What’s it about? Melos races home to save his friend from being killed by a tyrant king. But after he gets attacked, Melos regains his memory: He’s actually the author Dazai Osamu and he’s been trapped in his own story, Run, Melos! Now he must keep an evil organization from destroying his tale with the help of the mysterious traveler, Akutagawa Ryunosuke.
This show has a set niche audience, and everybody within it will watch this and everybody out of it will not, and it won’t really matter what I say about it. So, before I type out this exercise in futility, please at least go watch the opening theme, because it’s stylish as hell.
…Okay, time to spend several hundred words talking to myself.
Bungo and Alchemist is based on a video game that, near as I can tell, is about collecting classic authors reimagined as pretty boys. This may mean that the anime will eventually become cluttered with too many characters to keep track of, but the premiere wisely chooses to keep the core cast limited to a trio: Dazai Osamu, Sato Haruo, and Akutagawa Ryunosoke.
This was especially smart because they needed the majority of their run-time to explain the premise, which is… A Lot, though it sounds more complicated than it is. Basically, there’s an evil organization tragically translated as “the Taints” (snickers) trying to destroy human civilization by destroying classic works of literature. To destroy those works, the Taints (snickers) enter the book and change the ending, which shatters the story.
However, as soon as the Taints (snickers) start messing with the story, they summon the author’s soul into that story. If the author can regain their senses and write the True Ending, they can keep the story intact. That’s where “the delvers” come in: they’re the spirits of authors whose stories have been rescued, and they can dive into other stories and help protect them.
Also, their boss is a cat.
…Okay, maybe it is as complicated as it sounds, but it doesn’t really matter. The important part is that modern Japanese authors Dazai Osamu and Akutagawa Ryunosuke have been reimagined as pretty boys and are going on adventures into classic books together. Probably there will be shipteasing.
If you’re into cute dudes staring meaningfully at each other while fighting bad guys but you never got around to getting that Japanese modern literature degree, fret not! Bungo and Alchemist is willing to hold your hand through the literary plot points. It even seems interested in educating its audience about these stories and the authors who wrote them, albeit in dramatic anime fashion. So, literary nerds may get a kick out of this one as well.
That said, Bungo Stray Dogs it ain’t. The adaptation team does their best to keep things visually interesting with sharp angles, color contrasts, and stylistic shifts between flashbacks and present-day scenes; but the animation itself is minimal, something that becomes difficult to hide in such an action-heavy premiere. It’s a valiant effort, but the stiffness is still there.
More concerning is the script, though, as the premiere really rushes its emotional beats and doesn’t seem to know how to write its characters. This is only complicated by the fact that the main characters are, in the context of the narrative, Actual Historical Figures (as opposed to just being “inspired” by them a la Bungo Stray Dogs).
The heart of this episode is about Dazai learning how to trust again because he feels betrayed by his mentor, Sato Haruo, because… Sato didn’t use his influence to ensure Dazai won the Akutagawa Literary Prize. (This is, apparently, kinda true.) I very much do not have time to dig into the messy life of the actual Osamu Dazai in this review that nobody is reading, but in the context of Bungo and Alchemist, he kinda comes across as a spoiled child. It’s tough to sympathize with his rapid-fire emotional growth.
The overall tone is awkwardly paradoxical throughout, actually. One moment we’re finding out Dazai was addicted to painkillers (truth!), and the next he’s a plucky magical boy slashing monsters with a sword (fiction!). It’s… a choice, all right, and one that becomes more uncomfortable the longer I think about it.
But, like I said at the top, I’m talking to air right now. The cute lit boys were either on your radar going into this season or they weren’t, and either way you skipped right over this review because it didn’t matter what someone else said about it.
If Bungo and Alchemist was on your radar, then you’ll likely have a fine time with it. Heck, if the series can develop the relationship between Dazai and Akutagawa, find a narrative through-line, and keep itself from getting buried in characters, it could turn into a solid episodic fantasy. I’m not sure I’ll come back to it myself, but I haven’t tossed it in the slush pile, either. We’ll see how the rest of the season shakes out.