Reaper's Reviews: 'Bungo Stray Dogs: Dead Apple'
Format: 90 minutes
Release: March 3, 2018
Nobody can deny that Bungo Stray Dogs (review) was a very flawed anime, be it for its jarring and inconsistent tonal shifts or its questionable handling of its story. In spite of these issues, I had immense fun watching this oddball of a series.
Fun as it was, it felt like BSD was never meant to be a massive cash cow franchise or a critical darling like some of studio Bones’ other works such as Fullmetal Alchemist, Soul Eater or Eureka Seven, not helped by the fact that it aired alongside the first season of the now universally acclaimed My Hero Academia (review).
But it was the series’ passionate fanbase that eventually resulted in the creation of Dead Apple, a semi-sequel movie taking place after the anime’s final arc and soon proved to be the little push towards a full continuation.
As for Dead Apple itself, I can’t deny it was fun seeing some old faces, but this fun is hampered by several issues I was disappointed to notice. Anyways, let us proceed with the review.
Story & Setting
Before diving into Dead Apple, you should remember that the movie’s events take place after the series’ second cour, and if you haven’t watched the 2016 anime by Bones, you will have no idea what’s going on besides people fighting with their weird and overpowered abilities.
That said even if you have watched Bungo Stray Dogs, you will probably scratch your head a few times because of Dead Apple’s dense, convoluted and overly complex narrative, but let’s keep that for later.
Dead Apple doesn’t waste too much time setting up its conflict; after a menacing prologue partly introducing our main villain, the main premise is revealed: a mysterious fog from an unknown source results in “Gifted” - humans with supernatural abilities - supposedly killing themselves.
With the threat reaching Yokohama, Atsushi and the rest of the Armed Detective Agency find themselves within the fog’s limits, which only goes south from there as Dazai is apparently siding with the fog’s creator, Tatsuhiko Shibusawa.
Perhaps one of my favorite things about this movie is its tone; there are several jokes here and there and its ending is fairly predictable, but from the moment the actual plot kicks in around 20 minutes in, it’s a serious and dark action flick that is fully aware of its story’s dire situation.
What I like about this movie is that it doesn’t shove an unwanted, moment-killing humor out of nowhere, which was one of my biggest gripes with the original series. Even when it throws a quip or snarky remark it is done in a much subtler and menacing way that keeps the movie from suffering any jarring shifts.
As for the story, I have very conflicted thoughts about it; on one hand, it has a very interesting premise that pits the characters against their own abilities, and it allows for some powerful character drama even though there just isn’t enough time to touch upon ALL of its cast.
On the other hand, the plot gets unnecessarily complex and convoluted as it goes. God knows how the ridiculous gambits of the movie’s villains work out eventually, some of which are irritably redundant like Dazai’s entire involvement with the story.
Another twist, and another twist pile up on what eventually should be a fairly simple and straightforward story. At its worst, Dead Apple feels like a poorly organized chest game in which its competitors believe they are a lot smarter than what they actually are.
It doesn’t help that the villains themselves are disappointing, but that it something for the section beneath. I will say here, however, that their motives are so vague and poorly explained, which leads the writing to spice things up through overly complicated revelations and twists.
Hell, the movie itself seems to have no idea what was the entire deal with the story and one of the character even lampshades that the whole event is too complex to understand!
Honestly, I’m very disappointed with the narrative; the series had a simple story that while far from masterful and filled with inconsistent tone, was still very engaging and exciting. There was truly something special here, but if it wasn’t for the characters I would have blasted this movie completely.
I know that I said that the characters are one of the reasons to watch this film, but really it boils down to three specific members of the cast: Atsushi, Kyouka and Akutagawa; well… Maybe not Akutagawa but he’s there.
While his inclusion feels shoe-horned at first, Akutagawa’s presence is more than welcome. There is a strong dynamic between him and Atsushi that shows their mutual growth since the 2016 series, and the chilling mood in the interactions between him and Kyouka (who is an ex-Port Mafia member) feel natural. Sadly, unlike Atsushi and Kyouka, Akutagawa lacks an actual character arc.
The entirety of the character development in Dead Apple is focused on Atsushi and Kyouka. I was a bit worried at first about Atsushi’s character arc, which in first glance seemed like a rehash of his development in the series.
But while the Atsushi of the series deals with his inferiority complex and mental scars from verbal and physical abuse of his past, Dead Apple’s Atsushi deals with the struggle to accept his own power, that being his ability to transform into a white tiger. It becomes quite apparent that the fraction and mistrust between the Gifted and his power are much more bigger than others’, and Dead Apple goes a long, painful way to help its main protagonist realize that his ability is part of his identity, and it does this brilliantly.
