Might not be the only example of a story that puts a real-world author in an extraordinary situation, but it’s one of the best. (If you’re curious, examples include Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series and French comics City Hall.) The anime version has some Unusual because it combines manga and light novel storylines, both classic because the same person, Kafka Asagiri
, wrote them all. Both styles of storytelling work together to give us a complete picture of the world of the story. Add to that the weird alternate universe included in the canon, and it’s an impressively developed world. In some ways, this makes animation the easiest way to experience a story; it may not always be that deep, but it’s at least a single format that makes it more palatable to some consumers. On the downside, its anime timeline is a bit spotty, with years passing between seasons, so with a new season on the horizon, now is the perfect time to sit down and make sure everyone is on the same page. Ⓒ Asagiri Kafka・ Chunchuan Sanwu / Kadokawa / Production Committee
The basic conceit of this story is that certain people were born with abilities or skills in another version of Yokohama. These supernatural powers can take many forms, and the protagonists are all famous writers in the world. The names and forms of their abilities are taken from real-life references, so Margaret Mitchell’s ability is called “Gone with the Wind” and Akutagawa’s is called “Rashomon”. Not surprisingly, our main characters are Japanese authors, most of whom fall into one of the following two groups:
ⒸKafka Asagiri· Miu Chunkawa/ Kadokawa/ Production Committee
The Armed Detective Agency is made up of what we think are good guys. Although Century Writer Kokichi Fukasawa leads them, the most recognizable member is 20 Writer of the Century Osamu Dazai
. It was Dazai who brought the main protagonist, Atsushi Nakajima, to the institution—the World War II writer Nakajima is in this incarnation a 16-year-old orphan who escaped from a repressive orphanage. When Atsushi meets Dazai – who is in the middle of one of his frequent suicide attempts (with a bit of dark humor when you consider the original Dazai himself), the older man takes him in and arranges for Atsushi to join the detective agency. There, he joined a group of other prominent writers including Junichiro Tanizaki, Ranpo Edogawa, and Doppo Kunikida, as well as someone based on one of Tanizaki’s characters, Naomi. The main opponents of the agency belong to one group: ⒸKafka Asagiri・ Chunchuan Sanwu / Kadokawa / Production Committee
Port Mafia . The Mafia, the antithesis of the establishment, is deeply entrenched in the day-to-day operations of Yokohama’s dark side. Mori Ogai leads them, and one of their main commanders is Chuya Nakahara, who has a big problem with Dazai. Other notable members include Ryunosuke Akutagawa
and Kyōka Izumi. As we dig deeper into the story, we learn that there was an impressive give and take between these two groups. Partly because Dazai used to belong to the Mafia before he switched to the intelligence service. At that time, Nakahara was his partner and Akutagawa was his student; their conflict with Dazai largely stemmed from the feeling of being abandoned by Dazai. In Akutagawa, this also translates into a healthy jealousy of Atsushi, the boy he believes has replaced him. The first season mostly saw these two groups fighting each other, but in season two, they are clearly two sides of the same coin when a third group comes to Yokohama in search of something called a “book.”
This new group is called guild. It includes th – and North American writer of the century , including John Steinbeck, Louisa May Alcott
, Nathaniel Hawthorne and LM Montgomery. They were led by F. Scott Fitzgerald and traveled in an airship named Moby Dick. (Yes, Herman Melville is another member.) The guild is an existential threat not only to the detective agency and the Mafia but to Yokohama as a whole. Much of the season has been spent mitigating threats. They were eventually defeated, and some of them remained in Japan, most notably Fitzgerald, Alcott, and Montgomery. Nathaniel Hawthorne also stayed, but not in a civilian capacity. He joins the group that became the central threat in the third season of the anime: Rats of the Dead House .
The Rats are a special Evil OrganizationPart of their larger plan is to force the Agency and the Mafia to kill each other, and that’s when we really understand that they are the dark and light necessary to keep the status quo in Yokohama. They essentially represent two different ways of doing things. The fact that several members switched sides – Dazai before the story begins and Kyoka in season one – feels more like a balance issue than anything else. As we watched the two teams work together as circumstances forced them to, with some extra help from some guild members, it felt like the characters were really solidified, something they desperately needed in the Hunting Dogs arc as the new season kicked off.
