Story: Osamu Dazai/Usamaru Furuya
Art: Usamaru Furuya
Translation/Adaptation: Allison Markin Powell
What They Say
A decadent novelist’s autobiographical masterpiece, a perennial bestseller in Japan with fans all over the world, retold by a maverick manga author! In the first such attempt, the drawings within are not “flipped” – a left-to-right version was prepared simultaneously by the artist with Western translations in mind. In this first of three volumes meet Yozo Oba, a youth who believes survival means clowning.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
I’ve lived a life full of shame.
I have never read the original novel No Longer Human, but I have known of its existence. This entirely unbiased approach (aside from my love of Furuya) allowed me to look at this manga with fresh eyes, and take everything at face value.
First, the presentation of this manga by Vertical is again top-notch. The volume is not as flashy or ‘collector worthy’ as many of their other works but it is still striking. With all other manga publishers, a standard volume of manga is presented just as such…standard. No Longer Human is presented in a 7 x 5 glue bound book that just looks special. The non-standard paper size attributes a lot to this but the cover is what really strikes me. The covers are of a glossy finish and a shot of Oba just standing there…staring. It’s as if Oba is staring at you, the reader, and trying to peer into your soul. However, it is us that are staring at him, seeing his soul. Paired with the back cover art, which is Oba sitting in a wicker chair staring at us with a slightly mischievous grin, we are shown two different people; although they are the same person. That’s what makes the packaging of this volume so great; you can look at the cover and just admire the attractive artwork and presentation, but if you look a little deeper, the cover art acts as a primer for the story held within.
Looking at two different people despite them being the same person is the perfect way to describe this book. Allusions to the original novel can be found throughout the book, but having never read the novel (this will be corrected very shortly) the feel of the manga is different. The book starts with a manga artist, Usamaru Furuya himself, surfing the Internet while trying to come up with ideas for his next serial. While surfing, he finds a post (or email, it isn’t specified) that links to what the poster calls an ‘ouch diary’ called No Longer Human. Furuya goes to the site and finds three pictures of a man named Yozo Oba at ages 6, 17, and 25. The three pictures tell a distinct story of a man who has had many things happen to him over the course of his life. Intrigued by what possibly could have happened to him, Furuya begins reading the diary.
I really like this literary technique. It places us in the mindset of an outsider looking in. Typically when reading manga or a book, we are of course simply outsiders looking in but here we are placed in Furuya’s position. We aren’t simply reading a manga or book; we are peering into someone’s personal life, their thoughts and feeling from first hand encounters. It pulls us in while keeping us out and that makes the reading experience that much more personal and intimate.
The story is then told in 1st person perspective by Yozo Oba himself. The panels show us the story being told both as how the world sees Oba and how Oba sees himself and the world. This style makes for some very stark contrast between panels. Large black blocks of text are placed inside panels, between panels, and sometimes all by themselves apart from the images. The subtext of this placement is absolutely amazing and makes Furuya an even bigger genius in my eyes. This is the story of Oba, told by Oba, but shown in an unbiased, impartial perspective that details all aspects of Oba’s story. By placing the black blocks of text, which are Oba speaking in narrative about his true feelings and observations, in, between, and away from panels it is subliminally told that these are thoughts and feelings Oba constantly feels; whether he is in the moment of acting ordinary and trying to fit in based on observations and status quo, in between moments of acting and his true self, or completely separated from the world and only being who he truly is with no inhibitions or fronts.
This volume begins Oba’s story in High School and follows him from the heights of wealth and satisfaction with his facade, to the crippling depths of depravity, poverty, and suicide. The range of time detailed within are so harrowing and involving. We truly get to know and understand the character by simply looking at glimpses of his life to a certain point. The transitions between scenes are masterfully handled as well and that is part of what makes the story so involving. Snippets of time and exact, precise statements of Oba’s personality, perspective, and double life are made with perfect pacing and timing. Essentially, each chapter marks a break in time. But each chapter is in itself a self containing story with full character arcs and message.
