Bungou Stray Dogs is an anime series featuring characters whose names are the same as famous literary masters (‘bungou’ in Japanese) and whose supernatural powers are named after their works. Some authors’ names are so famous that even viewers outside Japan may have heard of them, but many have never read about their backgrounds and personal histories. In this article, I’d like to introduce some of those Japanese literary masters whose names are used by the members of the Armed Detective Agency.
The protagonist of the series, Atsushi Nakajima, is a timid but kind-hearted boy. He was kicked out of his orphanage because of his ability to transform into a white tiger, called Beast Beneath the Moonlight (Gekka-juu). Later, his fate leads him to join the Armed Detective Agency. There he grows both physically and mentally through his various battles against strong enemies, such as Port Mafia and Guild.
This ability, Beast Beneath the Moonlight, is named after a short story called Tiger-Poet (Sangetsuki), Nakajima’s debut work. The original story is about a young official who had his dreams shattered. He then transformed into a tiger just like the character in the anime. Nakajima published more works after Tiger Poet, but died of bronchial asthma at the young age of 33. He worked as an author only for a year, but his name became well-known in Japan after this short masterpiece posthumously won an award.
Deuteragonist Osamu Dazai has the appearance of a friendly person. He is always with a smile on his face, but he is actually elusive and a suicidal maniac. His past is revealed as the story develops, and his mysterious side attracts a lot of fans. He is one of the most popular characters in the series.
His ability No Longer Human (Ningen Shikkaku) lets him nullify the abilities of others on contact. The original story of the same title is one of the most famous pieces written by Dazai, and remains very popular to this day. There have been numerous movie adaptations, including one in 2010. A number of Dazai’s works, including Run, Melos! (Hashire Merosu) and The Setting Sun (Shayou), are highly popular and considered modern-day classics in Japan.
Dazai was a very popular author with many popular works. He led an extreme personal life with many failed suicide attempts and a fight against drug addiction. After having finished writing No Longer Human, he committed suicide at the young age of 38. Even with such a miserable personal history, his works never failed to attract a lot of readers, and people in Japan continue to celebrate his birthday.
Doppo Kunikida is a natural organizer and a member of the Armed Detective Agency. He is often teased by his partner, Dazai, and ends up doing all the work.
His ability, Lone Poet (Doppo Ginkaku), brings to life the objects that he writes on the pages of his notebook. The ability is named after the pen name of the real-life author Doppo Kunikido. The anime character said in the show that his previous job was teaching; the author also worked as a teacher for a while. Kunikida’s masterpieces include works such as The Musashi Plain (Musashi-no) and Spring Birds (Haru no Tori). Incidentally, the woman who appeared in Episode 6 of the anime series, Nobuko, was named after the author’s first wife.
Kyouka Izumi is a cute and lovely girl. She was used as an assassin by Port Mafia, but meeting the protagonist, Atsushi, changed her life. She later manages to escape and joins the Armed Detective Agency.
The actual Kyouka Izumi was a man whose real name was Kyoutarou. Kyouka’s ability in the series, Demon Snow (Yasha Shirayuki), allows her to materialize a female phantom with amazing fighting capabilities. It is named after Demon Pond (Yasha-ga-ike) and Snow White (Shirayuki-hime), both written by the author.
In the anime series, she is related to Kouyou Ozaki of Port Mafia. This comes from the fact that the author Izumi was one of the disciples of the author Ozaki in real life. He was also known to be a clean freak and preferred cooked food. In the anime, Atsushi treats her to a hot tofu dish called yudoufu. The author also loved tofu and often ate it in real life.
Yukichi Fukuzawa, the director of the Armed Detective Agency, is a handsome and cool man. He is an expert in martial arts, well dignified, and he cares about his employees. His ability, All Men Are Equal (Hito no Ue ni Hito wo Tsukurazu) only works for his employees at the Agency and it adjusts and controls the power of their abilities. It is named after the first phrase of Encouragement of Learning (Gakumon no Susume) written by the original author, Yukichi Fukuzawa. The quote is often misattributed to him, but it is actually a translated quote from another source.
