The Powerful Depiction of Mental Health in Bungo Stray Dogs

Mental health is a significant issue in Japan throughout the 20th century. The two authors who come to mind when discussing this issue are Akutagawa Ryunosuke and Dazai Osamu, both of whom were influenced by their own personal experiences with mental illness during this period. As a society, mental health was viewed very differently from how it is viewed today, and this is reflected in the authors’ works. Dazai Osamu is based on Bungo Stray Dogs’ creator, Dazai Osamu. Dazai idolized Ryonosuke Akutagawa, one of the most influential Japanese writers of all time. He is best known for his works that deal with themes of death, madness, and the nature of human existence. His influence can be seen in the works of Osamu Dazai, but then struggled with his own feelings of depression following the author’s suicide.

In BSD, the topic of depression is addressed with nuance and care. In this post, I would like to discuss how the creators of Bungo Stray Dogs approached the sensitive topics of trauma, depression, and mental health. The show does a good job of addressing these topics through a lens of acceptance, recovery, and identity. These are big topics, which I could certainly talk about for hours, but here I will focus on four specific characters and their journeys into discovering themselves and learning to accept their new reality.

bungo stray dog depression

“Now I have neither happiness nor unhappiness. Everything passes.”

Osamu Dazai is a mysterious man, with a questionable past. He used to be one of the top members of the violent and criminal organization known as the Port Mafia. After leaving the organization, he eventually found himself joining a more legal group of detectives in the Armed Agency. However, his knowledge of the criminal underworld and his extraordinary powers still remain useful when it comes to solving cases. Even though he is often seen as the brains behind the group, his own motivations are still largely unknown.

For Dazai, joining the Mafia was done with the hopes of putting himself at permanent risk of death. A major part of Dazai is that he’s mysterious, he’s not someone who shows that he’s blatantly depressed.

I personally don’t view Dazai’s depression as a self-imposed worthlessness or inadequacy. Rather, I see it more as a sense of apathy and silent misery, as if he’s accepted his place in the world and is just going through the motions of life without any real enjoyment. He doesn’t seem to care about the impact his actions have on others and even appears to enjoy being an annoyance. So while he accepts his role in the organization, he doesn’t seem to feel like he has any real value and is just following orders to keep himself occupied.

Dazai feels lonely due to his intelligence and perception. When people can see things in different ways than others, it’s hard for them to fit in and connect with others. They can often feel isolated and alone, and this can lead to depression. Dazai often appears to be struggling with this, especially in situations that require strategic intelligence and cold-heartedness. He also seems to be grappling with feelings of isolation from others, as his unique perception often makes it difficult for him to relate to his peers. This can also be a source of frustration and sadness.

Dazai realizes that his experiences and his extraordinary power can be put to use to help the lives of others. In doing this, he discovers that life cannot fix his mental anguish and feelings of despair, but despite everything, he ultimately finds meaning in life and discovers that it is beautiful despite his own pain.

There are a lot of interesting parallels that can be drawn from the life and writings of Dazai Osamu in real life and his character arc in the anime. A common theme in both his work and the anime is the way that Dazai tries to mask his true feelings and emotions by trying to blend in with others. In his novel “No Longer Human,” for example, the main character mimics the emotions of those around him in order to blend in better. This parallels Dazai’s own struggle to pretend like he’s happy, even though he is actually very depressed.

It is evident in multiple scenes throughout the series that Dazai is struggling with depression and suicidal tendencies. But the main character has never truly explained the reason for his inner turmoil in any light novel or another source. Instead, the audience must make their own conclusions based on the observations of others. This shows just how much Dazai is struggling with his own pain and suffering, and why he would want to do anything to end a constant cycle of mental anguish.

bungo stray dog depression

“Stop pitying yourself. Pity yourself, and life becomes an endless nightmare.”

Bungo Stray Dogs’ protagonist, Atsushi Nakajima, is an orphan who has been turned away by his local orphanage and finds himself with little option for the future except for joining an elite agency of detectives who fight supernatural beings around the world. His ability, “Beast Beneath the Moonlight,” allows him to transform into a giant tiger with incredibly powerful abilities and healing abilities that make him an incredible asset in the field.

At first, Atsushi’s tragic past seemed to be a central point of his personality, causing him to make hasty and at times irrational decisions. As we follow the main character’s story, it becomes clear that the young lad has been traumatized by his experiences at the orphanage, and he has made a promise to himself that he will become better than his abusers. Through the progression of the story, he begins to accept his trauma and moves forward, learning to grow and become a better individual with time and experience, even though he still continues to deal with his intrusive and involuntary flashbacks of a horrific past.

In the manga, Atsushi is faced with overwhelming, sudden news; the headmaster had been killed in a traffic accident. It is clear that Atsushi has no idea how to respond to this information, as nothing could have possibly prepared him for it. He shuts down entirely, and only at the end of this chapter does he find his way to Dazai, who has acted as a mentor figure for him in the past. Atsushi is struggling to process his overwhelming emotions, and perhaps Dazai can help him. The latter’s response is cryptic and rather unhelpfully humorous.

