As some of you probably know, the characters from Bungou Stray Dogs (with the “Bungou” meaning “literary”) all have unique powers who mainly use them as private eyes like they’re the Pinkerton Agency. However, that’s not the only quality that makes this series stand out. For some of you American viewers familiar with this series, then you know that they’re characters named after F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Steinbeck, and H.P. Lovecraft. If you’ve already graduated from high school, then you (probably) had to read their works. But what about the rest of the cast, meaning the native Japanese characters? Like their American counterparts, they’re also named after famous authors, notably from the early-20th century, which the anime also takes place in. So, who are some of them?
The main character is named after Atsushi Nakajima, an author who was active during World War II and lost his life at the age of 33 due to bronchial asthma. Beyond literature, he enjoyed sumo, music, and astrology. During his prime as an author, some of his famous works include Hikari to Kaze To Yume (which loosely covers the life of Robert Louis Stevenson, the author to Treasure Island), Riryou, and Sangetsuki. And the character’s Gekkaju ability is a reference to Sangetsuki.
If you’ve seen Tsuki ga Kirei, this author’s name was often mentioned as an inspiration to the main character of that respective series. So, who was the real Dazai? Like Nakajima, his life span and prime largely took place from the beginning of the century, but lived until past World War II. He also idolized Ryunosuke Akutagawa, whose name is also used in this anime. As for Dazai’s works, a lot of them tended to be indirectly autobiographical as he suffered from what could retroactively be called PTSD, or some other form of mental illness due to multiple suicide attempts throughout his adult life (he committed suicide in 1948). As for the character’s ability, Ningen Shikaku, or No Longer Human, in which he can null the abilities of another person’s powers, is the namesake of one of Dazai’s most famous works, about a man who fails to integrate into society.
For those of you that are Akira Kurosawa buffs, then the name of this character’s power, Rashomon, should be a dead given. While Rashomon is also a title of one of Akutagawa’s most famous books, the movie is by no means related to the actual book. However, the plot of the movie comes from another story of his, Yabu no Naka. His fame in Japanese literature is big to the point that there’s a prize named after him. Like Dazai, he suffered from mental illness (similar to what his mother had), with his symptoms resembling schizophrenia, and he committed suicide by overdosing on barbital.
Since the Tanizaki characters fights the Akutagawa character in the series, it’s interesting to point out that during the 1920s, their real life counterparts had a public rivalry over their literary philosophies. Try to think of it as a Taisho Era version to the East Coast/West Coast hip hop rivalry from the 1990s, but without any shootings (but there was a lot of trash talking). While the real Tanizaki didn’t have a sister named Naomi, Naomi was a leading character to one of his most notable stories, Chijin no Ai (while it literally means A Fool’s Love, it’s published in English as Naomi). The works of the real life Tanizaki were all over the place. At times, he wrote about the the traditional Japan, and in other instances, he wrote about the changes happening in Japanese society at the turn of the 20th century as it was opening to the rest of the world. What also makes his works uniquely stand out in its original Japanese is that if a story took place in a certain region, he’d write it in its local dialect, which he did with Manji, which takes place in the Kansai region, where he resided after an earthquake in the Tokyo area in 1912. Last, he’s also known for his erotic works, and this is also expressed through Naomi’s personality. Unlike our previous entries who died young, Tanizaki lived to the age of 79 when he passed in 1965 and was a finalist for the Nobel Prize in Literature shortly before his death.
While the character’s ability is Ame Ni Mo Makezu, where he can gain strength on an empty stomach, the original poem is meant to symbolize the real life Miyazawa’s religious views. However, his most famous work (both within and outside of Japan) is Ginga Tetsudou no Yoru, which happens to be the inspiration for one of the biggest anime titles of the 1970s, Leiji Matsumoto’s Ginga Tetsudou 999. In addition to his literary work, he was a social activist due to his involvement with Nichiren Buddhism, which in turn inspired his poetry and stories. Unfortunately, Miyazawa as a writer didn’t become famous until a little over a decade after his death thanks to his remaining friends promoting his work.
It is undeniable that the characters share only small common qualities with their real life counterparts, but whatever qualities they share, they distinctively stand out if you’re familiar with Japanese literature. The use of such famous authors may not be exactly be new to Japanese pop culture as a whole, but in the imaginative world of anime and manga, it can be taken to whole new levels of excitement. While there are many more characters and authors to feature, we thought it’d be nice to explore some of the bigger names from the history of Japanese literature.