Bungo Stray Dogs Volume 2 begins when the Port Mafia’s Black Lizard hit squad targets the Armed Detective Agency. Due to the events of Volume 1, in which we learned that the Port Mafia want to sell Atsushi, a weretiger, for an immense sum, Atsushi thinks the Black Lizard’s assault is his fault, and he runs away. When the Black Lizard attacks the ADA regardless, Atsushi races back to discover that the goons were handled easily, in a black comedy style that includes the casual defenestration of the corpses to the street below.

In the second chunk of Volume 2, Atsushi accompanies Ranpo to a crime scene, and Daizai, after another botched suicide, floats by the river bank where the body was discovered, and joins them. Despite the sneering police officer, that seems special ordered from the set of Sherlock, Ranpo solves the murder in seconds, then explains his solution in many postmortem pages. Daizai reveals to Atsushi that Ranpo has no magical gift, unlike the other detectives, and that his deductive ability stems from his perception and observation skills. Daizai confesses that without Ranpo, the ADA would be sorely pressed to solve crimes.

The third section’s premise is a shonen manga styled battle: Atsushi, sent to help Yosano, the ADA’s doctor, on a shopping trip, must surrender to the Port Mafia bomber, Motojirou Kaji (Skill: Lemonade), or that villain will detonate the explosives planted on the train taking them home. Yosano and Atsushi split up in an effort to save the passengers, not to mention themselves.

Motojirou’s dashing character design ends up being little protection against Yosano, whose skill, Thou Shalt Not Die, lets her heal any injury, but only in those that are mortally wounded. So most of the time, she needs to inflict more injury on her patients in order to heal their maladies, and she uses this sadistic gift, as well as her puissance as a hand to hand fighter, to inflict not just one, but numerous, killing blows on Motojirou, and bring him back from them all so that the ADA can have a hostage of their own.

Atsushi’s opponent is Motojirou’s assistant, Kyouka Izumi, whose ability, Demon Snow, is not under her own control, but triggered remotely via cell phone. Additionally, one gets the idea that the Port Mafia have brainwashed the girl, who tells Atsushi in a kind of catatonic confession that she has killed thirty-five people, including children, for the Port Mafia. “The last was a family of three…The Demon cut their heads off.” Not satisfied with saying this once, she says it over and over like a cult mantra, interspersing more innocuous facts such as that she likes tofu and hates dogs.

Upon the sight of a bomb strapped to Kyouka’s chest, Atsushi says that he senses no emotion from her, that she seems to be a “killing machine,” and asks her if this is what she wants to do.

When the train passes over a bridge, Kyouka tells Atsushi that she does not want to kill ever again, and leaps towards the river below. Atsushi jumps in after her, and carries her to shore.

When Kyouka does not answer her cell phone, Akutagawa laments “no matter how strong…pawns are just pawns,” and then he asks Dazai, who is chained to the wall, if the detective is a pawn as well.

Will Kyouka join the Armed Detective Agency, or is one orphan enough for their quota? Also, is this Atsushi’s future flame? Will Motojirou get exchanged for Daizai, or are we going to meet a new detective with a gift for extracting information from the bombastic bomber? We have to wait for Bungo Stray Dogs Volume 3 to get the answers to these questions.

The second volume is more of a variety show than the first, with not only a comical opening act, a classical closed room detective story, and several spotlight sets, giving extended introductory numbers to Ranpo, Yosano and Kyouka on the side of the ADA, and Motojirou, who is not killed despite Yosano’s threats, on the side of the Port Mafia. I enjoyed this episodic format, which reminded me of quality television in its ability to alter the tone and formula of the series based on each segment’s script. As such, I enjoyed the second volume of Bungo Stray Dogs more than the first, although this isn’t a case where I would recommend starting a series with the most recent volume, as both are immensely entertaining. It is just that I always prefer manga where the emphasis is on the writing rather than the spectacle, and Bungo Stray Dogs Volume 2 has an inventive story structure as writer Kafka Asagiri shows us he can work in several genres in one installment.

Which isn’t to say that the art suffers in this appearance; far from it, artist Sango Harukawa is adept with panel and page separations designed not with the paper in mind, but with the reader’s eye. In one shot, the focus grabs one of Motojirou’s lemon grenades, making that moment pregnant with suspense; in one segment, time stands still as Kyouka waits in front of a brick wall in the background, and even though different actors move in the foreground, our attention is on the pensive assassin behind them. It seems a simple trick, to blend a static element in one part of repeating panels with dynamic motion on the other side, but when Kyouka extends an arm to grab his sleeve, she grabs the reader as well. Harukawa creates not only a 3D effect by having Yosano’s skirt overlap an adjacent panel, but also makes her seem larger than life just as she’s introduced. It is as if the artist is saying that we should pay attention to Yosano, because she’s going to be important. Foreshadowing in a text story is as simple as writing the appropriate lines, but in a comic book story, without the use of overt symbolism, it is fairly difficult to do, but here is an example of Harukawa doing it with a skirt flap.  In terms of versatility, Sango Harukawa is well matched with Kafka Asagiri, and volume two seems a kind of gallery at times, intended to show off just how skilled they are at different types of manga story and illustration.

There’s a lot to love in Bungo Stray Dogs Volume 2. It goes on sale on March 21st, 2017, and if you are unable to find it, or want to pre-order it, you can visit Yen Press online to find a list of online booksellers.

Yen Press sent the review copy.

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