Bungo Stray Dogs: Dead Apple (trailer) is fundamentally a film about isolation. As viewers of the first and second seasons of the TV series well know, the main character of the franchise, Atsushi Nakajima, grew up lonely and separated from others because of his special power. Over the course of the two seasons of the anime, he begins to find his place in the world thanks to the Armed Detective Agency and his offbeat mentor figure, the extremely pretty Osamu Dazai. But what the Bungo Stray Dogs TV series understands – as does Dead Apple – is that the links between those who have been ostracized from society (whether by choice or not) cannot be so easily healed.
As an anime franchise film, Bungo Stray Dogs: Dead Apple plays by a different set of rules than the Hollywood films we're all used to seeing. To be honest, the way these kinds of movies are typically structured and crafted is still one I'm getting accustomed to, but I think their basic appeal is fairly clear to see: These films are built around the idea of "seeing your favorite characters on the big screen." This means that, oftentimes, strong narratives are traded in for flashy setpieces and tighter character focuses are replaced by a series of cameos to make sure everyone's favorite real-life-author-turned-extremely-attractive-anime-person gets their chance in the spotlight.
On both of those fronts, Bungo Stray Dogs: Dead Apple succeeds marvelously.
People who have followed director Takuya Igarashi since his days working on children's anime like Ojamajo Doremi and Sailor Moon under the guidance of luminaries like Junichi Sato (Aria) and Kunihiko Ikuhara (Revolutionary Girl Utena) sometimes argue that Igarashi has lost his touch since those days, but his work on Bungo Stray Dogs has shown, at least to me, that his style may simply have evolved. What Igarashi excels at these days is a kind of slick, easily accessible visual grandeur that's fun to watch and appreciate. Dead Apple, which Igarashi storyboarded completely by himself according to a Studio BONES panel back in October, is a fine example of this because it looks EXTREMELY good.
Many of Igarshi's stylistic tells are present – intricate lighting, sillhouettes, symmetrical compositions, exaggerated cartoony faces, dramatic settings, strong use of color – and Dead Apple really benefits from the energy and drama his visual talents lend to the film. "Beautifully horrifying" is a good way of describing a lot of this film, as it presents some truly dreadful things in extraordinarily pretty ways. The action setpieces, as well, stand out thanks to a metric ton of impressive animation courtesy of the crew at BONES – and they are plentiful, let me tell you.
In many ways, I feel Dead Apple gets the best of both visual worlds – the slower scenes are consistently compelling because of the flair of the presentation and the beauty of Nobuhiro Arai's impossibly attractive anime character designs, and the action scenes boom because of the animation (and Taku Iwasaki's continued return to form with Bungo – complete with an incredibly Soul Eater-esque battle theme toward the film's end).
In summary, Dead Apple absolutely nails it when it comes to presenting a visually impressive big-screen experience. Although it perhaps falls just short of the TV series' best (that would be the delicately nuanced four-episode Odasaku flashback arc at the beginning of season 2), it's perfectly tuned for making a huge impact in theaters.
With the visual presentation covered, how does Dead Apple fare when it comes to providing fans with the content they want of their favorite Bungo Stray Dogs characters? Well, perhaps it's best to start with the new faces. This time around, the villains on the other side of the Armed Detective Agency are Tatsuhiko Shibusawa (historically, a Japanese translator of French erotic literature) and Fyodor Dostoyevsky (an incarnation of the famous Russian author behind such works as Crime and Punishment). Dead Apple never really takes the time to fully explain either characters' motivations, so while they seem as if they ought to be threatening, it's a bit difficult to get a handle on them.
On the other side, those characters who are already familiar to us – particularly Atsushi, Dazai, Kyouka, and Akutagawa – benefit from being able to draw on two full seasons of the anime prior. The film wastes little time with set up aside from a brief flashback before the opening, trusting that the audience will remember not only where these characters are coming from, but also their affection for them. This goes for the rest of the main Bungo cast as well, as numerous characters from the TV series pop up with no ado at all to play their role in this self-contained story and then poof away until they're called upon next. In achieving the goal of making sure everybody gets their time in the spotlight, Dead Apple is ruthlessly efficient.
All in all, this makes for a somewhat disjointed narrative experience. The film flicks from character to character rather quickly, so while your favorite character likely got at least a moment in the spotlight, only the principals garner any kind of significant screentime. This also means that the actual plot of the film – particularly the hidden schemes and motivations that are driving it – ends up feeling a little floaty, more like a framework in which the characters move and have their moments to shine than a grounded tale. Characters' emotional journeys in the film don't quite pack the punch they might in a story where they are more tightly woven into the plot.
But, as I said, this kind of comes with the territory of anime franchise films. Happily, even if the complexities of the plot don't quite manage to be easy to follow, it diminishes neither the pleasure of seeing our heroes come out on top at the end of the spectacular final battle, nor the sneaky thematic resonances between Atsushi's long journey toward healing his relationship with society and the melancholy of the villainous Shibusawa. Isolation and reconciliation are the two pillars that hold up Dead Apple's fundamental message – that we have to embrace the truth about ourselves and our desires to move forward from our pasts. It's a poignant thought, if a bit obscured by the constraints of needing to check off all the boxes of a franchise film, and it makes the entire experience of Bungo Stray Dogs: Dead Apple richer.
If Bungo Stray Dogs: Dead Apple isn't a great film, it's certainly at least a good one with plenty of stand-out elements to make it worth the watch. For fans of the franchise, it'll almost definitely give you everything you could want from a Bungo Stray Dogs movie; for others, the impressive visuals alone make an experience worth having. The film is in theaters through the end of the weekend thanks to Crunchyroll Movie Night – if you're interested, check out the site to see if there's a showing in your area.
Isaac is an art student, semi-retired anime blogger, sometimes podcaster, and Associate Features Editor for Crunchyroll. You can read more of his work on his blog, Mage in a Barrel, and follow him on Twitter @iblessall.