In the quiet city of Yokohama, Japan, a new threat lurks in the shadows. As a dense fog seeps into the streets, people vanish into thin air, cars and other personal belongings are completely abandoned. Now the only ones left are those with special abilities. This is the set of BUNGO STRAY DOGS: DEAD APPLE, the newest movie to come out of the BUNGO STRAY DOGS franchise.
Based on the manga by Kafka Asagiri, BUNGO STRAY DOGS follows The Armed Detective Agency. Unlike a normal detective agency, the members of this group all have special abilities. With these abilities, they solve crimes too dirty or too dangerous for the government and police. Every character is based off a literary mastermind and their powers reflect the authors’ most famous work. The plot mainly follows Atsushi Nakajima, an 18-year-old orphan who grew up abused and tortured by the very orphanage that kept him. Unbeknownst to Atsushi, he has been transforming into a white tiger at night and wreaking havoc on unsuspecting towns. With the help of the Armed Detective Agency, Atsushi joins their ranks and learns to control his ability.
In BUNGO STRAY DOGS: DEAD APPLE, ability-users are turning up dead, killed by their own powers. Ango Sakaguchi hires The Armed Detective Agency to get down to the bottom of these incidents. In the middle of it all is Tatsuhiko Shibusawa. Taking place sometime after Season 2, DEAD APPLE features our fearless Armed Detective Agency fighting against a new foe—themselves. By releasing a dense fog, Shibusawa has the ability to separate ability-users from their powers. These personified abilities only have one goal: kill their user. The more ability-users that die, the stronger Shibusawa gets. And with Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the villain introduced at the end of Season 2, at his side, the two have plans to rid Yokohama of its gifted individuals.
Directed by Takuya Igarashi (BUNGO STRAY DOGS, ORAN HIGH SCHOOL HOST CLUB) and produced by Studio Bones, BUNGO STRAY DOGS: DEAD APPLE is a fairly complicated film. While the film showcases the best-animated fight scenes in the entire franchise, it seems like they sacrificed overall quality. The plot is multi-faceted and offers intricate storylines that leave you at the edge of your seat. But in an effort to create a good movie, does DEAD APPLE become too complex for its own good? Yes and no. I’ll start off with two aspects of the plot that showcase complexity at its best before diving into the more structural issues.
Major spoilers for BUNGO STRAY DOGS: DEAD APPLE ahead!
The Birth of A Villain
The underlying question throughout the entire film is, “Who let Shibusawa get so strong?” The answer? Quite a few people actually. A lot of major characters in the overall BUNGO STRAY DOGS franchise play a major role in Shibusawa’s rise to power. The first, for obvious reasons, is Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Despite a brief appearance at the end of Season 2, Dostoyevsky had some hand in the almost-destruction of Yokohama. He teams up with Shibusawa in order to get rid of Yokohama’s ability-users.
But could Shibusawa’s death toll have been due to the inaction of one government official? In the second half of the movie, we learn that years prior, Ango decided to release Shibusawa from the government’s custody. He believed that if a special ability-uprising were to ever occur, they would need Shibusawa’s ability to stop it. However, over 500 people are killed. Does he regret this choice? Perhaps. But Ango’s priority has always been the needs of the many over the needs of the few.
The final player is, shockingly, Atsushi Nakajima, the series’ protagonist. We learn that Shibusawa ran experiments on a much younger Atsushi to trigger his ability. It works, but Atsushi accidentally kills him, an action so traumatic for the young child that he locks the memory away. But this isn’t the end for Shibusawa. He’s revived with no recollection of his death. With that, he starts his rampage against ability-users. It’s a surprising turn of events, but one that results in a really complicated villain. Shibusawa is as sadistic as they get, someone who literally thrives on the death of others. On the other hand, morally good characters had the biggest hand in creating him. It’s characters like him that offer the most to movies and BUNGO STRAY DOGS: DEAD APPLE utilizes him well.
Love Thyself, Claws and All
Other than the defeat of Shibusawa, the most important scenes of BUNGO STRAY DOGS: DEAD APPLE take place during the quietest scenes. These scenes typically happen during intense fights. Of course, the stark contrast during the height of a battle is attention-grabbing. The meaning of these introspective moments is often lost to explosions and larger plot points. For Atsushi and Kyoka, their pasts are a major part of their identity, though they are incredibly repressed. What better way to explore their characters than when they are fighting themselves.
Atsushi’s development in the main series is mostly triggered by his intrinsic need to save people. He uses his weretiger abilities, but for the most part, he keeps himself separate. After learning how his ability was triggered, Atsushi gains a deeper understanding and appreciation of the weretiger. “When I lost my tiger abilities to the fog, I was honestly relieved . . . But…the tiger helped me once. No matter where I run, the tiger follows. It’s the same as the way I can’t escape the beating of my own heart . . . I hear you well, now.” Atsushi, for the first time in the entire series, becomes one with his ability. My only hope is that this connectedness transfers over to the main series.
Kyoka’s ability, on the other hand, utterly terrifies her. Up until the very end of Season 2, she had refused to use Demon Snow for fear of hurting other people, just like she hurt her parents. In DEAD APPLE, we learn that the phone she uses to trigger her ability once belonged to her mother. It’s permission from her mother to use her ability “for the sake of others” that leads Kyoka to accept Demon Snow as a strength rather than a liability. As a result, she becomes a better fighter.
