Bungo Stray Dogs vol. 1 – Kafka Asagiri

3 out of 5

While this kinda just feels like a bunch of manga / US comic-book tropes tossed into a grab bag, Kafka Asagiri’s introductory volume to Bungo Stray Dogs is an undeniably entertaining and breezy read, leaning in to its tropes instead of dressing them up and pretending like they’re new kids on the block.

This might be due to a conceptual hook that went over my head: basing the characters around famous authors and poets, recast, here, as the superpowered members of the “Armed Detective Agency,” into which our orphaned point-of-view character, Atsushi, is inducted and tested over these first four chapters. By mapping what are presumably the most defining traits of these literary figures to manga archetypes – the straight man, the wild card, the flirtatious sibling duo – Asagiri arrives at personalities that feel, for sure, familiar, but also have enough individuality to be fun to interact with. This is assisted by Sango Harukawa’s art, which has a similar blend of uniqueness and stereotypicalness, with all characters being lithe and floppy haired, garbed in cool and flowing business casual attire, and yet each are recognizable through posture and expression. Harukawa’s action will hopefully evolve a bit, as the lack of background details and incredibly vague settings (i.e. a desk is an office; a long corridor is an alleyway) makes positioning and movement all sort of floaty, but the dialogue timing and emotion are well done, accounting for that breezy read.

Otherwise, Bungo is a pretty typical opener: introduce your cast and their dynamics, introduce the hook – superpowers! mysteries! – and introduce conflict, which presents itself as a similarly superpowered mafia group which seeks Asagiri for his black market value, owing to his power. But ‘typical’ isn’t necessarily bad, as any given TV procedural or popcorn flick can attest. Sometimes that means entertaining, which Stray Dogs certainly is, and is absolutely presented with enough skill to encourage me to see how and if it iterates on its premise.