I watched Bungou Stray Dogs (all 3 seasons + the movie, the OVA, and some of the Wan shorts). Here are my thoughts:
I generally speaking don't like action anime. I also dislike superpowers as a plot device. I prefer comedy served as a side dish; too much comedy will put me off depending on how palatable I find its flavour. For these reasons I expected that I would not enjoy Bungou Stray Dogs and in fact almost passed on it entirely. Just to be sure though, I pessimistically watched the first episode just in case.
I felt hooked at episode 3 and knew I'd be watching the entire thing. The first few episodes were strong. There were interesting characters with tons of promise.
Season 1 has a good balance between comedy and serious scenes. Don't be fooled by the comedy of season 1 though. Like many other anime, they lure you in with a lighthearted beginning to introduce characters and setting, and then the more emotionally tumultuous journey begins. Season 1 spends most of its time fleshing out characters and setting. There is a major shift in tone from season 1 to season 2. There is very little comedy in season 2 and the tone is far darker. The difference was so stark that I double-checked to see if they changed staff. Actually, in general this anime is all over the map in terms of tone. These transitions are usually handled well though, which I think is a sign of good direction.
Here's a summary of my pros and cons.
Positive aspects of the anime:
- Interesting and sometimes well-developed cast of characters.
- Many of the characters are both likable and memorable.
- Complex (yet coherent) and interesting plot that interweaves numerous characters with different motivations, ideologies, backstories, etc.
- Good voice acting.
- Complementary OST with variety.
- Some of the supernatural abilities are kind of cool or at the very least unique.
- Attractive male characters and yaoi ships.
- Funny comedy sometimes (mainly season 1)
Weak aspects of the anime:
- Large cast without adequate development of many characters.
- Arguably poor direction at times. For example: rushed story arcs, inappropriate comedic relief, boring fight scenes, etc.
- Asspull conflict resolution and all the usual issues with super powers ("muh power is arbitrarily better than yours, and then everyone died, the end.").
- Unshakeable feeling of protagonist plot armour, even from early in the series.
- Using the absolutely insufferable 'rich American' character trope for an important character.
I don't particularly like super powers or enjoy fight scenes. Thankfully the fight scenes in this are dialogue-heavy and/or resolved quickly. Someone who naturally gravitates towards the genres of this anime would probably enjoy it more than me.
My overall ratings:
Seasons 1, 2 and 3: 7/10
Dead Apple movie: 5/10
Wan! shorts: dropped after 4 episodes
I actually would recommend the TV anime to a casual viewer because it's a very easily digestible series. Also a pretty solid 'page turner' — I usually watched multiple episodes in one sitting. I'm not surprised to see how commonly well received this anime was. There is pretty much something for everyone in this show; I mean that in the sense that there are many aspects of it that can potentially appeal to people.
Assorted miscellaneous comments:
Okay animation, not great (not an issue for me). Could be considered a negative if you want to see well-animated exciting action scenes. Overall the visuals of this anime are mostly unremarkable. Probably the only noteworthy things are the character designs, which are pretty nice. There are also nice city landscape frames that appear sometimes.
Good OST. Lots of variety yet it still always complements the scene well. The music definitely enhances this anime. Good voice acting too.
The atmosphere in general is rich. It's difficult to describe but the show has a very 'punkish' lawless feeling.
Direction quality varies a lot. On average it's good, but it varies a lot from episode to episode. Sometimes the show is suspenseful, other times it can be somewhat boring or melodramatic.
All three seasons started strong but I found the last few climactic episodes of each to be somewhat underwhelming. This might be due to my distaste for long drawn-out fight scenes. I also never felt like the stakes were particularly high in pretty much all the conflicts, despite the often epic scale of the events taking place. Unfortunately, from early in the series I learned to expect asspull conflict resolution, or at least resolutions without major consequences to the protagonists. The use of super powers in any story permits bad writing in this respect. I will say though that I liked the frequent theme of redemption/atonement in the writing.
Good characters. This is probably the best aspect of this anime. There are many characters in the cast who are unique and interesting, as well as memorable and likable. I think that the characters really carry this show as a whole, and are a major reason for the success of the franchise. I should mention that the characters are (loosely?) based off of various famous authors, so someone who's familiar with Japanese literature might derive more enjoyment from this series. For example, one of the main characters (Osamu Dazai) is based on the author of the well-known novel "No Longer Human."
There are a lot of attractive male characters in this and a ton of potential for yaoi ships and the like. I'll spare the average reader from my elaborating on this point. There are some romantic pairings within the context of the story. It doesn't surprise me that this franchise is popular among Japanese succubi.
I'll also include my comments specific to the Dead Apple movie:
- the plot and the resulting drama felt artificial and forced.
- plot was confusing and messy.
- the characterization/behaviour for some cast members seemed inconsistent with the other anime content.
- any humour felt like audience pandering instead of anything organic (ex. lazily recycling jokes from previous content).
- overall was simply worse than the TV series, both from an artistic and entertainment perspective.
- for anyone wondering, you don't need to watch this movie to understand the story of season 3.
Here are my comments pertaining to the "Bungou Stray Dogs Wan!" 2021 chibi-style shorts (based on the few episodes I watched):
- these are just lighthearted comedy skits.
- the skits are unfunny and boring.
- much of the comedy relies on the character dynamics already established in the prior TV seasons.
- the one nice thing about these shorts is that they do a decent job of showcasing the voice acting of the cast, which as I've said is pretty good.
- I'm not sure what the point of making these was, besides having a poorly veiled advertisement to broadcast on TV to remind people that the franchise exists.
- I dropped these shorts after 4 episodes. I'm not sitting through 12 ~12-minute episodes of unfunny chibi "comedy."