Last week, Bungou Stray Dogs disappointed because it lacked tension and it’s tone fluctuated wildly from cheeky to violent. It had no stakes and the characters faced no consequences. This week was no better. It was possibly worse.
What happened? Rampo, ADA’s master detective is sent to a murder scene and Atsushi is sent along because Rampo is useless at everything except crime detection. A new gruff detective is at the scene and he doesn’t know Rampo and doesn’t approve of using private investigators. After some dialog, he relents and Rampo reveals a random police officer at the scene actually committed the crime and a greater conspiracy ensues…
The payoff is, after all the reveals, Dazai tells Atsushi that Rampo doesn’t actually have an ability, and that he even touched Rampo to make sure. Dazai then explains how Rampo would be able to deduce many of the clues and Atsushi learns why ADA respects Rampo so much.
While the final reveal is clever, all the parts felt contrived or drawn out. The detective’s objections to Rampo feel like a contrivance to pad the opening act. Dazai being trolled out of the river felt like a contrivance to include him in the act and to explain things to Atsushi in the end.
Atsushi gets nothing to do except his shock-face routine and the actual case, the murder of a female detective, is so secondary that when the episode shifted to it in the second act (via a narrated interview of the police officer who killed her) I lost interest. This show is terribly ill conceived.
Lets get academic on the tonal issue: adding humor to a grim scene keeps the over all tone light but, when used masterfully, can paint a deeper understanding of the characters. Maybe they are cracking jokes as a defense mechanism, maybe they are deeply warped individuals how can’t feel anymore, or maybe the writers are lowering our guard so they can hit us with a really shocking point later on.
Unfortunately, Stray Dogs only purpose is to keep things light. The characters are too cartooney for a psychological message to be believable and, thus far, each episode has ended on a dismissively happy-go-lucky note. Even if a grim reveal will eventually come, the script has bled out all of its tension.
It doesn’t help that there is no comedy here either. Dazai’s one-note suicide humor was used up in the first episode and this week’s ADA member is just a narcissist who brags over a corpse about how good he is. All the snap-zoom shock-faces in the world can’t contort his lines into jokes. The punchline is there is no punchline.
The verdict: Stray Dogs is a comedy without jokes. It’s an noir drama without any weight or humanity. It’s a super natural action piece soft on action and with a hard on for dull ‘resolve the plot’ super powers… which means the episode-to-episode plot isn’t compelling and the long term threat of the port mafia was so neutered last week as to make that unsuitable as an alternative.
I mean, what possible impact does knowing the murderer was dating the victim have after all that slap stick?
Beyond production values, there is absolutely nothing good about this show. It is not terrible but it is also genuinely bland or self defeating in every way.