In Bungo Stray Dogs Volume 3, when the Armed Detective Agency decide to turn Kyouka in, Atsushi pities the assassin to the point of crushing on her, and procrastinates her delivery to the authorities so the mixed-up kids can go out on an impromptu date.
Since Kyouka was the Port Mafia’s sleeper agent (more of a narcoleptic catnap agent, given her countless murders and many sleeps), first brainwashed then triggered remotely by her handler Akutagawa, it feels like Kyouka should get a fair shake from the Armed Detective Agency, which hires serial defenestrators, obsessively-compulsively suicidal investigators, and sadistic doctors. However, while we may expect to see Kyouka join the Armed Detective Agency in the future, currently only Atsushi is in her corner.
When Akutagawa exploits the lovebirds’ intimate moment to kidnap Atsushi, a plot point about Akutagawa heading for the open sea gives Ranpo a Sherlock moment and Kunikida a speedboat chase. Like Ranpo and Kunikida, the ocean only makes a cameo appearance in this volume, so you’re free to ignore it in the epic fight that follows.
When Atsushi gets free, instead of saving his own skin, he chooses to save Kyouka, and becomes locked in combat with Akutagawa. Were it not for Atsushi’s godlike regeneration, he would lose this battle, as the Port Mafia boss has a seemingly unbeatable ability, but through tenacity and regrowing tiger skin, Atsushi is able to turn the tables. Nearly as epic is Dazai’s browbeating of a former underling, Chuuya, which gives us the not surprising revelation that Dazai was once a Port Mafia boss.
Volume 3 ends with the introduction of The Guild, which is comprised of Dame Agatha Christie, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald. The Guild present the appearance of a unified front, trash-talking both the “bumpkin mafia” and the Armed Detective Agency (“hardly an adversary worth dirtying my handwear over”). The Guild are coming to take what they want, presumably from both the Armed Detective Agency and the Port Mafia (“There is no reason at all why the number two player should earn any profit”), which indicates the possibility of a team-up, and a greater understanding of why all the Ability-User groups want Atsushi dead or alive.
Bungo Stray Dogs shares a lot of characteristics with other shonen manga, such as fifty page fight scenes, strange powers, unusual group chemistry, and cinematically-structured action art. Bungo Stray Dogs’ most unique take on this formula is its cast of anti-heroes, with the heroes having dark problems and death wishes (Atsushi fatally attracted to an assassin; Dazai fatally attracted to death herself) and the villains having a nightmarish life wish (Akutagawa’s heavily Nietzchean assertion that he was not using Kyouka, but saving her worthless life by creating value in her), each bringing an equally melancholic tone to both sides of a conflict. While Bungo Stray Dogs isn’t uplifting, it is an elevating read, in which apparently simple phrases crystallize in the reader’s consciousness, paired with haunting pages (“Your skill is simply a decorative blade of no use to anyone”, “People can’t live unless someone tells them ‘It’s okay to go on!’”, or “We reserve the right to do as we please, just as the hand of god and demon wills it.”) Though I highly recommend this manga, parents of younger readers should be aware of Dazai’s flippant attitude about suicide, which is not a message to receive uncritically no matter how stupid or uncomfortable his attempts look.
Yen Press sent the review copy.