Remember kids: gambling is bad for your health.
Overview (Spoilers Below)
A young man named Fyodor, responsible for the bombing of the Moby Dick has just been captured by the Port Mafia. A young, gambling-focused eccentric named Ace has been left in charge of interrogating him, but his real plans are far more ambitious. Looking to raise his station, Ace goes to Fyodor and makes him an offer he can’t refuse: a chance to serve him within the organization. Ace tries to make friends with Fyodor by offering him food, wine and a game of cards. He even reveals his special ability, which lets him convert the life of his minions into jewels with the aid of a special jeweled collar.
However, Fyodor refuses him outright, sending Ace into a rage before leaving in a huff. Soon after, a young man working for Ace comes into the room and talks with Fyodor. He reveals how he was sold as a slave as a child and secretly dreams of becoming the leader of the Port Mafia. Sadly, his dreams have been dashed as he has no hope of ever escaping Ace’s clutches. Seemingly moved by the boys’ confession, Fyodor reveals his ability to him. He can manipulate consciousness in a separate space.
Later, Ace arrives to meet with Fyodor once more, where the two decide to strike a deal. If Ace can beat Fyodor in a game of cards, he’ll come along and serve Ace peacefully. The game is simple: one deck of cards, is placed on the table, and Fyodor is to take turns guessing whether or not the next card will be higher or lower. Ace is confident that his skill as a gambler can win, but Fyodor astonishes him by guessing every card perfectly. Ace then reveals he was listening on Fyodor’s conversation earlier, and so he knows that this must be an illusion that Fyodor has made with his power. Ace believes he’s got Fyodor dead to rights, and so only needs to find a way out of the illusion.
When we next see Fyodor, it’s outside of the room he’s been trapped in, where he reveals to the subordinate from earlier that he’s won. The boy rushes to the room to see Ace hanging from the ceiling. Fyodor never actually used his ability, but convinced Ace that the only way to escape it was through suicide. Fyodor then kills the young boy with his ability and leaves to his next sinister mission.
What’s excellent about this episode is that it could stand entirely on its own as a short film. Though it takes place in the larger story of Bungo Stray Dogs which will no doubt have Fyodor continue his villainy elsewhere, this introduction is a complete story in its own right, complete with all the quality story craft that accompanies it. Without even knowing who Fyodor is, he reveals himself to be a compelling, cunning villain who easily fits into the already established universe that Stray Dogs takes place in. His blend of eccentricity and mysterious charisma makes him an enjoyable presence in the show, though he doesn’t quite chew on the scenery as much as you might want.
Ace doesn’t stand to be quite as interesting as Fyodor, though. This seems to be by design as a way to make Fyodor look cool, but Ace’s gambling instincts don’t really present themselves in this episode. I would’ve liked to see him put a little more into the gambling game that they present here. Guessing cards isn’t exactly an interesting thing to watch, even if the game is rigged from the start.
To that end, the highlight of this episode was certainly the plot twist that left Ace hanging from the ceiling. I found myself actually surprised that that is the way things went, though seeing Fyodor walk out of the building unscathed filled me with that sense of dread that only comes when your mind is just beginning to wrap your head around the dreadful turn of fortune that has just taken place. Ace’s suicide is both poetic and fitting to the themes of gaming and gambling that have been constructed throughout the episode. It really is the best way for the episode to end.
What complaints I do have about this episode mostly stem from its smallness. I prefer stories that are a little more complex or at least have more going on in them. A battle of wits should be just that: a battle, while this instance felt more like a skirmish. The gambling aspect could have been better conducted while Ace and Fyodor’s characterization needed a little bit of work. Yet, at the end of it all, I’m happy with the 22 minutes that I’ve just seen. This episode won’t disappoint those who are already deep into the series and likewise could serve as a strong jumping off point for those who haven’t yet caught up.