No Longer Human, Volume 3

No Longer Human, Volume 3Creator: Usamaru Furuya
Original story: Osamu Dazai

U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781935654377
Released: February 2012
Original release: 2011

Osamu Dazai’s semi-autobiographical novel No Longer Human, originally published in Japan in 1948, has had a least three manga adaptations. Of those, only one is currently available in English—a three-volume series by Usamaru Furuya. I have been interested in Furuya’s work ever since I read Lychee Light Club, and so I was very happy when Vertical licensed his No Longer Human manga series. No Longer Human, Volume 3 was first published in Japan in 2011 while the English-language edition was released in 2012. The original novel was a fairly dark work. While Furuya has taken some liberties with his version of the story—using himself as a framing character and updating the setting to contemporary Japan, among other changes—the No Longer Human manga is also quite dark. Furuya argues in the afterword that his ending is somewhat more uplifting than Dazai’s, but it is still severe. Vertical describes the third volume as “the devastating finale” which is incredibly apt.

Disowned by his family and the survivor of a double suicide, Yozo Oba’s life was falling apart. Getting by on his good looks, he lived for a time as a kept man until he ran away from that situation, too. But then he met and fell in love with Yoshino, a young woman working at the cigarette shop that he frequented. Yoshino and Yozo elope and have now been married for a year. For the first time in his life Yozo is genuinely happy. He has a wonderful trusting wife who loves and accepts him for who he is, the only person with whom he can be completely open and honest. He’s gainfully employed, his manga for children is popular and selling well and with the extra income from his side job drawing erotic illustrations, he and Yoshino are able to live quite comfortably. Yozo still carries some guilt over his past, something that his supposed friend Horiki never lets him forget, but he’s now starting to look forward to his future. And then it all comes crashing down. Yozo’s perfect fantasy life is destroyed and he is destroyed along with it.

Having previously read Dazai’s orignal novel (several times, actually), I was all too aware the direction that Furuya’s No Longer Human was heading. Actually, from the beginning of the manga series alone it is known that Yozo’s story is not a happy one. But knowing what’s in store does not necessarily make it any easier to witness it happen. There is nothing that the reader can do but to watch the events unfold. Yozo is doomed from the very start. Something happens to this young man, seemingly loved by all, to cause his life to completely shatter. He should be in the prime of his youth but becomes so broken that most assume him to be more than twice his age. The third volume of Furuya’s No Longer Human outlines his final and ultimate downfall, the one from which he is never to recover. It’s made even more tragic because he has finally experienced true happiness and contentment only to have it torn from his grasp.

Throughout the No Longer Human manga the tremendous disconnect between how Yozo views himself and how others perceive him has been shown. It’s one of the driving forces behind the story. Up until the very end people insist that Yozo is a good person, but to him it has all been an act. He holds a pessimistic view of the world and recoils from humanity. What many people would consider to be a source of hope and salvation only guarantees Yozo’s undoing. Eventually he becomes a drug addict which only amplifies his fears and anxieties and further damages his precarious state of mind. His increasingly twisted and tormented psyche is reflected quite clearly in Furuya’s artwork. No Longer Human is an unrelenting and even terrifying tale. Even at his worst I can still see a little bit of myself in Yozo. It’s perhaps because of this that I find the series to be so effectively gut-wrenching. Furuya’s adaptation of Dazai’s novel is excellent, bringing his own interpretation to the story while staying true to the dark heart of the original.

No Longer Human, Volume 2

No Longer Human, Volume 2Creator: Usamaru Furuya
Original story: Osamu Dazai

U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781935654223
Released: December 2011
Original release: 2010

Usamaru Furuya’s manga series No Longer Human is an adaptation of Osamu Dazai’s 1948 semi-autobiographical novel No Longer Human. Furuya’s manga adaptation began serialization in Weekly Comic Bunch in 2009. The second volume of the series was published in Japan in 2010 while the English-language edition was released in 2011 by Vertical. No Longer Human was the second manga by Furuya that was published by Vertical, the first being the one-volume Lychee Light Club. Although Furuya’s No Longer Human is based on Dazai’s novel, he has taken a few liberties with his rendition, one of the most notable changes being that the story is now set in the 2000s instead of the 1920s and ’30s. Furuya has also inserted himself into the manga as a framing character. These changes, as well as others, are actually quite effective. It is not at all necessary to have read the original No Longer Human to appreciate Furuya’s interpretation of the story.