One of the central arcs in this volume involves Oba joining a radical revolutionary group. Fed up with Japan’s current economics and American influence, the people in the group aim for a socialist government through radical acts of terrorism. Oba ends up going to a meeting simply because his ‘friend’ Horiki (I use quotes because Oba’s detachment prevents him from seeing that he is a friend instead of just an acquaintance) wants to pick up on some girl he met. Oba decides to continue going to the meetings not because he sympathizes with their cause but, instead, because he views them as social misfits and the lawless. Because Oba feels he needs to put on a front in order for people to accept him, he finds a ‘strange sense of comfort’ when among these misfits. During these scenes there are occasional panels of Oba drawn as a puppet, with someone else pulling the strings. These shots aid in explaining his mental deterioration and his general sense of self. These images and interactions also aid in my empathy for Oba. Is it really him that spirals his life out of control? Is it his identity that leads this path or is it his lack of identity which is extremely influenced by those around him that leads the way? I would like to say that everyone makes their own choices and any and all consequence for actions are the weight of the individual but I think otherwise, and this manga helps enforce that thought. I have known people that are more susceptible to outside influence than others. Do they still make bad decisions…sure, but why were they more influenced? Oba’s hollow shell of a being, experiences in his youth by his father, all create a person who doesn’t know who his is or how he should be. He simply strives to be a member of society because ‘it is right’ and his extreme lack of self is what makes him a follower is the truest sense. Oba could be anyone; for younger readers I hope that he will lead as an example of how not to be and how not to let their children become. It can be prevented but in a fast paced world where work and status is a priority, some things can be overlooked; we are all to blame. Oba is a puppet, but who is really pulling the strings?
For some people, this story may sound too bleak, too dark and riddled with negativity; and they’re right. The book contains extremely unsettling moments where Oba is acting the clown, putting on his show so that he will seem normal to people, become popular, and fit in with society. We know this is all a ruse, Oba tells us himself; we know that he is in fact a depressed, detached human being that is incapable of feeling and understanding in the traditional sense. But that’s the genius of this character. He is too dark, too depressed, too detached, too serial killer-like; he is a collaboration of negative extremes but with very normal responses. I think that every reader will be able to identify with Oba is some slight fashion. I’m not saying everyone is a sick, disturbed individual but everyone has some experience or feeling they can relate to. I’ll be open and explain; for me, I was able to relate to the clown act Oba fronts to other people. My reasons for doing so when I was younger are TOTALLY different than Oba’s but it was still an act I performed. I performed the act for the same results Oba desired to gain from the act, to be liked and accepted by his peers and to not be realized for what lies within (for Oba it is detachment for me it was an underlying sadness). I cannot relate at all to this character but I could relate to some portion of him and I believe that everyone can find some portion of Oba they can relate to.
By being able to relate to Oba, by the literary techniques and composition of panels and text, and by the extremely realistic, attractive art employed by Furuya…this is how the story becomes almost too involving. I don’t know whether to credit Dazai or Furuya here but…the style, the content, hell…everything about this book has the ability to draw the reader in. You feel the emotional ups and downs the story goes through, you empathize with all the characters, you want to hope it turns out for the best but it only gets worse and you are too absorbed to look away. Fucking brilliant!
The last thing I want to touch on is the art itself. The style employed is much more Lychee Light Club than Genkaku Picasso. It isn’t as dark and doesn’t use as many blacks as Lychee did but there is definitely a more realistic approach that also dabbles with the ‘artsy’. Each character design is fully realized and not at one point did I ever not know who the character was on panel. Each design is so distinct and clean that any change is instantly recognizable (as with real people, if someone is in a different state of mind or emotion it can be seen in their face and body posture). I am slightly shocked however that this manga is rated 16+. I think this should have definitely been 18+ material. There is a lot of sex being had in this book and Furuya spares none of the details (aside from lightsaber penis). These scenes are necessary in some respects and are thankfully as detailed and graphic as they are. The artwork used for these scenes change from scenario to scenario too. From a fuzzed dream, to full realization of surroundings; the art shows Oba’s mindset during these scenes in ways that text bubbles would have been inadequate. It is those slight touches, and conscious calculations that take this book to the next level for me. Everything is with purpose. There is not a wasted line of dialogue, the artwork provides subtext and details that enrich and enhance the story, and it is all done masterfully. No Longer Human is another home run winner from Vertical Inc., but one that I actually will find myself re-reading continuously for many years to come. Masterpiece!
I didn’t know what to expect going into this book. Completely unfamiliar with the original work but a diehard fan of both Vertical Inc. and Furuya I knew it was going to be something unique and worth reading. I just can’t believe how fantastic this book was though! The best part is how it stuck in my brain once I finished reading and all the subtleties starting bearing fruit in my head. This manga is just pitch perfect for me the way an artistic film can be, so rich and full detail but still an amazing read on a top level. I know this is just volume one and the true scope of the story can only be realized once it is complete but….DAMN!, what a perfect book.
Content Grade: A+
Art Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: A
Text/Translation Grade: A
Readers Rating: [ratings]
Age Rating: 16+
Released By: Vertical Inc.
Release Date: October 25th, 2011