Kyouka’s character arc is quite possibly the best thing about Dead Apple; like Atsushi she shows difficulties accepting her own power, but unlike her partner, Kyouka also has to deal with lack of full control over her ability, as well as her powers’ role in her parents’ deaths. We also witness more of Kyouka struggling to live a normal life after working as a mafia assassin for years, not to mention her organic chemistry with Atsushi and how one compliments the other’s progress in a great pay-off.
And it’s good that we have strong leads to carry Dead Apple, because the villains sure fail to do so; there are three of them, and neither’s motivations are understandable or compelling enough to make them engaging or at least relatable.
Shibusawa is the movie’s main villain, who tries to steal Gifted’s abilities all over the world. Personality-wise he’s fairly bland especially in comparison to the extremely colorful and lively antagonists of the series. Yes, he’s bombastic and menacing, and is tied to Atsushi’s half-decent arc, but just lacks enough identity of his own to make an actual impact on viewers.
Dazai is also an antagonist here due to some long-term gambit but his inclusion is so contrived and his role in the majority of the movie is little more than just some deus ex machina to tie things up.
And finally we have Fyodor, BSD’s breakout character whose appearance in the movie just makes no sense at all. He’s just there; no drama, no fanfare; he’s only in this movie to mess up the plot’s final act and sell merchandise. Making Dead Apple his full anime introduction feels so redundant as besides being “the demon” that secretly plotted the original series' events, he only physically appeared in the stinger of the season finale. His presence in the movie feels so random and unnecessary, not to mention robbing Shibusawa from his charisma and dominance.
As for the rest of the cast, they are mostly relegated to cameos, which is not surprising given the this installment’s format. If your memory of the series is a little fuzzy, it will be a little hard to remember who is who, and some characters, like Port Mafia’s boss Morei, are just there for some eye-candy or comic relief. Chuuya’s inclusion was enjoyable, though. Dazai’s one-time partner was a delight to watch through and through and was responsible to one of the movie’s most epic action scenes.
Animation & Sound
While Bones are notable for their relatively high production values and consistent quality in animation, when they’re put with a movie budget, the amount of polish and detail to their work skyrockets astronomically. Dead Apple may not be the pinnacle of their work, but it’s still a damn good-looking spectacle.
The artwork is crisp and backgrounds are beautifully crafted, while character designs tend to possess a certain amount of detail to them that mostly stays consistent. The action scenes, however, are the highlight of the movie, with a level of fluidity and creativity rarely seen nowadays.
The set-up of the plot allows for unique and surprising matches and forces our main characters to think out of the box, now that they are stripped of their respective powers, so you have scenes like Akutagawa clashing with his ability in a metal-melting section of a factory.
As for the soundtrack, I freaking love it; with intense tracks filled with hard guitar tunes as well as addicting beats, it lends itself masterfully to the action, while orchestral tracks filled with bells and depressing piano notes occupy more personal scenes. The movie also has its own opening theme, “Deadly Drive” by GRANRODEO, a hard-rocking song with crazy guitar and strong vocal performance.
And of course, let us not forget the final battle of the movie, which boasts not only amazing animation and choreography, but also a great background music in the form of Bungo Stray Dogs’ second opening, “Reason Living.” Seriously, no words can describe how much I love this song.
The story of Bungo Stray Dogs: Dead Apple is rather unremarkable; it is ultimately too complex and elaborate for its own good and the movie’s main villains end up as forgettable and poorly characterized. However, I feel that Atsushi and Kyouka’s character development is more than enough to save this movie from crashing, and it’s marvelous to see how far both came by the time this movie occurs.
Dead Apple is only for those who are already familiar with the Bungo Stray Dogs franchise, but it is definitely a fun treat for the series' fans. While it is by no means a masterpiece and suffers from an overambitious narrative, it benefits from well-developed leads and creative action with top-notch animation that, at the very least, provide a very good time for BSG fans who clamored more from the series.
- Story keeps a more consistent tone than the series, with a fairly dark atmosphere
- Great chemistry between the main trio, while Kyouka has a very good character arc going for her
- High-quality animation, fluid action scenes and a great soundtrack
- The story as a whole is bogged down from its overly complex nature and direction
- Bland villains with uninspired personalities and confusing, barely explored motives
- What is Fyodor's purpose in the movie?
& the Ugly:
- Atsushi's haircut
As far as alternate recommendations go, how about giving you some other great action movies?
- Sword of the Stranger, which was also produced by Bones, and is a showcase to their talent as action animators
- Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door, one of studio Bones' earliest projects and a classic of Japanese animation theater.
© 2018 Raziel Reaper