One anime I’ve been enjoying since it began is Bungo Stray Dogs, a genius show that takes all the great names in Japanese and international literature and weaves them together into a fun story about supernatural detectives who solve crimes and defend the innocent from evil. The show, which has three seasons and a movie under its belt, is the perfect anime for English majors like me, and literature geeks in general!
The story follows Atsushi Nakajima, an orphan who gets inducted into the Armed Detective Agency, a group of supernatural detectives who wield superpowers that are based on the literary works that each writer is famous for. The story is dramatic and exciting, with lots of action and hot bishie characters that make fans get weak in the knees.
As I wrote in my post that asked why are some anime inaccessible to foreigners?, Bungo Stray Dogs is frankly not the easiest show for Westerners to get into because we lack the background in Japanese literature that every Japanese takes for granted. This can create challenges for fans who want to understand every reference in the story, though it’s less of an issue for those who just want to “surf” the interesting world and its characters. Although Bungo Stray Dogs works many American writers into the various story arcs, including highly stylized versions of Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, H.P. Lovecraft, Margaret Mitchell and Agatha Christie, the majority of the characters are based on Japanese writers that most fans might not know.
So here’s a brief overview of the major characters and what they’re famous for in Japan…
- Osamu Dazai, considered one of the top writers of the 20th century. His most famous work (and the superpower of his character in the anime) is called No Longer Human. His works deal with intense psychological issues, and he’s the closest thing to Kafka Japan has produced.
- Yukichi Fukuzawa, the head of the Armed Detective Agency. The real Fukuzawa was one of the first Japanese to travel to the U.S. and Europe, founded Keio University, and wrote a book called Encouragement of Study. The anime Encouragement of Climb is a reference to this book.
- Edogawa Ranpo, the writer who popularized the Western mystery genre in Japan. His pen name is a parody of Edgar Allen Poe, a writer he admired.
- Kenji Miyazawa was a creator of fanciful stories for children. His most famous work is Night on the Galactic Railroad, about a train that travels between the stars. Matsumoto Leiji’s Galaxy Express 999 obviously took many cues from this.
- Ougai Mori, a doctor who studied medicine in Germany in the late 19th century and is credited with being the first to bring Western poetry styles into Japanese. His most famous work is Maihime, aka The Dancing Girl.
- Ryonosuke Akutagawa, a titan of 20th-century Japanese literature, wrote many books and short stories. The most famous two are Rashomon (you may have seen Kurosawa Akira’s film adaption) and The Spider’s Thread, which is discussed in the ERASED anime.
- Ichiyo Higuchi, a poet from the Meiji Era, who is noted for being the first female printed on Japanese money (the current 5000 yen note). Though a writer of many important works, she died penniless at age 24 in 1896.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, Bungo Stray Dogs is quite amazing, with a huge number of characters and incredibly stylized battles, plus a good fandom community developed for it on Tumblr. If you don’t know much about Japanese literature, don’t sweat it, you’ll pick it up as you watch!
Do you want to learn something about classic literature and have fun at the same time? Give Bungo Stray Dogs a try!
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