1860 masterpiece of a novel. However, audiences still don’t know how Dostoyevsky’s ability works. What we do know is that when he touches someone, they die. What control he might have over it is unknown.
Like the Russian Dostoyevsky, Bungo Stray Dogs‘ Fyodor thinks big. He’s both deeply invested in individual purpose and in the big questions of life, God, the government, human nature, and more. Hence why he’s started a hostile takeover of the world in the manga.
Although tempting to think Fyodor is modeled after Crime and Punishment’s main character, Fyodor has little of the internal waffling or guilt of Rodion Raskolnikov. Instead, Fyodor’s been quoting Alexei Kirillov from Dostoyevsky’s Demons since his introductory chapter.
If there is no God, then I am God.”
While Demons‘ Kirillov is suicidal, though, Raskolnikov is homicidal, much like Fyodor in Bungo Stray Dogs. Like both Russian characters, though, Fyodor genuinely believes he’s acting for a higher purpose and doing the right thing. He even grieves for his victims. However, he misses the main theme of Demons: if you become obsessed with an idea, no matter how righteous the idea, that idea will possess you and turn you into a demon.