In Bungo Stray Dogs Volume 4, while Kyouka is welcomed to the Armed Detective Agency, she gets yanked stage left for the rest of the volume, and Atsushi is partnered with Kenji, whose appetite-fueled super strength proves remarkably useful in a gangwar investigation.

‘Gangwar’ proves to be the overarching theme of Volume 4, as having just been foiled in their abductions of Dazai and Kyouka, the Port Mafia find themselves victimized when Akutagawa is taken hostage. Moreover, the two-way war of attrition of the first three books may become a three-handed gangwar game now that the The Guild have arrived from America.

As expected, The Guild was behind the Port Mafia’s special interest in Atsushi. What was completely unexpected was that their boss, Fitzgerald responds to a little pushback like Scrooge McDuck or Richie Rich—first, by flexing The Guild’s moneybags in an attempt to buy the Armed Detective Agency’s license to run a special abilities agency, and second, by swallowing up a building to intimidate the ADA.

The spotlight moments of Volume 4 include 1) an extended vignette on Higuchi’s desperate hustle to rescue Akutagawa, despite lacking the loyalty of her subordinates, and 2) what is basically a battle in the Tardis or Snoopy’s doghouse, as Atsushi and cohorts are taken into an extradimensional space created by Lucy Maud Montgomery’s special ability, “Anne’s Room.” In the psychedelic, unhinged space, Lucy and her imaginary friend Anne play with Atsushi and Tanizaki, and a bystander that got sucked into this demented LazyTown, a wise old doctor and advice-dispenser named Ougai who turns out to be the final boss of the Port Mafia.

Sango Hurakawa’s art, as usual, is an exciting fusion of action lines, gaping heroes and gawking villains, and claustrophobic panels, by which I mean that in addition to using the manga panel to expand or contract the reader’s focus on the subject, he also uses the trick of chopping away everything extraneous to the shot—and, in some cases, things the reader may wish to see. Paired with lots of swirling, psychotic pupils, the crammed details overwhelm the heroes and heighten reader anxiety to create a web of evil in a crowded world. When the bouncing panel lens cuts off the tops of characters’ heads, or puts part of a speaker’s face off panel, so that one cyclops eye confronts the reader, it creates a single camera look. When he contrasts these claustrophobic sequences with more static, widescreen presentations, such as the cinematic conclusion in which the Port Mafia final boss is revealed, the art seems to open up and breathe, and move with a comparatively stately grace.

Kafka Asagiri’s scripts for volume 4 seem to have found their formula, which is good in that everything works, but bad in that we’ve seen it all before. When Volume 3 had two kidnappings, I wasn’t expecting half of this volume to center around another one to develop a miniboss. Compared to volume 2, in which Asagiri shifted genre like a literary quick change artist, volume 4 is more predictable. While the clockwork plot may have given the artist more room to maneuver, I’d like to see a return to more genre experimentation in future installments.

Also, I’d like to see the principal women in Bungo Stray Dogs more effective and independent than Mad Men secretaries or golden age Disney princesses. The point of Higuchi’s entire arc in Volume 4 seems to be that she should have sat and waited until her subordinates finished smoking their long, elegant cigarettes. The strongest female character in Bungo Stray Dogs is Yosano, the doctor who can destroy you as many times as she wants without killing you, and she hasn’t appeared since Volume 2.

Overall, Bungo Stray Dogs Volume 4 was a solid installment, though the script plays it safe compared to previous volumes. The artist held my attention, and I admit that I’m intrigued by Asagiri’s cultivation of key characters in the Port Mafia, like Akoutagawa, Ougai, and Higuchi. That said, though it was nice to see Higuchi get all that screen time, her story was somewhat regressive in terms of female representation.

Bungo Stray Dogs Volume 4 arrived in stores on September 19th, 2017, and if you find it sold out, you can buy it through the Yen Press website.  You can find reviews of volumes 2 and three through this hyperlink.

Bungo Stray Dogs Volume 4

Yen Press sent the review copy.  

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