Can we all agree that nothing good ever comes of men in white hoods? No matter what world we’re in, using a white hood to obscure someone’s face seems to bode ill, and that’s certainly the case in this episode of Bungo Stray Dogs. Because there are many reasons why someone would want to hide their visage, and this week that reason turns out to be not so much “hide my identity” as it is “set up for a terrible bait-and-switch.” While the use of the hoods is almost certainly intended to reference that first reason (and the group most famously associated with it, at least in the US), it also represents the way that a sudden reveal can totally blind us from the truth. If anyone stops to think about it, the idea that the Agency is beneath the hoods and behind the mysterious Decay of Angels doesn’t work at all. There’s plenty of contradictory evidence, not the least of which is the fact that they’ve been seen outside the murder room while the hooded folks were inside. But the beauty of a trick well done is that it leaves you so flabbergasted that logic hops out the window, and that’s almost certainly what happened here.
In some ways, Nikolai’s final words about the actual cage being your own mind is what pulls this all together. He’s not wrong – ask anyone with, for example, anxiety or depression, and they’ll tell you that part of the problem is that the thoughts are inside your skull where you can’t just reach in and grab them. Nikolai’s talking about a similar cage, one built from social expectations and morals that force us to adhere to notions of “right” and “wrong.” We damn those who break the rules as “insane” (or some other, more pejorative word), and when Nikolai tells Atsushi that he’s perfectly sane and only wants out of his cage, that’s what he’s talking about. He does know right from wrong. He just doesn’t care. It’s a shame he’s not Hermann Hesse because he is living Hesse’s famous quotation about chicks breaking out of shells. (Utena fans, you know which one I mean.)
A lot is going on here, and while it is vital to set up for what’s to come, it’s also overwhelming to sort through. We know that someone, one of whom has arrested Dazai, is reaping the benefits of Nikolai forcing Mushitaro to undo a perfect crime and is swooping in to take out the Agency. We also know that another someone has a page of The Book that’s been at the heart of everything in this story and is actively using it to control events. Is Nikolai aware of it? Did he know he was going to be used to death? Is the Author somehow seeing the movements of everyone involved? The fact that only the four detectives who were outside the door ended up in the white suits indicates that they are, so the question becomes how much they’re controlling. (And how small their handwriting is to fit it all on one page.) Watching the Author write does give us a nice parallel to the episode titles and epigraphs, which does a lot to pull the entire story thus far together. It also should make us wonder if someone has been writing what we’ve seen all along.
Rampo has his Cassandra of Troy moment, or at least he and Fukuzawa are trying to make us think that. Atsushi is trapped underground, Kenji is off truck-tipping, and Dazai is under arrest. We need to find out where Fukuzawa is, or, for that matter, Naomi. If even one of them can evade the Author and the Angels, they might be able to reach Ango, who is their best legitimate bet. However, Soseki’s role in the previous story arc suggests that the Mafia would also be amenable to maintaining the balance. One thing we can be sure of is that when the white hoods appear, nothing good is going down.
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