Did you know the superpowered characters of Bungo Stray Dogs are based on real Japanese authors? Hostess of Dub Talk Podcast Megan (@queenira2) is a huge fan with a specialty in film, and she took us through some of the real-life history behind the characters. Check out her blog entry and see what other anime feature these authors’ works! (Bungo Stray Dogs season 1 is finally hitting home video March 6—you can pre-order now!)
In anime, many characters have unique names. Whether it be symbolic to the story, meaningful to their character traits or a homage to popular culture, we have seen it all. From Son Goku to Oda Nobunaga, anime has a quite colorful past with these names. But marrying a mafia based action story with poets and authors? Well that’s what manga author Kafka Asagiri did. From Osamu Dazai to Chuuya Nakahara, here are some of the real stories behind the colorful cast of characters.
Osamu Dazai (June 19th 1909 – June 13th 1948): Did you know Osamu Dazai was actually born Shuji Tsushima? In fact, the first time the name Osamu Dazai was used was in 1933 for the short story Ressha. Over his life, Dazai was an accomplished writer influenced by the works of Ryuunosuke Akutagawa and Masuji Ibuse. While the Osamu Dazai in the series can come off as wacky, comical and infuriating to his coworkers, the real life Dazai was a troubled man who dealt with bouts of addiction, social and family issues, infidelity, and, ultimately, multiple attempts at suicide; his death was a double suicide with his lover Tomie Yamazaki via drowning in a river.
Yet, Dazai’s impact on Japanese literature can still be felt to this day. Stories like Joseito and Doke No Hanna showed his humor and wit, while one like Fuaku Hyakkei showed his hope. However, his power is based on the story No Longer Human (Ningen Shikkaku), told through a collection of notebooks. Dazai’s power is the ability to nullify another’s power, and it seems like an odd homage to the tale concerning one man’s struggle to know his true self. Unlike the other powers, there is no clear reason for why this one was chosen, due to the many interpretations of the narrative. It may link to the fact that the main character, Yozo, is seen as a self-insert for Dazai’s own life. The character of Dazai in Bungo Stray Dogs may be based less on the man himself, but the character Yozo instead.
For anime fans, references to Dazai’s works may seem unfamiliar, but his fingerprints can be found all over. Kyoya Ohtori from Ouran High School Host Club feels like a shout out to Dazai in his own struggles with his family and looks. You can even see him reading No Longer Human and The Setting Sun at one point. The first four episodes of the anime Aoi Bungaku adapts No Longer Human, as well. Tsukigakirei’s main male lead, Kotaro Azumi, aims to be a novelist like Dazai, and two episodes reference names of his stories (episode six: “Run, Melos!”, and episode ten: “The Setting Sun/Shayo”).
Atsushi Nakajima (May 5th 1909- December 4th 1942): Sometimes, the stories we watch and read can have their inspiration taken literally. The mild mannered, slightly screaming and sometimes hungry Atsushi Nakajima and his convictions can be seen in the life of the man he was based on. Born to a family of Chinese literary scholars, the real-life Atsushi Nakajima seemed mild mannered, but made the most out of his short life. Nakajima, an author, was sent to Japanese Micronesia, now known as Palau, to translate textbooks for local school children. He also became a school teacher in Yokohama in 1933. He wrote the novel Hikari to Kaze to Yume (Light, Wind and Dreams) about Robert Louis Stevenson. Nakajima passed away in 1942 from pneumonia.
Atsushi’s power, called “The Beast Beneath the Moonlight,” is named after “Sangetsuki” or the “Tiger Poet.” In the story, Li Zheng gives up his job to become a poet and falls into madness, later becoming a tiger. The comparison is clear from Li Zheng to Atsushi, as the latter becomes a wild tiger until he learns to control himself and finds purpose in the Armed Detective Agency. Unfortunately, Atsushi in Bungo Stray Dogs may be the only known reference to the story in anime and manga, but the “Sangetsuki” lives on today as required reading for Japanese students and was published in a collection of stories for Western readers.
