It’s been a short while since we’ve seen Takuya Igarashi and Yoji Enokido together. The last time they teamed up as director and series composer/screenwriter respectively was 2014 Spring’s Captain Earth. Prior to that, the two worked together on Star Driver. Captain Earth started off strong — especially when it came to visuals and cinematography — but lacked Star Driver‘s self-awareness and over-the-top silliness while telling a similar story of adolescence and robots.
In fact, as a director and writer team, Igarashi and Enokido often seem more at home with comedic moments, or combining over-the-top comedy with a few poignant emotional narratives, than he does when attempting something wholly serious.
Igarashi and Enokido first worked together for episodes of Sailor Moon Super (Sailor Moon S) under the direction of Kunihiko Ikuhara. Igarashi’s initial Sailor Moon S episode with Enokido was Episode 106, which follows a track star among Haruka Tenoh (Sailor Uranus) flashbacks.
The episode begins with more eccentric, Ikuhara-styled absurdity than it does the typical Igarashi sweatdrop and super-deformity. Professor Tomoe leads off Episode 106 by inexplicably running on a treadmill, talking about how great it is to work up a sweat before calling the Witches 5 to set up his next dastardly deed. Naturally, they’re targeting a track star, Elsa Gray — which explains the treadmill — who was inspired to improve by the fact that Haruka kept beating her in track. Elsa Gray also introduces herself by squeezing the butts of both Minako Aino (Sailor Venus) and Makoto Kino (Sailor Jupiter) before telling them that they have good glutes and they would do well on the track team.
As it turns out, Elsa had a notable impact on Haruka as well, and these more serious emotional moments are gracefully executed within the episode, not in spite of but rather due to the fact that it leads off with comic absurdity. Episode 106 is a weighty episode that underlies the serious and committed nature of Haruka and Michiru Kaioh (Sailor Neptune’s) relationship and Igarashi tells their story well. Sailor Moon is where Ikuhara, Igarashi, and many others began to develop their respective styles, and Ikuhara’s influence is felt throughout Igarashi’s Sailor Moon episodes.
Igarashi’s series directorial debut was Sailor Moon Sailor Stars, which was an unfortunate mess. It had good ideas and visual direction but lacked cohesive storytelling and was overly serious. Gone is the more stage-like atmosphere of Ikuhara’s Sailor Moon, replaced with a more straightforward approach that fails due to execution and the fact that the original story itself was also disorganized and unwieldy.
This quality returns in spades with Igarashi’s Ouran High School Host Club — the first episode of which is similar to Bungou Stray Dogs’ premiere. Our entire introduction to Haruhi Fujioka sets the stage about as literally as one can visually with a wide range of shots that show just how large Ouran High School is in relation to Haruhi, a commoner transfer student on scholarship.
Haruhi’s initial introduction to the members of the Host Club themselves is a bit different, and the sequence is full of visual cues and comedy courtesy of Igarashi. The first of these are the continuous arrows pointing at an expensive-looking vase in the center of the room, a vase which Haruhi will soon break, making her indebted to the Host Club and providing the reason for Ouran‘s entire plot.
Also present are a series of lightbulbs, one for each Host Club member. They are lit as soon as the corresponding member realizes that Haruhi is, in fact, a young woman and not a young man, which is the major comedic point that Ouran returns to again and again: Haruhi’s gender.
Bungou Stray Dogs opens with the unfortunate Nakajima Atsushi, who has recently been kicked out of the orphanage he grew up in, finding himself penniless and hungry. He saves Osamu Dazai (all of Bungou Stray Dogs‘ characters are named after well-known authors) from drowning in a comedic sequence that involves crows pecking at Dazai’s feet in a similar cartoon-ish style that permeates Haruhi’s introduction in Ouran. This is followed by a battle between their two stomachs, visually represented by the growling noises that they respectively make.
Dazai treats Atsushi to dinner on his coworker Doppo Kunikida’s dime. Kunikida’s arrival marks the return of Igarashi’s arrow, previously shown with Haruhi and the vase in Ouran.
Igarashi’s arrow is later present at dinner as Bungou Stray Dogs‘ Dazai scopes out a wooden beam in the ceiling that is perfect for committing suicide. The morbid in-joke is that Stray Dogs‘ Dazai is similarly obsessed with suicide as his real-life counterpart. Osamu Dezai attempted to kill himself multiple times throughout his life, and eventually succeeded by drowning in 1948.
Bungou Stray Dogs premiere episode also follows a similar plot to Ouran, and Igarashi’s visual comedic trappings set the stage for both properties. Atsushi ends up joining Dazai and crew, somewhat indebted to them for solving his own personal mystery of a bloodthirsty tiger. This setup is likely a precursor for their upcoming comedic hijinks throughout the series which will hopefully be accompanied by more poignant moments of character development, as Igarashi has already been proven to have a fairly deft — which should not be equated with nuanced by any means — and effective touch when combining the two.
Additionally, Bungou Stray Dogs has a hint of knowing, outside commentary, similar to the greek chorus element found in Ikuhara’s works. Igarashi presents these small tidbits on writing paper throughout the first episode, and they’re often accompanied by facefalls or super-deformed character expressions.