Bungo Stray Dogs: Beast, once again written by Kafka Asagiri and drawn by Sango Harukawa, plunges the cast into an alternate universe. It kicks off the differences by switching the positions of Atsushi and Akutagawa. In this world, Akutagawa never joined the Port Mafia, nor did Atsushi join the Armed Detective Agency. This new dynamic sparks a slew of changes in both the story and the characters. This time, our protagonist is Akutagawa. We delve into his mind and history rather than Atsushi’s. Akutagawa joins the ADA to rescue his sister whom the Port Mafia had kidnapped many years ago. He struggles with his emotions and wrestles over whether or not he is a good person. This internal conflict sets up the events of the light novel very well.
Although there are not many images, like always, they say a lot with what little they have. The first one shows Akutagawa as a child on the ground, a mysterious man standing over him. By this point, Akutagawa has lost everything. All of his friends and even his sister are now gone. He stares wide-eyed with shock at this image. The emptiness in his eyes encapsulates his state of being for the rest of the story. His look is echoed by Atsushi in a later image, which serves to tie the two of them closer together. It also articulates the depths Akutagawa willingly sinks to get what he wants. Throughout the light novel, he proves to have the right goal in mind. But oftentimes, the means he uses are not always the most sound.
Atsushi as the antagonist must contend with his feelings towards his skill and lack of self-worth. Akutagawa on the other hand grapples with something darker – his nature fights against him. While he wants to do the right thing, a part of him believes himself to be a monster without feelings except for hate. He worries over whether or not his actions, even as he struggles to be a hero, are leading him down the right path. Beast in general has incredible themes with very fascinating takes on the changes to the overall story of Bungo Stray Dogs providing the switch-up.
However, like many of these novels, it does stumble in the last act. In the haste of trying to create a “good” ending, it explains away the actions of one of the major characters, setting them aside as untouchable. The ending feels like a cop-out to some extent. It sadly does not achieve the full potential of the brilliant setup that this alternate universe allows for. Still, even with this in mind, Akutagawa and Atsushi remain good foils to each other. While this Atsushi displays a ruthlessness that his main-timeline counterpart does not possess, his personality is not unrecognizable. He still carries the weight of his self-loathing and lack of confidence. Also, he harbors the feeling that his own life has no meaning. Akutagawa challenges him to find meaning and together, they push themselves to keep moving forward and become better people.
We’re reviewing every single light novel from the Bungo Stray Dogs series every month to celebrate the ongoing release of the fourth season. If you like novelizations of animated films, epic fights and unlocking forgotten memories, you may want to take a look at our previous review of Bungo Stray Dogs: Dead Apple. However, if you’re already familiar with Bungo Stray Dogs and would like to read the light novels for yourself, go ahead and check them out over on Yen Press. Let us know what you think of the anime and the light novels on our Facebook or Twitter!
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