Yozo Oba attempted a double suicide with a club hostess named Ageha, but only she drowned while he survived. He’s come to the realization that although he doesn’t want to die, he doesn’t want to live, either. Yozo has long since been disowned by his family and the one person for whom he held any sort of honest feelings is now gone. He spends his days directionless and in despair, slowly recovering from a torturous situation partly of his one making. He desperately wants some meaning to his life, but has failed to discover what that might be. At one point he thinks he’s found it, only to have it snatched away from him. Yozo was once adored by all and even in his current pitiful state people are drawn to him and dare to care about him. He uses this to his advantage, putting on airs to get what he wants and needs, recognizing all the while how distasteful it is. Yozo uses people and he knows it. To him, life is still an act.

No Longer Human is a dark and troubling manga series. Yozo doesn’t treat himself well and treats those around him even worse. He is extremely manipulative and frankly can be a terrible person. And yet at the same time Yozo is a tragic figure; No Longer Human is heart-wrenching. While I don’t find his portrayal in the manga to be as sympathetic as it is in the novel, there are still points with which I can empathize. Yozo has a fear of people and their expectations of him that prevents him from being authentic. He’s repeatedly told that he is a good, sweet, and kind person, but this is the last thing he wants to hear. Yozo’s extraordinarily anxiety-ridden and conflicted over it because he see the life he is living as one big lie. He is very aware of his dishonesty and how he misleads people, but continues to do so because he is so desperate to be liked and accepted. Occasionally he manages to express some feelings of legitimate remorse and genuine caring, but more often than that it is already too late to undo any of the damage done.

No Longer Human, Volume 2 follow Yozo from the depths of despair to the heights of happiness and back again. Those glimmers of hope that Yozo will be able to turn his life around make his failure to do so even more anguished as he lets chance after chance to slip through his fingers. Furuya’s artwork in No Longer Human suits the story well, capturing Yozo’s internal and emotional turmoil and dragging the readers along for the ride. Furuya provides disconcerting glimpses into Yozo’s psyche, visually expressing his suffering through imagery of suffocation (harkening back to his near-drowning) and showing the ugliness he sees in the world. No Longer Human isn’t necessarily an easy read and it can be emotionally exhausting, but I find it to be incredibly compelling and difficult to turn away from as well. Yozo may not often be particularly likeable, but as with so many of the other characters in the series I can’t help but wish the best for him no matter how doomed he seems.

My Week in Manga: February 27-March 4, 2012

My News and Reviews

Last week was my usual set of posts for the end/beginning of the month, which means it was a slightly slower week. February’s Bookshelf Overload was posted as was Experiments in Manga’s monthly manga giveaway. You still have a couple of days to enter for a chance to win King of Thorn for Keeps. Also posted last week were some random musings about the Manhwa Creator Bank, a campaign being coordinated by Korea’s Seoul Animation Center and Netcomics.

The next Manga Moveable Feast is coming up in a couple of weeks and will be held from March 18 to March 24. Manga Worth Reading will be hosting and this time we’ll all be taking a look at the work of Jiro Taniguchi—Jiro Taniguchi Topic of Next Manga Moveable Feast. I’ve got a couple of thing planned for the Feast, including an in-depth review of Taniguchi’s most recent release in English, A Zoo in Winter.

Now it’s time for some interesting reading that I’ve found online recently! Anime News Network has an interview with Tomomi Mochizuki, the director of the House of Five Leaves anime adaptation which just finally had a Region 1 DVD release. (I’m absolutely thrilled about this release and preordered the set the day it was announced.) Over at Robot 6 is another great interview: Felipe Smith talks manga — and life. Finally, and on a much less happier note, I’d like to direct your attention to a post over on Manga Bookshelf: Apple censors still targeting LGBTQ content? What Apple has been and is doing continues to piss me off, and Amazon is guilty of similar actions, too.

