Bungo Stray Dogs is an anime of many faces – and not just the ones emoted by its colorful cast. One of the show’s greatest strengths lies in series director Takuya Igarashi’s ability to handle both the lighthearted character banter and the emotionally-driven plotlines revolving around Port Mafia. While a couple scenes operate on a hit-or-miss basis, the majority of moments in Bungo Stray Dogs – whether they’re humorous or dramatic – are appropriately characterized by Igarashi’s stylistic sensibilities.
Igarashi is a director who is nothing short of versatile. The man has worked in the anime industry for over two decades now, with a portfolio that ranges from children’s programming such as Ojamajo Doremi and Ashita no Nadja (my personal favorite Igarashi show) to action titles like Soul Eater and Bungo Stray Dogs. What I like about Igarashi as a director is that while his core style hasn’t changed a lot over the years, he tends to adapt it to suit the material he’s working with. So when Igarashi assumes the reigns of a hound like Bungo Stray Dogs, he’s able to transform it into his own product while still remaining respectful to its original source.
One of the most distinctive elements of Igarashi’s style lies in his approach to comedy, which is defined by visual puns, sight gags and some occasional misdirection. I knew from the first few minutes that Bungo Stray Dogs would be a fun show because Igarashi’s gags were clever and varied.
The very first scene of Bungo Stray Dogs opens with the main character, Atsushi, giving a monologue about how he’ll mug the next person he encounters in order to buy food. With his back turned to the nearest walkway, he hears the sounds of a person approaching and quickly turns around… only to stare in disappointment as a motorcyclist speeds by. Discouraged, but not defeated, Atsushi prepares himself for round 2. But all hope is lost as the next person to walk by is not a single person, but an entire soldier regiment on their nightly jog. And just when it seems as though Atsushi’s luck can’t get any worse, he finds a body floating by in the river – which is actually how the suicide-loving Dazai is introduced to us!
This type of playful wit continues throughout the episode and most of Bungo Stray Dogs as well. Another notable example of Igarashi’s humor occurs during a scene where Atsushi, Dazai, and Kunikida are eating at a restaurant. As always, their conversation shifts to Dazai’s strange passion of finding creative ways to off himself, much to Kunikida’s dismay. Dazai eventually notices a wooden support beam on the ceiling (now indicated by a flashing arrow) and mentions how it would be perfect for hanging himself, which spooks Atsushi as he begins to imagine the gruesomeness of being hung. Even after the trio’s dialogue shifts to a more serious topic, Igarashi keeps the gag going by having the arrow continue to flash in the background anytime the wooden beam comes into the camera’s view. I found this was a humorous way of indicating to the audience that Atsushi’s mind was still thinking about Dazai hanging himself, even after that discussion thread had come to an end.
What’s neat about Igarashi’s humor in Bungo Stray Dogs is you can usually trace specific aspects of it back to his earlier shows. For example, the scene involving the wooden beam was a throwback to the vase gag in the first episode of Ouran High School Host Club. Anytime the super expensive vase was onscreen, its position was indicated by a flashing arrow – to let the audience know “this is important and it would be a shame if the main character were to accidentally break it.” Spoilers: she does end up breaking it.
Additionally, many of the silly character faces in Bungo Stray Dogs are reminiscent of those from Ojamajo Doremi – a Toei Animation magical girl franchise with character designs by Yoshihiko Umakoshi. In both shows, characters dip into a super-deformed style with huge eyeballs and oversized mouths when they’re angry. Likewise, to convey surprise or shock, the outlines surrounding character models become thicker and more defined. Because Bungo Stray Dogs features more realistic character designs than Ojamajo Doremi, the shift towards a super-deformed art style during comedic moments allows the cast to express their goofier sides in a more natural manner.
Aside from the show’s humor, Igarashi’s directing also helps emphasize character emotion and growth throughout Bungo Stray Dogs. Igarashi’s core style is similar in spirit to Kunihiko Ikuhara, as both directors worked closely together on Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena – two of the most influential shoujo works of the 90’s. As such, it should come as little surprise that Igarashi imparts theatrical elements and distinctive shoujo symbols into his shows (although he’s less metaphorical than Ikuhara is, but then again who isn’t?).
Now what makes Bungo Stray Dogs interesting is it’s an action title with a predominantly male cast, and thus requires a different approach towards character development than a shoujo title would. Igarashi’s shoujo expressionism is still present in Bungo Stray Dogs, however it’s more nuanced and befitting of the personal issues the cast experiences. For example, a large part of Atsushi’s character arc revolves around him working through his confidence issues after he was shunned from his orphanage. Throughout the show, Atsushi experiences a recurring flashback to this moment, which consist of him kneeling in front of a stained glass window while an imposing committee banishes him from the orphanage. The scene comes across as very traumatic because of the suffocating purple color, the sparse lighting and the fact that the committee members’ faces are all shrouded in darkness. In many respects it feels like a set straight out of a stage play. However, because this scene fits into Bungo Stray Dogs’ narrative as a flashback, Igarashi was able to take theatric liberties and construct it as a reflection of Atsushi’s emotional reality.
Additionally, some of the fight sequences in Bungo Stray Dogs possess an Ikuhara flair to them. During the climactic confrontation between Atsushi and Akutagawa in episode 10, the stound of steam being released from a broken pipe gradually increases in intensity to reflect the tension between the two guys as they stare each other down. The intention behind this scene is very similar to how elements of nature are used in shoujo works as a mean of externalizing the heroine’s emotions. In this case, the analogy between steam being let out from a pipe and characters letting off steam before their fight is pretty clear but also clever.
Likewise, there’s a number of key moments during the fight where Atsushi is struck by a barrage of Akutagawa’s shape-shifting attacks. Rather than depict gore, Igarashi opts to present us with the silhouette of Atsushi taking the attack over a dark red background. Again, this technique is very central to Ikuhara’s shoujo works and its frequent usage during Bungo Stray Dogs’ fights fits perfectly. The decision to express bleeding during a fight using a powerful red color as opposed to showing the blood loss directly helps to emphasize the character’s pain and distance it from simply being a gory spectacle.
Overall, Bungo Stray Dogs is quite an interesting product when you consider all the stylistic influences Igarashi brings in. It’s not every day you see a hot-blooded supernatural fist fight featuring shoujo expressionism! Let us know what you think of Bungo Stray Dogs and Igarashi’s directing in the comments below! Were there any specific scenes that you found funny and why? Much like Dazai, we’re dying to know