Dazai’s answer touches on Atsushi’s complicated emotions; he had come to view his headmaster as a father figure and is now struggling with the knowledge that this man is dead. It is not clear whether he is upset over the loss of his father-figure, or that his own suffering has been acknowledged. But what is important is that Atsushi is now in a place where he can feel all of his grief without any fear of judgment, where he knows that the end of his suffering will eventually come.

While Dazai has never poured out his thought process on why he wants to die or why he is depressed to anyone, it can be assumed that it is due to the overwhelming guilt he feels over his own actions. His self-blame and shame over his past actions as a member of the Port Mafia continue to plague his mind, and so he decides to end his life rather than continue to suffer this debilitating psychological torment.

Atsushi’s struggle with abuse is a complex issue because it’s rarely explored in most stories. Even in the Beasts AU light novel, the show attempts to address this with Atsushi’s relationship with the headmaster. While the show has never tried to downplay the seriousness or reality of the abuse, it does make a poignant point by noting that despite the hardships, none of the characters let their experiences define who they are. They took their situation and found a way to move past their trauma to try and make the best out of what they were given.

bungo stray dog depression

“I Saw A Bright World. I Cannot Go Back To A Time When I Did Not Know Such A Thing Existed.”

Kyouka Izumi is an orphan who used to work for the Port Mafia before being rescued and recruited by the Armed Detective Agency. She has the power to summon a phantom swordswoman, who only follows her orders by phone. Unlike most of her co-workers, Kyouka’s abilities fall into an unconventional category as she cannot directly control the demon that is summoned. This makes for an interesting contrast as we see her character development unfold throughout the series.

Kyouka is a character who is still processing her trauma due to the early loss of her parents. She acted like a cold and distant girl to avoid feeling any emotions following the death of her parents. When Atsushi first meets her, Kyouka is ready to end her life so that she won’t kill anyone. Thanks to her relationship with Atsushi and her adoption of the agency, Kyouka slowly begins to get over her demons and realizes that she can be her true, real self around her new friends.

Demon Snow is a representation of that loss and the violence that took place, and for Kyouka, it is a constant reminder of her struggle with survivor’s guilt. She makes multiple claims that the demon killed her parents or that it was somehow her fault for being alive. As the viewer, we might have even begun to believe that until the narrative revealed its truth.

She cannot let go of Demon Snow – a gift from her mother that caused her so much pain. In Dead Apple, she reveals to Atsushi that she doesn’t want to hate the demon, and it seems she holds onto the phone as a last connection to her past life. This is a small step in her own personal journey, as the gift and the demon remind her of her past and of her relationship with her late parents. This also demonstrates a changing dynamic between the two, as we can see Kyouka’s true nature beginning to emerge.

Kyouka’s ability allows her to summon a phantom swordswoman. After the events of Dead Apple, she feels as though the demon has become an embodiment of her mother’s love and protection. Previously it acted as a reminder of her mistakes, but in this new light, it has come to symbolize an important connection to her past life. This marks a turning point in Kyouka’s development as she grows to accept her own gifts while rejecting any guilt that may remain.

bungo stray dog depression

“Sad, my young day’s blazing hope already vanishing into the dark sky”

Chuuya Nakahara could be portrayed with some serious issues, without giving away any spoilers, the manga Storm Bringer focuses on Chuuya’s traumatic past.

Like Dazai before him, Chuuya attempts to remedy his own sense of dissociation and lack of feelings by inserting himself into high-risk situations. This is an effort to feel like he’s in control, and it’s also a way for Chuuya to exert power in a world that has otherwise been out of his control.

Chuuya’s habit of hiding his hands could also be viewed as a form of defense against the outside world. It shows that he has a hard time trusting other people and that he is unwilling to let anyone in. This can make it difficult for him to form connections with others, and it can also make him seem aloof or cold. In this sense, his hands represent a lack of trust and an inability to rely on others.

Power is certainly something in the life that Chuuya chooses. He takes ownership of his gift, now called “For the Tainted Sorrow,” and becomes fiercely confident in his own abilities. This leads to him becoming the best martial artist in the Port Mafia and learning from those more experienced than him. All of this contributes to an actualized sense of self. The past is not forgotten, but it becomes just one aspect of Chuuya’s identity now that he has moved on.

Despite living a life full of constant trauma, Chuuya appears to have grown into a surprisingly stable and well-adjusted adult. He seems to have overcome the identity issues he struggled with as a teenage

bungo stray dog depression

Dark humor is often used in BSD as a way for characters to cope with their trauma. The presentation of these issues can be a bit dodgy at times. Personally, I enjoy some dark humor, and many of Dazai’s foiled “attempts” to die have been genuinely funny to me.

One of the most compelling aspects of BSD is the way that its characters deal with the cards they’ve been dealt. Whether you’re looking at main characters like Atsushi, Kyouka, and Akutagawa or smaller characters like Aya and Shousaku, they all face their own challenges and make their own decisions about how to move forward. Even though their lives may not always turn out as they’d hoped, they make the best of the hand they’re given and create their own paths in life. This is one of the things that makes them so relatable – and so interesting – as characters.

A musician and film buff. I'm a Film graduate of The Sam Spiegel Film and T.V. School program. Creative writing by nature, a very curious girl, exploring all geek fandom.