Doppo Kunikida (August 30th 1871- June 23rd 1908): Straight laced, a bit uptight and a little naive describes the Doppo Kunikida in the anime. But would you believe the real life Doppo Kunikida was a poet and a reporter? In fact, the real man is attributed with bringing the naturalist movement to Japan, having read other poets and authors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Wordsworth. His reports in the 1894-1895 Sino-Japanese War were collected and released as “Aitei Tsushin” (“Letters to My Dear Brother”), and his second collection Azamukazaru no Ki (“A Diary Without Deceit”) chronicled his four years of personal grief after being married and deserted by his wife.
His power, Doppo Poet (Lone Poet), is a reference to the collection of poems written after his divorce and collected into the “Doppo Gin.” This power allows Doppo to create anything he asks for via his notebook as long as it is no bigger than the notebook itself, in an homage to the actual figure’s work as a reporter. While the Doppo Kunikida in the anime is the one most anime fans will be familiar with, Japanese literature fans may be familiar with his wife who is said to be the model for Arishima Takeo’s novel, A Certain Woman.
Ranpo Edogawa (October 21st 1894 – July 28th 1965): If mysteries are what you desire, then Ranpo Edogawa is on the case! Or rather…building your case! Most anime and video game fans will be familiar with Edogawa, the pseudonym for Taro Hirai. A fan of Edgar Allen Poe, (try saying “Edogawa Ranpo” out loud, quickly!), the amateur Arthur Conan Doyle translator-turned-author has his prints all over Japanese literary history, with short stories such as “The Case Murder on D. Hill Moon” and novels like The Black Lizard. However, his most famous works may be the stories in the Private Detective Kogoro Akechi series. The real Edogawa founded the Detective Author’s Club, eventually renamed to the Mystery Writers of Japan, and helped promote the mystery genre for all ages in Japan. Since 1955, the Edogawa Ranpo Prize has been presented by the organization for the best unpublished mystery novels, and is even sponsored by Kodansha today.
Edogawa’s fingerprints can be found on works from CLAMP’s Man of Many Faces to the 2015 anime Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace, the anime project celebrating the 50 year anniversary of his death. The character Goro Akechi from the video game Persona 5 is a reference to the man, as well. However, the most celebrated and well know tribute is Detective Conan (AKA: Case Closed). The Detective Conan franchise stands as the biggest gateway for popular fans to jump from screen to page to discover Edogawa’s work.
Ranpo’s ability for the Armed Detective Agency is Super Deduction! With this ability, Ranpo can solve any case before him with ease! How does it work? Well…that remains a mystery!
Kenji Miyazawa (August 27th 1896 – September 27th 1933): Is this kid even old enough to be in the Armed Detective Agency? Maybe the youthful appearance of Kenji in the show reflects the writings of the real-life Kenji Miyazawa who penned the collection of fairy tales entitled “The Restaurant of Many Orders.” In Hanamaki, Iwate Prefecture, Miyazawa was born into a well-off family in an area where the poor struggled. He combined Buddhist beliefs into his lifestyle and was a man of empathy with a connection to nature; he was a vegetarian, a geologist, a cellist, and a social activist! He strived to help others even when he struggled himself. Much like his fictional counterpart, his connection to nature and country living is clear. He was even a teacher of agriculture at Hanamaki Agricultural High School.
During his short life, the works of Kenji Miyazawa were not truly known. Luckily, they were published after his death and have ingrained themselves in Japanese culture. Most famously, his novel Night of the Milky Way Railroad became the 1985 film Night on the Galactic Railroad. That film inspired music and popular culture, along with countless other anime, including Mawaru Penguindrum.
Kenji’s ability, Undefeated by the Rain, grants him super human strength! However, it comes with the catch that Kenji has to be hungry. A poem entitled “Be Not Defeated By the Rain” is the inspiration for his power and mirrors the struggles of the real Kenji Miyazawa.
