I really liked Bungou Stray Dogs. I still do. I’m here for anything new that comes out. But as much as I enjoyed the first season, it’s the second that really made the series take root in my mind. More specifically, the first few episodes of the second season, which told the tale of a doomed man so earnest that he even managed to reach Dazai.
The brutal and ultimately sad fate of Sakunosuke Oda, a mafia member who doesn’t kill, added a layer of depth and even meaning to the series, just as the man himself gave Dazai a purpose.
In general, BSD flirts with violence and unpleasant themes while remaining fairly bloodless and comical in tone. It’s part of its charm. But in the second season, the flashback story took a sudden much more sober turn. For the first time, we get a glimpse of a staid Dazai, recalling how he managed to make and lose his one and only friend, and how it changed him forever.
Oda is a man who remains shrouded in mystery. By the time of Dazai’s story, he had already given up a successful and ruthless career as an assassin but hadn’t quite managed to break free of the criminal world, languishing as a fairly low-grade member of the Port Mafia.
It becomes quickly obvious that Oda is a man whose been caught by his conscience. Unable to suppress his natural kindness anymore, he desperately wants to carve out a better life for himself but doesn’t know where to start. We see a man aged well beyond his years, capable of rising quickly in the mafia ranks and disgusted by the very concept. A man trying hard to not long for a redemption that seems beyond reach. Nevertheless, he tries. Taking care of orphans and urging those around him to do better.
Just like Oda, the narrative seems disarmingly honest. Without warning we are thrown in a world where morality is irrelevant. Were crime and violence are neither glamorous nor horrific and where the dehumanization that must occur in order to simply exist wears away at one’s soul.
Yet through these impossible circumstances, Oda somehow managed to find his heart. We find out that Oda has adopted 5 children who had nowhere else to go and was staying in the mafia in order to provide for them. He kept to himself, stayed out of the action and generally was just trying to bide his time as quietly as possible until the kids got old enough to take care of themselves. As simple wish. A noble one at that.
Goodness is more impressive when it comes from someone capable of evil. Untested virtue is suspicious at best. Oda could have led a happy and luxurious life by shrugging away intangible considerations and yet he chose to make things harder on himself. He chose to stand and fight the darkness he saw around him! And he lost. Utterly.
His resolve not to kill only increased the bloodshed around him. His quiet and solitary life, isolating those he cared about from harm by only letting very few people get close to him proved devastating when he found himself virtually alone after being betrayed by one of the only people he trusted. His questionable vision of happiness, choosing a life of constantly looking over his shoulder after leaving the mafia as soon as his adopted kids were old enough, vanished in thin air when he saw them all murdered before his eyes.
This was a man who had little hope for the future and saw it cruelly ripped from him at every turn.
It all seemed so barbarically pointless. All these double crosses, all that blood, in the end it had been utterly meaningless. Oda hadn’t been able to do a single good deed, to save a single innocent.
I remember thinking to myself, no they’re not dead. They wouldn’t just kill children, would they? No, this isn’t this type of show. They can’t….
It was a gamed changer. The narrative had effectively managed to create one good man in a sea of monsters and mercilessly beaten him down without so much as a glimmer of absolution. It takes some pretty strong nerves to pull that off.
Finally pushed beyond the brink, Oda throws it all away to go down in a blaze of fury and vengeance. In the end, violence is all he knew and even untethered from responsibility, it’s the only way he could respond. I really wondered if the story would let that stand. The Port Mafia had always been the goofy affable type of evil in the first season. There was nothing remotely pleasant about any of this. Would I really have to watch a man who had lost all reason to live now throw away the only things he had left, his faith and his life.
Surely no, Dazai would save him. The kids weren’t really dead, it was dummies. He’d tell him at the last minute. They would have to fight through the fray and maybe someone would be injured but it would work out in the end. Good people didn’t just get punished. This wasn’t that type of show…
I screamed at Dazai to not let Oda go. I explained to him that he could stop it, he could help. Dazai didn’t listen to me. I wanted to scream at Oda not to go as well but I didn’t have anything left to say. I mean I get it. Everything happened as it would. Logically, there was no way out at this point but since when had BSD been the type of show to concern itself with logic?
And then, a dying Oda, a man with absolutely nothing left, took the very last of his strength and saved one life. Oda’s dying words to Dazai are “… Whether you’re on the side who kills people or the side who saves people, nothing beyond what you would expect will appear. Nothing in this world can fill that lonely hole you have. You will wander the darkness for eternity. (…) Be on the side that saves people. If both sides are the same, become a good man…” Whether he realized it or not, he had just created a miracle. He had conjured salvation out of slaughter.
It may sound trite, but it’s still a nice sentiment. If it costs you nothing: be kind. As simple as it may be, it forever changed the world Dazai lived in.
For the first time, I realized what type of show BSD is. The type of show that sacrifices a good man in order to attempt to save a bad one. It had my undivided attention.
Dazai may not be the kind of person that mourns others. His consideration for life in general is rather slim. But I appreciate Oda’s life and bemoan his death. He was too good for the world he lived in and he made BSD a better type of show.