To-be-read lists can be problematic. They just keep growing and growing. You can’t ever seem to get on top of it. You know that you’ll never be able to read all those books if you keep adding to the list, but you can’t stop writing down titles because you love reading.
Sound familiar? Of course. You wouldn’t be reading a book review if you didn’t have a serious reading addiction.
I just discovered what could potentially become a new favorite manga series. Volume 2 just released on March 21st: Bungo Stray Dogs by Kafka Asagiri.
It’s one of those books where the characters are very loosely based off of real-life authors. Real-life Japanese authors, to be exact. Real-life Japanese authors you’re probably not familiar with, to further increase the accuracy of my above statement.
This creates To-Be-Read-List problems for two reasons: 1) This series is really good, so you’ll want to read all of them. Of which there are 12 (only 2 of which are currently in English). 2) You’ll end up wanting to read all of the books by all of the mentioned Japanese authors. Of which there are many.
But you know what? It’s worth it. This series rocks.
You can catch my extremely brief review of vol 1 here. Now that that’s out of the way: Moving on to vol 2.
Atsushi has never really belonged anywhere. He lived in an orphanage for a while, but nobody really liked him. Probably because he transformed into a man-eating tiger during the moonlight, occurrences that he doesn’t remember, but, of course, also occurrences that others weren’t likely to forget. Kicked out because of his strange affliction, he wandered through city after city, unwanted, accidentally wreaking havoc on everyone he came across.
Now Atsushi has finally found somewhere he belongs: The Armed Detective Agency, an agency comprised of people with special supernatural skills dedicated to fighting the evil that regular people cannot.
But it seems that Atsushi is destined to bring death and destruction upon everyone he comes into contact with. The Mafia is out to capture him for his unique abilities and they’re going to kill every member of the Armed Detective Agency that tries to stop them.
It would seem that Atsushi can’t break free from the vicious pattern of bringing pain upon his companions. Between the Mafia, a bomb-crazy villain, and a dangerous girl on the edge of freeing herself from her murderous master, Atsushi must find where he belongs: fighting alongside of the Armed Detective Agency or running away to keep his new friends safe.
That description probably makes this volume sound a bit serious. That’s because it is. This manga is full of danger, action, and tough situations. But it also has a brilliant sense of humor.
I’ve probably mentioned this in other posts, but it’s worth noting again: Manga often jumps from serious to funny in less than a second. It’s a sense of comedic timing that simply isn’t seen in Western fiction.
Bungo Stray Dogs is a prime example of a manga that manages to be action-packed and serious while also making you laugh.
Atsushi’s generally pathetic lack of courage is lovable and hilarious. Dazai’s obsession with suicide is oddly laughable (as long as you’re fine with the type of black humor that is apparently acceptable in Japanese culture…or maybe just the manga culture). Kunikida’s constant annoyance with everybody, along with his dorky attachment to his notebook, will make you grin and think about that one uptight, schedule-oriented person we all have in our lives. And the fear that Akiko strikes into the hearts of all around her is in direct conflict with her role as a healer, making her contradictory character quite the lark.
Each character has his or her own quirks, which keeps the relatively large cast of characters from blending together. They each have very distinct looks, as well, something that the illustrator (Sango Harukawa) did that excellent job of emphasizing.
Speaking of which: This manga has exceptional artwork. I could look at it all day.
The world that this series takes place in is fascinating. The urban, modern-day setting goes very well with the supernatural skills that most of the characters possess. It’s also a cool touch because that the characters are based off of 20th century Japanese authors, each having personality traits or magical skills that are nods to their respective authors. It’s interesting to see how these traits translate into a modern day, supernatural setting. Massive points to Asagiri’s creativity.
The literary nerd in me is making me want to read up on my Japanese literature. That being said, you absolutely do not need to know anything about Japanese authors to enjoy this series. It is very self-contained, though it is made even richer if you happen to possess outside information.
I can’t wait to read more of Bungo Stray Dogs. Volume 3‘s English translation does not release until June 2oth. However, volumes 1 and 2 are on Amazon and the anime is on CrunchyRoll (which I’ve only watched the first episode of, but found to be very manga-accurate). You should get reading. It’s quite the series.
Have you read this manga or watched the anime? What did you think? Also, if you know of any other novels, manga, or comics that involve characters based off of real-life authors, please let me know!