The Fukuzawa in the anime supposedly hates feudalism; the actual author Fukuzawa and his father suffered from the feudal system of Japan. He hated the class system and encouraged people to learn and study to be independent and develop self-esteem. He wished for the equality of mankind. The equality part is connected to his ability in the anime.
The author Fukuzawa was most active at the end of the Edo period and the beginning of the Meiji period in the mid-to-late 19th Century. He visited many foreign countries and brought back his knowledge of various foreign cultures. He was also known as the founder of Keio University, one of the most famous and oldest universities in Japan. He made a huge contribution in absorbing Western cultures during the period of the Meiji Restoration.
Ranpo is the best detective of the Armed Detective Agency. He uses his ability Super Deduction (Chou Suiri) to resolve various problems. He also wears the same kind of outfit we often see in detective stories. He activates his ability by putting on a pair of glasses that help him deduct any mystery almost instantly, although the truth is that he doesn’t actually have any supernatural abilities; he is simply gifted with naturally incredible intelligence and insight.
Like his Super Deduction ability, the actual Ranpo Edogawa was known for his detective stories. Incidentally, he made a career out of working as a detective. His pseudonym, Edogawa Ranpo, was a Japanese anagram of the name of the famous American author, Edgar Allan Poe. He worked as an author from the Taisho period to the early Showa period in the early-to-mid 20th Century, and his works were strongly admired by many people in Japan, especially children.
Jun’ichirou Tanizaki is probably the timidest member of the Agency. He supports other members with his ability, The Makioka Sisters (Sasame-yuki, literally ‘Light Snow’). He has a younger sister called Naomi Tanizaki, who is named after a character in the author’s book Naomi (Chijin no Ai, literally ‘Fool’s Love).
The anime character supposedly hates earthquakes, and this is because the author Tanizaki experienced the 1894 Tokyo earthquake when he was a child. It is said that he became extremely scared of earthquakes because of it. He also suffered a nervous breakdown, and that might be the reason why the anime character seems to be quite timid in the story. The author released various works in different genres, and his smart narratives were particularly renowned.
The character Kenji Miyazawa is the youngest member of the Agency at the tender age of 14; he is honest and big-hearted. His ability, Undefeated by the Rain (Ame ni mo Makezu) grants him superhuman strength that even allows him to lift cars with ease. It is named after one of the poems written by the real Kenji Miyazawa. The anime character also uttered some lines taken from the same poem with a bit of a parody in Episode 11.
The fictional village Kenji used to live in, called ‘Ihatov’, is named after a fictional place that the author originally coined in one of his poems. It is created based on the landscape of his own birthplace, Iwate in Northern Japan. The series depicts the character in farmer’s clothes and his hometown as having a barter economy. Those plot points are also based on the farming lives the author often described and implied in his works. Even though the author’s works, unfortunately, remained unknown while he was alive, they were rated highly after his death, and are now seen in school textbooks in Japan. Some of his major works include Night on the Galactic Railroad, The Restaurant of Many Orders, and Gauche the Cellist.
The character Akiko Yosano is a slim young woman with an extraordinarily determined spirit. Her rare healing ability, Thou Shalt Not Die (Kimi Shinitamou Koto Nakare), allows her to heal external wounds. However, to heal someone they must first be fatally injured. Thanks to this, all the members of the Agency are scared of getting healed by her.
The name of this ability comes from the famous phrase of the poem written by the poet Akiko Yosano. The poem was addressed to her younger brother when he was drafted into the Russo-Japanese war. Episode 8, which revolved around Yosano, was titled Teaching Them to Kill; Then to Die (Hito wo Koroshite Shineyo tote). This is also a verse taken from the same poem.
The character Yosano hates those who disrespect ‘death’ and ‘women’, and the same can be said for the actual poet. She was a pioneering feminist and pacifist, calling for equal rights for both sexes in education. She helped found the first educational institute for both sexes in Japan.
The Rich Literary History of Japan
By focusing on each character, there is a direct relation between the anime and the original authors. The detailed plots of the episodes are inspired by the works of each author. Try watching the series again, now making the connection between fiction and reality.
Anime Site: http://bungo-stray-dogs.jp/
© 2016 朝霧カフカ・春河35/ＫＡＤＯＫＡＷＡ/文豪ストレイドッグス製作委員会