Quick Takes

Demon Diary, Volumes 1-7 written by Lee Chi-hyong (volume 1) and Lee Yun-hee (volumes 2-7) and illustrated by Kara. Raenef has been declared to be a demon lord, but with his innocent and kindhearted personality he doesn’t really seem to be cut out for the job. It’s up to the demon Eclipse to show him how things are done. About halfway through the series, the story changes significantly in tone. While there is still humor and comedy to be found, Demon Diary becomes much more serious and dramatic. Almost everything that does end up happening was at least hinted about, so at least the developments don’t come out of nowhere. I think I preferred the more overt silliness, but I did find later volumes to be interesting, too.

Library Wars: Love & War, Volume 7 by Kiiro Yumi. I like Library Wars best when library policy becomes a more integral part of the story. The last few volumes seemed to stray from that a bit, focusing on some of the characters’ personal lives (which makes them come across as high schoolers rather than grown adults), but the seventh volume brings library issues to the forefront again. A couple of new characters have been introduced, including a new antagonist, so things should continue to become more interesting. I’m still frustrated by Iku’s incompetence, but that seems to have been downplayed somewhat in this volume, which I appreciated. While I haven’t really been blown away by Library Wars, for the most part I have been enjoying the series and will continue to follow it.

No Longer Human, Volume 3 by Usumaru Furuya. I have been both dreading and really looking forward to the final volume in Furuya’s adaptation of Osamu Dazai’s novel No Longer Human. Dreading because it is such an intense and dark story, and looking forward because Furuya has done such a phenomenal job with the series. Having read the original novel I knew where things were heading, but it doesn’t make it any easier as a reader. Yozo finally experiences and has a chance at true happiness only to have it torn away from him as he slips back into darkness. The back cover calls it a “devastating finale” which is very apt. The changes that Furuya has made from Dazai’s original have worked really well.

Purgatory Kabuki, Volume 1 by Yasushi Suzuki. I wanted to like Purgatory Kabuki. I really, really did. I mean, the cover art is absolutely gorgeous and flipping through the volume reveals some stunning illustrations as well. But, that’s really all the manga has going for it. Unfortunately, Purgatory Kabuki lacks coherence, even in its artwork. Had I not previously read a summary, I would have had no idea what was going on in the story. Actually, even after reading a summary, I still didn’t really know what was happening. Something having to do with demons and swords and hell…I think. It is pretty, though. Originally, Purgatory Kabuki was intended to be three volumes long, but as far as I can tell only the first volume ever reached publication.

Cromartie High School directed by Hiroaki Sakurai. While for the most part I can say that I prefer the original manga series (although, that might just be because I read it first), the anime adaptation of Cromartie High School has some things going for it, too. It doesn’t stray much from the original material, but it does have the advantage of sound—Mechazawa’s smooth voice, the music that accompanies most of Freddie’s appearances, etc. Hayashida’s hair has a life of its own. Even though I already knew what all the jokes were going to be, they still made me laugh. There are twenty-six episodes, but each one is only about twelve minutes long. It’s a ridiculous series with an absurd sense of humor.

No Longer Human, Volume 1

Creator: Usamaru Furuya
Original story: Osamu Dazai

U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781935654193
Released: October 2011
Original release: 2009

Usamaru Furuya’s No Longer Human, a manga adaptation of Osamu Dazai’s novel of the same name, was one of my most anticipated releases for 2011. The original novel was published in 1948 while the first volume of Furuya’s interpretation was released in Japan in 2009. Vertical began bringing the series to English-reading audiences in 2011. (I was hoping that the third and final volume of Furuya’s No Longer Human would be published in time for the Usamaru Furuya Manga Movable Feast, but alas, the release date was moved back.) Dazai’s novel is a tremendous work and Furuya is a tremendous artist, so I was eagerly awaiting the opportunity to read his version of the story. It’s not a strictly literal adaptation—Furuya has moved the story to modern day Japan and has even inserted himself into it.

