Review for Bungo Stray Dogs Movie: Dead Apple
You wouldn’t expect to equate anime to poker, but it turns out that there is at least one similarity where I am concerned. I tend to go all in when I decide to buy a series. Not for me the thought of sampling a few episodes on streaming, or buying just one volume to see if I like something; I’ll just get as much as is available, watch it all, and then decide whether I like it or not. You can see why I would do that with limited licence agreements and even more limited production runs, but knowing my preferences, and doing a little reading around a show can spare me the crushing disappointment when I realise I just blew a fair wad of money on something I don’t actually like. When I decided to get Bungo Stray Dogs, I wound up placing an order for all three seasons, and the feature film spin-off as well. But having watched the first two seasons, I have yet to really click with the show. Maybe the movie will sell me on it.
Atsushi Nakajima is cursed with bad luck. He’s an orphan who’s been kicked out of the orphanage, has been living on the street, gradually starving thanks to his inability to steal. And he’s being pursued by a giant tiger. Then one day, he rescues a man named Osamu Dazai from the river, only to be faced with ingratitude for preventing a suicide. But Dazai perks up when he hears about the tiger. For Atsushi isn’t being pursued... he is the tiger. He’s one of those few people that manifest supernatural abilities, and his is to transform into a tiger. But as yet he doesn’t have any control over the process. The downside is that he’s being pursued by the authorities.
But Atsushi would be the perfect recruit for the Armed Detective Agency, an agency where the employees all have supernatural abilities, and are called on to deal with those cases that the regular or the military police cannot handle. But his life may not have gotten any easier. For there are people who want the ‘Weretiger’, the criminal Port Mafia group, and they have abilities as well.
At the end of Season 2, the Armed Detective Agency had defeated the plans of The Guild, and saved Yokohama, and Kyoka Izumi, formerly a Port Mafia assassin had joined the agency as well, rescued from her circumstances by Atsushi. As the film begins Yokohama faces a new threat. All across the world, incidents of strange fog have occurred, and when the fog lifts, Gifted have been found dead, apparently by their own hands.
Now the fog has come to Yokohama, and it blankets the whole city. And sure enough the Gifted start being killed, by their own gifts. Then Osamu Dazai goes missing from the Agency, and given his oft professed desire for suicide, appears to be implicated in the deaths. Atsushi, Kyoka, and Akutagawa from Port Mafia are given the mission to find, and if necessary stop him, but they have troubles of their own when their Gifts turn on them. But the truth behind the fog lies in an incident that occurred in the city six years previously.
Bungo Stray Dogs: Stray Apple gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, and the choice between Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround English and Japanese, with subtitles and signs locked to the appropriate track during playback. The character designs follow on seamlessly from the TV series, while the world design, already excellent in the show, gets an extra level of detail for the movie, and the animation gets pushed up a whole level to give the cinematic experience you’d expect. The image is clear and sharp, detail and colour are excellent, while banding is kept to a minimum. The audio too is excellent, nice and immersive, and making the most of the action and the great music, while keeping the dialogue clear. The subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos.
You get one disc in a BD Amaray style case, wrapped in an o-card slipcover. There is a leaflet for a digital copy inside, and while the sleeve has printing on the inside, it’s minimalist to the max.
After a trailer for Funimation NOW, the disc boots to an animated menu, and on it the sole extra is a 3:06 length Promo Video reel.
Dead Apple hasn’t yet sold me on Bungo Stray Dogs, but it hasn’t yet put me off. I guess that leaves it to the third season to see if I finally fall for the charms of this franchise. The movie is a bit of an exercise in frustration though, as some things it does really well, but others, you might think more important things, it really just goes through the motions with. My attention shouldn’t have been drifting the way that it did during the final act, but that might be more down to my inherent over familiarity with the medium, and that failure to really click with the show than anything overly critical.
Where the film did impress me is what it did with the characters. There is character growth and development over the film’s runtime, which offers more depth and emotional impact than the usual 20-odd minute episode. Suicide was a somewhat questionable character trait for the Dazai character, but as it’s a key element in the film’s narrative, it makes Dazai seem a little less frivolous than he normally does in the series, and of course there is that six-years previously prologue to the film that reminds us of his friendship with Ango and Odasaku, as well as revealing the incident that sets up this film, and which contributed to his eventual departure from Port Mafia.
The film also has Feodor D. in a prominent if enigmatic role, This character was introduced at the end of Season 2 as the next likely antagonist that the Agency will most likely face in Season 3, and while we don’t learn too much about his motivation and goals in this film, he does get a lot of screen time, and you get the implication that his relationship with Dazai isn’t a new one. He feels more like a trickster in this story, thriving on the chaos that he nudges events towards. But the main thrust of the film is driven by the guest character Tatsuhiko Shibusawa, the antagonist that the Port Mafia faced six years previously, and who returns now to resume his goal of amassing Gifts, albeit in a new, ominous way.
The film’s central characters, the ones that have to solve the problem and drive the emotion of the piece are Atsushi, Kyoka and Akutagawa. The characters have prior of course from the series, with the antagonism between the Agency’s Atsushi and Port Mafia’s Akutagawa having come to blows on more than one occasion. The end of season 2 saw them having to work together, and the implication was that the relationship would have to develop positively if they are to prevail in future challenges. Kyoka is the Port Mafia assassin who Atsushi rescued from her previous life, and she eventually switched allegiances. She could be a sticking point for the other two, but in reality she becomes the third vertex of the triangle, the stabilising force that stops Atsushi and Akutagawa from turning on each other, forcing them both to see each other’s point of view.
In terms of character development, and despite Atsushi defaulting to his orphanage flashbacks once more (I would have thought that he had resolved that in season 2), Dead Apple looks to be a continuation of the canon storyline, not the typical filler that movie spin-offs from TV series usually are. But in terms of the story itself, Dead Apple really does feel like the usual Shonen Jump movie spin-offs, and that is the big weakness of the film.
Call it my innate cynicism, or call it my long experience with anime movies like this, but there comes a point where I can switch off, knowing full well what to expect. A guest character, a bit of prior history between the characters, a new threat more ominous that anything faced by the characters in the series, and an explosive, action packed climax that out does anything animated before in the franchise, and you have the template for most of these movie spin-offs. Dead Apple sticks to the script and stays on track throughout. It looks as if the characters have developed and grown during the narrative, which might be a good thing, although I’ll know that for sure once I start watching Season 3, and learn if that series actually refers to events in the film, or if the end of this film was just a reset button.
Bungo Stray Dogs: Dead Apple does the characters justice, and I’m sure that if you’re invested in the franchise, this film will mean a lot more. While I enjoy Bungo Stray Dogs as a show to watch, I’m not yet a fan, so for me, the flaws in the film stood out in stark relief, compared to the plenty that it excelled at, making it a distinctly average, if entertaining experience. The Blu-ray is of the quality that you’d expect, from a Funimation/Crunchyroll collaboration, back when their partnership was going off the boil and before Sony bought CR. In other words, bung it on a disc and get it out sharpish.