Bungo Stray Dogs vol. 2 – Kafka Asagiri

3 out of 5

Well, that got unfocused fairly quickly. Not that volume 1 of Stray Dogs necessarily drilled down on plot, but it at least felt somewhat linear: a group of super-powered detectives versus super-powered mafia, with our POV guided by orphan-with-tiger-powers Atsushi, working for the good guys and wanted by the bad. Nothing particularly deep, but enjoyable, with good comic beats and visual fluidity from Sango Harukawa.

The latter has even improved with volume 2, as Harukawa grows better at creating a sense of place with our select settings – previously, everything just seemed kind of open and non-descript – and there’s legitimate choreography in the fights, as opposed to exciting, but vague panels of swooping lines. The story though, has even less sense of stakes and drive than before, bouncing between shonen pledges to do the right thing – Atsushi won’t put his teammates in harm’s way! – a murder mystery, and then another bad guy showdown, continuing the sensibility that Bungo is a collection of tropes, and not necessarily anything to stand solidly on its own two legs. There’s certainly something to be said for manga comfort food, of course, and Bungo’s aim of right-down-the-middle works to that extent – it’s entertaining, with an assortment of expressive characters and yuks, and Asagiri keeps those shonen pledges reined in enough so that they’re not eye-rolling. And there’s some light quirks here, when our detectives wipe out a mafia kill squad between panels – i.e. they’re proven to be not a big deal at all – and the mystery is solved with actual detectivin’ instead of powers – there’s just the sense that these quirks are sort of accidental incidents needed for Bungo to be able to cycle through featuring its various characters.

Again, fun stuff, just lacking in any absolute standout aspects.