Bungo Stray Dogs is the story of a private detective agency staffed by eccentric super-powered individuals and specializing in superhuman crime cases. While the majority of the first and second seasons focus on a looming gang war between a Japanese crime syndicate, a foreign one, and the Japanese government, the second season begins with a much more personal tale set years before. It’s easily the most powerful story the anime has to offer.

Mysterious mentor to the main hero, Osamu Dazai, has the power to cancel out any other superpower. This makes him potentially the most powerful superhuman in Bungo Stray Dogs. During the first season, we learn that he was once a capo in the violent criminal organization Port Mafia. Each encounter that the detective agency has with the Port Mafia shows that even Dazai’s former companions have no idea why he quit the organization and switched sides.

This becomes even more confusing as we come to see that Dazai has no real sense of morality and–if his constant attempts at suicide are anything to go by–little reason to live. Yet, despite this, Dazai remains firm in his decision to side with the detective agency, adding another layer to both his character and the plot.

The first four episodes of the second season form a self-contained, feature-length film that explains why Dazai changed his allegiance. Interestingly enough, while the impact that the events of these episodes have on Dazai is the main purpose of this story, he is not the main character. Rather, the story follows a low-ranked soldier of the port mafia, Oda.

Despite his low rank, Oda has a special place in the organization. His superpower, like Dazai’s, is ridiculously useful: He can see six seconds into the future. On the battlefield, this makes him able to dodge bullets with ease and get through nearly any fight unskathed. However, unlike the others in the Port Mafia, he refuses to kill. Thus he is so powerful the organization can’t afford to let him go while at the same time is unable to use him as they would truly wish.

Of course, that’s not to say Oda wishes to be anything more than he is. He is content that the money he makes is enough to support himself and the orphaned children of the Port Mafia.

Because he has no fear of being kicked out of the Port Mafia and no ambitions to rise through its ranks, he is in the unique position of not having any need to suck up to those above him in the gang’s hierarchy. This makes him one of the only individuals that can speak to a capo like Dazai as a normal person, so it’s no surprise that the two become drinking buddies.

The third member of their group is Sakaguchi, a member of the Port Mafia’s intelligence division–making him half spy, half data analyst.  Like Oda, he is perfectly happy where he is at in the organization (which just happens to be a vital position that no one else seems to want) and so the three are able to exist beyond rank when meeting together as friends.

What follows is the story that marks the end of their friendship. When Sakaguchi disappears, it appears that he has been secretly working for a private military company that is looking to expand into the Port Mafia’s territory. Needing to know if his friend was a spy or is being framed, Oda takes up the case of finding Sakaguchi and bringing him back. But the mystery is much deeper than expected and at the end of it awaits a man who will burn the world to the ground just to get Oda to break his one rule.

While Oda is a fantastic character, and each moment spent with him on the mystery is a blast, what gives the arc its power is the effect is has on Dazai. Through the events of the story, Oda learns that, when it comes down to it, the “good guys” are indistinguishable from the “bad guys.” Having right on your side means nothing if your way of fighting is the same as the supposedly evil people you are fighting.

This leads Oda to the simple conclusion: Good and evil are both equally bad. But, if it doesn’t matter which side you choose, you might as well pick the path that leaves the world a bit better than how you found it.

While Dazai is largely amoral, he does genuinely care about his friends, and so he takes this lesson to heart. Neither the government nor the Port Mafia really serve to help people in any concrete way through their scheming and fighting. However, a group of super-powered private detectives, on the other hand, would do nothing but help people in visible ways.

This is why Dazai is never swayed by anything his former companions at the Port Mafia have to say. In his worldview where “good guys” and “bad guys” are equal, the Port Mafia has nothing to offer him.

All in all, the arc is a mix of exciting super-powered crime drama, in-depth character building, and a morality play about the nature of good and evil all rolled into one tight package. But best of all, it is a full stand-alone story–you don’t need to know anything about Bungo Stray Dogs to watch and enjoy it. It is certainly a high watermark for the franchise and a great introduction for anyone looking for a small taste of what Bungo Stray Dogs is all about.

Bungo Stray Dogs can be viewed with English subs on Crunchyroll.

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