While every character interaction in this story can be read as significant, there is one that hangs over everything. That is the relationship between Dazai Osamu
and Oda Sakunosuke, also known as Oda Saku. The two of them are good friends with Ango Sakaguchi , and they often go to a bar called Lupin to drink, and then Maurice Leblanc the gentleman thief. Both Odasaku and Dazai were members of the Port Mafia at the time. Odasaku’s untimely death eventually persuaded him to switch careers and join the Intelligence Service. Unlike Dazai, Odasaku always saw the best and hoped for the best, and out of respect for him, Dazai decided to join a team that could better carry out the tasks his friends asked him to accomplish: The side that saves humanity. Even though he’s dead at the start of the series, flashbacks give us a pretty good idea of who he is as a person, and in season three we see Dazai visiting his friend’s grave quite often. If anything stopped Dazai from committing suicide, it would probably be this, and anyone who wants to explore tragedy from another angle should check out Parallel Universe StoriesBEAST. Ⓒ Kafka Asagiri · Migo Chunkawa / Kadokawa /Production Committee
This book is by far one of the most important puzzle pieces we have ever had. While we don’t know anything about it, it’s possible that it was sealed somewhere in Yokohama, which led to the guild’s appearance in season two. As we later learned, The Book is a blank novel that can bring to life anything written in its pages in story form; People with purpose are attractive. The guild and the rats in the house of the dead are staged in Yokohama because of The Book, and the other real story BEAST I mentioned before may also exist because of the book. After all, it exists to make it possible to see what could be, although as any author can tell you, just because you want to write something doesn’t mean the story will go in the direction you want . Regardless, it seems to be in Yokohama’s best interest to keep the book out of the hands of anyone who uses it, although the thing about books is that pages can be ripped off. Ⓒ Asagiri Kafka
・ Migo Chunkawa / Kadokawa / Production Committee
Another major event to watch out for is the Arababa incident. This takes place long before the main storyline and mainly demonstrates the outsider’s ability to infiltrate the Yokohama organization and why Dazai and Chuya’s relationship is the way it is. It deals with secret government projects and the Yokohama slums, but perhaps most importantly it’s spearheaded by French agent Arthur Rimbaud, who becomes a member of the Mafia under the alias Lando. The events of Arahabaki essentially foreshadow events that occur later in the series. While we may not be able to see the exact impact, it is essentially the ripples that form in the waves crashing towards the shore. There’s also reason to fold the events of the Dead Apple movie (lead event) with this as a foreshadowing; this isn’t too sure since the movie was always a own stuff. Still, it’s hard to deny that these events influenced Dazai’s character and behavior as part of his overall evolution. Ⓒ Asagiri Kafka
・ Migo Chunkawa / Kadokawa / Production Committee
Perhaps a final note is the role of government in all of this. Ango Sakaguchi was mentioned earlier. He worked in the government department for a period of time and was responsible for monitoring supernatural beings. After all, his personal relationship with Dazai is very important. Even as he tries to keep an emotional distance to do his job best. Ango has been involved in the storyline since the Arabahata incident, and despite being a spy, he does develop a genuine friendship with Odasaku and Dazai. In some ways, he acts as an insider, an ally rather than a neutral third party, providing a bit of a safety net for the CIA, though not guaranteed to be there when they jump ship. Most importantly, the government is involved in almost everything that is going on, even from the sidelines. They try to remain neutral, but are willing to take down psychics if they feel it is necessary, which makes them unreliable. But with the intricate web of allegiances in the world, it feels like a no-brainer.
With its rich source material and the anime’s ability to combine light novels and manga into a single narrative, it’s frankly a lot. But whether you’re looking for all the trivia about the author or just for the exciting stories and characters without the historical context, it’s definitely worth a read. Hope this helps you refresh your memories ahead of the new season, and I recommend reading both types of books if you want. Just as characters never die, authors never die as long as their words are still being read. Take that sentence literally and you’ll love where it goes next.
Disclosure: Kadokawa World Entertainment (KWE), a wholly owned subsidiary of Kadokawa Corporation, is Anime News Network LLC. One or more of the companies mentioned in this article are part of the Kadok awa group of companies. 573