Akiko Yosano (December 7th 1878 – May 29th 1942): An unexpected twist always brings out the best in a story. For the Armed Detective Agency’s Akiko Yosano, that unexpected twist is a smiling, pretty face as she deals out “treatment” to her injured cohorts. The real Akiko Yosano twisted the expectations of Japanese women and turned the literary world upside down. Yosano’s most famous work of poetry, the Midaregami, shows a masterful use of the tanka (a form of traditional poetry made up of thirty-one syllables arranged in five lines). However, Yosano’s use of sensual and erotic subjects shocked the country. Yosano spoke of female empowerment and pacifism in her works, standing tall through the disturbance she created.
Due to her death during the Second World War, many of Yosano’s works are not referenced in anime. Her work, the Kimi, did become mandatory reading in 1950’s Japan. Her power, Thou Shalt Not Die, grants her the ability to heal, but only if her subject is half dead. It gains its name from the highly controversial poem of the same name by Yosano about her brother Soshichi.
Ryuunosuke Akutagawa (March 1st 1892 – July 24th 1927): Every story needs a powerful villain. So why not borrow the name from Japan’s most celebrated writer of all time? Even if his life was a short 35 years, the impact of Ryuunosuke Akutagawa can be felt today. The premier literary award in Japan borrows his name, as well. Considered by some as “the father of the Japanese short story,” the real-life Akutagawa was born sickly, yet still founded a literary journal by age 21 with fellow writers Kikuchi Kan and Kume Masao. His death, suicide via an overdose, sent ripples throughout Japan and even caused an effect on his admirer, Osamu Dazai.
His ability pays homage to the highly influential and beloved short story “Rashoumon.” It tells the tale of a servant meeting an old woman who harvests from corpses left under a gate in Kyoto. In the series, Rashoumon manifests as a living shadow that comes from Akutagawa’s clothes and attacks based off his will. If this name sounds familiar to you, it should be! It is also the name of a famous 1950 film by Akira Kurosawa. Like the anime Bungo Stray Dogs, Kurosawa’s film is not an exact translation of Akutgawa’s original story, but rather a collaboration between it and another short story from 1922 entitled “In a Grove.”
Chuuya Nakahara (April 29th 1907 – October 22nd 1937): If Bungo Stray Dogs had a look-a-like contest, then Chuuya Nakahara would win by a landslide. A poet active in the early 1920’s, he started out writing tanka like Akiko Yosano and later moved onto more experimental poetry styles thanks to the influence of French poets. Nakahara would become known as one of Japan’s leading poets, using a more lyrical style to gain a musical effect, as opposed to more traditional styles. Due to his unique style, his works were often rejected by large scale publishers. Fortunately, smaller magazines accepted and distributed his poems. Like many other authors that inspire Bungo Stray Dogs, Nakahara’s life was cut short due to his death from cerebral meningitis.
During his life, Chuuya Nakahara’s works were not well known. Only one anthology, “Yagi No Uta” (“Goat Songs”) was published in 1934 but sold poorly. However, Nakahara’s works flourished after his death. His hometown of Yamaguchi City gives out the Nakahara Chuuya Prize for the most outstanding poetry collections that share Nakahara’s sensibilities. Anime fans may recognize his works on the shelf of Shiro Sanada in Space Battleship Yamato 2199.
His power, For the Tainted Sorrow, allows the dapperly dressed Nakahara to manipulate gravity and the gravity of objects he touches. The power references a wistful poem that seems darker than the words let on. However, his power isn’t the only reference to Nakahara. To this day students in Japan will know Nakahara’s portrait for his stern face and that wide-brimmed hat, just like we know his anime counterpart!
And that, gentle reader, brings us to the end of our tale. If you enjoyed the stories behind the stories, head out to your local library to read more, and be sure to pick up the release of Bungo Stray Dogs from Funimation or stream it via Funimation Now!