One of the most breathtaking aspects of BUNGO STRAY DOGS: DEAD APPLE is the top-notch animation. The film offers detailed CG backgrounds, the kind of work you’d expect from a Makoto Shinkai film. Bones, however, is known for their quality animation in shows like MY HERO ACADEMIA, NORAGAMI, and, of course, BUNGO STRAY DOGS. In the scene pictured below, the “camera” gives a sweeping view of the entire room, showcasing every angle to prove just how high quality their set designs are.
The battles are incredibly fluid and detailed. In the final battle scene against Shibusawa, we see the best of each character’s abilities, both literally and in their portrayal. Chuya’s use of Corruption takes the cake. During Season 2, we caught a glimpse of the immense power his character had. In large part thanks to animation director Nobuhiro Arai, Chuya’s performance in the film is jaw-dropping. The fight itself was incredibly complex as Chuya hurtles an entire high-rise at his opponent. But, with all the commotion, the surrounding action is never overlooked.
That being said, the overall quality was disappointing. Right off the bat, just minutes into the film, Chuya and Dazai are talking…except they don’t have any facial features. See for yourself:
It would be fine if the moment was fleeting, but the “camera” stayed at this angle for almost 10 seconds, making the lack of facial features very noticeable. This happens in a couple parts throughout the movie. While the actions scenes are high-quality, the scenes where facial features are non-existent were distracting. Most anime watchers would agree that they’d rather have consistent quality over lazy animation.
Everyone Needs a Motive
While the film’s complexity is one of its best assets, it’s also its Achilles heel. It took two viewings of the film to understand what was going on. While many anime films are fairly independent of the main anime, BUNGO STRAY DOGS: DEAD APPLE won’t make much sense if you haven’t seen BUNGO STRAY DOGS Season 2. It’s pretty reliant on Dazai’s involvement in the “Dragon’s Head Dispute” occurring at the beginning of the season.
The most confusing part of the entire film is Dazai’s participation as one of the movie’s main villains. That’s right. He aids Shibusawa and Dostoyevsky. The worst part? The movie barely explains it. One reason could be that he knows that Chuya is one of the only people capable of defeating Shibusawa, something the two did when they both worked with the Port Mafia. While the two don’t get along now, Dazai knows that Chuya would rescue him from Shibusawa’s grasps regardless of their standing with each other. Taking down Shibusawa and Dostoyevsky would just be an added bonus. However, they double-cross and weaponize Dazai. This can’t be something he expects, and yet Chuya still succeeds.
Dazai’s motivations are just one aspect missing from the film. Shibusawa and Dostoyevsky are so hellbent on ridding Yokohama specifically of its special ability users. While people are dying all over the world, it’s mostly to get the detective agency’s attention. I didn’t expect the villains to give a clichéd monologue explaining their entire plan but some context would be nice. The real kicker is, at the end of the film, Ango tries to cover-up the lack of explanation by saying, “Given the complexity of the three masterminds’ motivations, we still don’t have a full picture.”
But Who Needs Continuity?
Noticeably absent throughout the entire movie is Ranpo Edogawa. However, the movie focuses on Dazai, Atsushi, Kyoka, and Akutagawa, so the other members of the Agency barely make an appearance anyway. At the beginning of the movie, when Shibusawa and the “Serial Suicides of Special Ability Users” are first introduced, Ranpo packs his snacks into a safe, much to the confusion of everyone else in the room.
It wasn’t until the end of the movie that I even noticed that Ranpo was missing. If you remember from the main series, he isn’t actually an ability user. Ranpo’s super deduction skill is akin to Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. So it makes sense that he would disappear with every other human during the fog. He pops up again once the action is over, sitting in the main room of the Armed Detective Agency eating a bag from his stash, untouched by the fights.
My main issue with his character is its inconsistency with the rest of the series. Ranpo is not an ability user but he will fight you until you admit that he is. He throws a huge fit when Yosano tries to suggest that he doesn’t need his glasses to solve crimes. And yet, in the final moments of BUNGO STRAY DOGS: DEAD APPLE, he says, “I’m not gifted, and I’m back here, which must mean it all worked out well.” How did he know that he was going to disappear? Why does he admit he’s normal now of all times? These questions are left unanswered and it’s incredibly frustrating.
A Complicated Mess?
It’s really hard to say if BUNGO STRAY DOGS: DEAD APPLE was a good movie. It was enjoyable. My eyes were glued to the screen the entire time. The action had my heart racing. The film steers you in one direction, only to completely flip expectations with its jaw-dropping twists.
But, looking at it through an objective lens, the movie fell short in a lot of places. If you were to watch this movie in theatres, also taking into consideration its short release period, you won’t have enough time to fully comprehend what this movie is trying to convey. The plot is finely crafted but falls apart structurally when characters don’t have apparent motivations and it is inconsistent with the rest of the franchise. And if you, for some reason, haven’t watched Season 2 yet of BUNGO STRAY DOGS (or any BUNGO STRAY DOGS episode for that matter), the movie is going to be more confusing than it already is.
It’s already really intense and a little exhausting to watch as you try to keep track of the storyline. But it does have its payoffs. DEAD APPLE has one of the best anime villains ever, on top of developing the main characters in ways that are absent in the main show. If you’re a fan of the BUNGO STRAY DOGS franchise, you should definitely watch this movie.
BUNGO STRAY DOGS: DEAD APPLE releases in select theatres on May 2, 3, and 6, 2018 as part of Crunchyroll Movie Night. For tickets and more information, click here.
Featured Image via Crunchyroll.