ANN’s coverage of anime Expo 2023 sponsored by Yen Press!
Hot on the heels of the world premiere of the fifth season of the anime“>Bungo Stray Dogs anime at anime Expo, we had the opportunity to sit down and speak with the original creator, author, and novelist Kafka Asagiri. Asagiri, whose love for literature is apparent from his pen name, also dazzled fans earlier in the weekend during a special panel in which he spoke at length about how he pursued his dreams of being a writer, and also his inspirations. We were able to dive deeper into his writing process, as well as his special “senpai.”
What was the first book that inspired your interest in classical literature?
This person hasn’t appeared in anime“>Bungo Stray Dogs yet, but I was greatly inspired by Shūsaku Endō and his story Ryūgaku (Foreign Studies). That was the first book that really inspired my interest in literature. I want to incorporate him into anime“>Bungo Stray Dogs someday.
Speaking of recurring characters, Osamu Dazai has appeared in multiple manga and anime. What is it about Dazai, in particular, that remains fascinating to Japanese audiences?
I think of Dazai as a donut. What’s in the middle? No one knows. That’s something that not even director Igarashi knows, or the voice actor for Dazai, Mamoru Miyano. In the middle of that unknown is the question, “Why does Dazai want to die?” That core aspect about him is why everyone gets pulled into the rest of the story. Although, now that I think about it, are you talking about Dazai, the author, or the representations of Dazai in anime“>Bungo Stray Dogs? Because I have thoughts on both.
Sure, let’s hear it.
Dazai wrote a book called anime“>No Longer Human that expresses something that no other author has been able to get down on paper, which is the deep feeling of embarrassment that we can all relate to. Everyone is familiar with the feeling of embarrassment, but no one really expresses what that feeling is like or what kind of feelings it invokes. The image of Dazai is incredibly unique, and I wanted him to stand out in that way.
I like the description of him as a donut. It’s very beautiful imagery and very thoughtful. Speaking of characters, who do you think is the easiest character to write? And on the flip side of that, who is the most difficult character to write?
The easiest character to write is Sigma. The reason is that he has a humaneness that expresses normalcy. He’s completely average and normal. In fact, the more normal he is and the more typical activities he does, the more Sigma he becomes. Since most people are normal or average themselves, expressing that in literature is something you only see sometimes in terms of emphasizing it. In terms of the most challenging character to write? It’s got to be Ranpo. It’s because he’s 100 times more intelligent than I am!
Let me ask this, then. Who do you enjoy writing the most?
Edgar Allen Poe! It’s because I get embarrassed easily.
Out of the Armed Detective Agency, Port Mafia, The Guild, The Rats, etc., which group would you like to join up with and why?
I’d like to say that I’d want to be on the side of justice, and I’d want to be cool like the Armed Detective Agency. But honestly speaking, I would probably want to join The Guild. Why? Because they have money!
Your Twitter icon has been Oda Sakunosuke for a long time, and you described him as a hero born within the novel at the recent anime“>Bungo Stray Dogs Expo. Although he’s dead in the current timeline, he’s a major character in BEAST. Have you considered adding him as a permanent character in another medium? How would he fit into the narrative?
I really want to add him as a permanent character in another medium. But! With Oda Sakunosuke, one aspect about him that many people are drawn to is that he is dead and will no longer appear. Because of that, I feel like this would be very difficult, and I want to leave him the way he is.
I’ve read that you were very involved with BONES‘ adaptation, where you actively attended production meetings and even led the animation direction. What are the elements that you look for in the anime?
I really want them to be able to animate and make the adaptation freely because certain things can only be expressed through anime. For instance, timing is something you can do in animation that you really can’t do in books. With timing, if a character asks a question, and there’s even a one-second pause before the answer, that can completely change the meaning of what the character is saying. That kind of timing can only be expressed in animation. The other thing is that director Igarashi has complete faith in the creative team’s talents and skills.
The most recent season opens with The Untold Origins of the Detective Agency, which was published nearly eight years ago. Given the time between publication and the anime adaptation, how do you feel about the anime?
I thought it was really well made, and I thought it was so cool! I especially thought that the voice actor for Ranpo, Hiroshi Kamiya, was terrific. The art was also so beautiful and impressive. On top of that, the timing for the anime adaptation was very good because the Decay of Angels arc was just about the start. So the story picks up with Ranpo, Yukichi, and the Detective Agency all coming together and taking action.
The recent season revealed the existence of The Book, which allows for the manipulation of reality. Did you plan for The Book to be in the story from the start, and did you have any challenges incorporating this meta-narrative tool into the plot
It was planned from the very start. If you look at the first volume of the manga, Atsushi is being chased by the Port Mafia, and it’s because of The Book. In terms of the challenges of incorporating this meta-narrative tool into the plot, I didn’t have that many challenges because having this tool that can grant any wish is inspired by my… “senpai.” Which is anime“>Dragon Ball.
What would be your ultimate wish if you had The Book or collected all the Dragon Balls?
I would wish to come up with the most interesting story in the world!
I believe one of anime“>Bungo Stray Dogs‘ themes is that people can change. Why is it important to show that in a younger character like Kyouka and a non-human character like Sigma?
I want to correct this a bit because one of the themes of anime“>Bungo Stray Dogs I want to stress is that there are things you cannot change about people. An example is Kyouka. She’s an assassin, and at the core of her being, she will always be an assassin. Because of that, there are certainly other ways that character can really shine and stand out. The struggle that many humans have to overcome within themselves is something that is told over and over again in works of literature. I find that it’s something that a lot of people can relate to.
So it’s really more about growth and adaptation than change?
Yes, yes, yes, yes. Growing as a person is incredibly difficult, but that in itself gives it value to try and challenge yourself.
Sigma seems to be a fan favorite. Despite not being human, he’s an interesting type of antagonist that many people empathize with. How did you and Sango Harukawa decide on his design, and what do you think it is about him that makes him relatable to the audience?
In terms of the character design, this is very uncommon and rare, but I was the one to design his character initially, and Harukawa-sensei took that design and polished it into the final character design. The only characters who were designed this way were Sigma and Mushitarou. As for the reason why audiences relate to him so much, I think it’s because Sigma is average.
If Sigma were the main character, you’d see the theme that if average, everyday people had a strong desire to protect their homes and places where they belong, they would succeed. But in this case, Sigma happens to be a villain. Because he’s not the main character, I think it can come across like… ordinary people might be so desperate to have their wish granted they’ll try to work hard towards a specific goal and fight for what they believe in. But what happens, as a result, might be closer to the truth than the more general cliché of how stories would unfold if they were the main character. I think that element of reality makes him so relatable to the audience.
Sometimes the best villains are the ones that you can relate to. It humanizes them, even if they’re not literally human. Do you set out to try to make villains relatable? Or is it just that Sigma happens to be relatable?
I design all the villains so that they are relatable. For example, in the anime, Francis Scott Fitzgerald is a villain. He tries to destroy Yokohama, but the real reason he does that is because he wants to protect his family. Another example would be the character Pushkin. On the scale between weak and strong, he’s probably more on the weak side. But he’s still controversial and has strong opinions, and he tries to convey those opinions even though he’s weak. That different kind of strength is something that people can relate to.
Last question. What are you most excited for anime fans to see in season 5?
It definitely has to be the fact that Ranpo finally takes action. Everyone believes that no matter who is in trouble within the Detective Agency, as long as Ranpo is there and makes a move, everything will be all right. And Ranpo is going to make a scene!