While searching for inspiration for his next series, manga artist and author Usamaru Furuya stumbles across the online diary of a young man named Yozo Oba. Yozo is the youngest son of a wealthy family. While attending a private high school in Tokyo, he was known as the class clown. Extremely charismatic, he was well liked by his classmates and teachers. What they didn’t know was that it was all an act. Yozo views his life as a performance, his actions are deliberate and calculated. The intense and constant effort Yozo puts into convincing others to like and accept him leaves him miserable and unhappy. He has a difficult time connecting with and understanding other people and is afraid that someone will notice his inauthenticity. For now, Yozo just tries to act the part that is expected of him.

Furuya easily slips between and melds two different art style in No Longer Human. One is fairly clean and straightforward, primarily used for dealing with Yozo’s interactions with other people. The other style is darker, murkier, and slightly more abstract, reflecting more closely Yozo’s inner state of mind and emphasising his sense of separation and detachment. The contrast between the two can be rather disconcerting. Furuya’s artwork is extremely effective and he creates some phenomenally chilling moments. The changes that Furuya has made to No Longer Human, which are actually relatively few, also work quite well. Each chapter closes with a direct quote from the novel and important lines—such as the one from the beginning of Yozo’s diary, “I’ve lived a life full of shame.”—are incorporated into the manga in very powerful ways.

It is not necessary to have read Dazai’s original novel in order to appreciate Furuya’s No Longer Human. (Although, if you haven’t read the novel before, I do recommend the book.) Furuya’s vision is compelling, although I didn’t find Yozo to be as sympathetic in the manga. In the novel, Dazai is able to be much more explicit about Yozo’s internal conflicts while Furuya relies on his art to express the same things, in some ways leaving more room for readers’ individual interpretations. The artwork allows readers to catch glimpses of how Yozo sees things, often without accompanying explanation. The first volume of Furuya’s No Longer Human is rather short, but if you rush through it, it is easy to miss some of the subtle cues in the art that add a tremendous amount of depth to both Yozo and to the story. If you can, take time to linger in the darkness.

My Week in Manga: January 16-January 22, 2012

My News and Reviews

This is it folks! Experiments in Manga is hosting the Manga Moveable Feast for the first time ever! This month’s Feast will focus on Usamaru Furuya and his work. I’ve been participating in the Feast since December 2010, but as I just mentioned, this is my first time hosting. I’m anxious and stressed and hope it turns out well. But, I’m also really excited about it all. I encourage everyone to take time to contribute to the Feast, or at least wander around and read some of the submissions and maybe leave a comment or two. Keep an eye on Experiments in Manga and I’ll try to direct you to Feast content that you might have missed. To start you out, I posted the introduction to the Usamaru Furuya Manga Moveable Feast just yesterday. I will also be updating the archive page throughout the Feast.

Somewhat related to the Feast, last week I posted a review of Japan Edge: The Insider’s Guide to Japanese Pop Subculture. I say somewhat related because the book includes excerpts from Furuya’s debut manga Palepoli, but that wasn’t the focus of my review. It is why I tracked down the book, though. Japan Edge is a bit dated and is out of print, but still has value. And completely unrelated to the Feast, I also posted a review of Natsume Sōseki’s coming-of-age novel, Sanshirō. I didn’t like it as well as his masterpiece Kokoro, but I still enjoyed it and found it to be entertaining.

Quick Takes

Genkaku Picasso, Volumes 1-3 by Usamaru Furuya. Genkaku Picasso was originally intended to be a two volume series. It turned into three volumes, each progressively longer than the one before. I’m glad that Furuya had the opportunity to expand on his original idea, because the first volume, while it has its charm, is somewhat weak. The final two volumes are much better and Genkaku Picasso turns out to be a great little series. The manga starts out very episodic, but eventually the overarching plot becomes more important. The longer stories work better; they feel less rushed and Furuya has more time to explore. There’s also a nod to Lychee Light Club in the third volume, which I got a huge kick out of.

Lychee Light Club by Usamaru Furuya. Lychee Light Club was my introduction to Furuya’s work. It is also arguably the most graphic and extreme manga of his currently available in English. After all, it is based off of a Tokyo Grand Guignol theater performance. The manga also takes inspiration from the work Suehiro Maruo. Be prepared for blood and guts and beautifully crafted, but very disturbing imagery. And a dark and disturbing story, too, for that matter. Lychee Light Club is definitely not a manga for everyone, but for its intended audience it is fantastic. I’m really hoping that Vertical will license the prequel, too. (My previously written in-depth review of Lychee Light Club can be found here.)

No Longer Human, Volumes 1-2 by Usamaru Furuya. Osamu Dazai’s novel No Longer Human has three manga adaptations of which I am aware. Furuya’s adaptation is the one I was most interested in, so I was thrilled when Vertical licensed the series. I don’t find Yozo, the protagonist, to be as sympathetic as he was in original novel, but Furuya’s interpretation still works marvelously well. The manga is dark and oppressive, but so was the original. The third and final volume is currently scheduled to be released in February; I’m really looking forward to the conclusion. (If you’re wondering about the changes that Furuya made from Dazai’s original novel, Genji Press has an excellent post—Dehumanizer Dept.)

Short Cuts, Volumes 1-2 by Usamaru Furuya. I quite enjoyed Short Cuts, Furuya’s first series written for a mainstream publication. It’s a gag oriented manga with each chapter, or “cut,” being only a page or two long. Certain characters do make reappearances, and there are a few recurring jokes, but for the most part each cut is fairly self-contained. Copious translation notes are included which is particularly useful in the case of Short Cuts because the manga’s humor frequently depends on knowledge of Japanese culture. However, there are plenty gags that are funny regardless. Personally, I find most of Short Cuts to be hilarious. A warning, though: Furuya can be very vulgar at times. One of my favorite things about Short Cuts is the wide range of art styles that Furuya employs.

Love Exposure directed by Sion Sono. In my opinion, Love Exposure is an absolutely brilliant film totally worth the nearly four hour needed to watch it. I enjoyed it immensely and was thoroughly engaged throughout. Love Exposure is intense and bizarre to say the least, dealing with themes of religion, love, lust, cults, sex, and violence. The sheer number of genres that Love Exposure incorporates is impressive. Comedy, drama, martial arts, psychological thriller, crime, horror, romance…I could keep going. And it’s all used to create a unique but somehow coherent story, often absurd and over-the-top, but always engrossing. Usamaru Furuya appears as Miyanishi and pulls off a cool, creepy persona very well.

Noriko’s Dinner Table directed by Sion Sono. I didn’t realize until after I started watching Noriko’s Dinner Table that it is actually the sequel to Sono’s film Suicide Club, which I haven’t actually seen yet. Noriko’s Dinner Table takes place before, during, and after the events depicted in Suicide Club. While the references to the earlier film will certainly be more meaningful for someone who has seen it, Noriko’s Dinner Table actually stands fairly well on its own. It’s a strange but intense film. Much if not all of the camera work is done by hand and the narrative uses a lot of voice-over work, making the film feel very personal. Usamaru Furuya shows up as “the man in the cafe.” Despite being unnamed, it’s not an insignificant role; you can’t miss him.

Zoo by Various. An adaptation of Otsuichi’s horror short story anthology by the same name, Zoo is a collection of five film shorts. A different director and creative team worked on each story. I didn’t find them to be quite as compelling as their original counterparts. I think the difference is that it’s not as easy to get into the characters’ heads. But Zoo is still an excellent adaptation and stays very true to the original. Usamaru Furuya worked on the screenplay, storyboard, and character design for “Hidamari no Shi” (also known as “Song of the Sunny Spot”), the only animated short in the collection. The other stories include “Kazari and Yoko,” “Seven Rooms,” “So Far,” and the titular “Zoo.”