My Week in Manga: October 10-October 16, 2016

My News and Reviews

I was a little preoccupied last week, dealing with some unexpected developments at work and home, so I wasn’t online much at all. However, I did still manage to post September’s Bookshelf Overload in which I reveal the manga, comics, books, and anime that I picked up last month. Also, a few weeks ago I mentioned the short story “The Mud God” which is tangentially related to a commission that Jenn Grunigen wrote for me. Well, it’s now freely available to read online!

Quick Takes

Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun, Volume 2Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, Volumes 2-4 by Izumi Tsubaki. My introduction to Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun was through the anime series which I adored. Because I loved the anime, it only made sense for me to seek out the original manga as well. Unsurprisingly, I enjoyed the first volume immensely. Despite that, it’s actually been quite a while since I’ve read any of Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, which just means that I had the chance to fall in love with the series all over again. And I did, wholeheartedly. The series’ comedy is largely based on the characters and their personalities. The characters themselves are all a little odd but they are also incredibly endearing. Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun plays around with expectations, so the personality quirks of the characters intentionally defy stereotypes and are deliberately unexpected. In part, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is also a romantic comedy. The cast is fairly large and there could be any number of couples among the members except for the fact that most of the characters are completely oblivious of or misinterpret their own feelings. No one is actually together in the sense that they are dating in Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun (at least not yet), but in many cases they might as well be. The various relationships in Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun are close ones and are yet another major source of the manga’s good-natured humor.

The Prince and the Swan, Volume 2The Prince and the Swan, Volumes 1-2 by April Pierce and Gareth C.J. Wee. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake, itself based on Russian folklore, has been the inspiration and basis for countless other works. One of the more recent retellings that I’m aware of is the webcomic The Prince and the Swan which began in 2013. I discovered the comic while at the 2016 Toronto Comics Arts Festival where the second print volume was making its debut; I couldn’t pass up Swan Lake reimagined as a queer fairytale. Knowledge of the ballet’s story isn’t at all necessary to enjoy The Prince and the Swan although readers who are familiar with it will be in a better position to appreciate the changes made for the comic. The basic premise of the story remains the same, but in the case of The Prince and the Swan Odette is now Odet, a prince who suffers from a curse that transforms him into a swan during the day. The other lead character in the comic is Prince Siegfried who is reluctantly preparing for his coronation and marriage as king. A chance encounter between the two men will change the course of both of their lives. The pacing of The Prince and the Swan seems a little slow at first, but the artwork, characterization, and storytelling quickly improve and gain confidence as the comic progresses. I look forward to seeing how The Prince and the Swan continues to develop.

Say I Love You, Volume 15Say I Love You, Volume 15 by Kanae Hazuki. One would think that after fifteen volumes Say I Love You would no longer surprise me, but I continue to be impressed by its honesty and authenticity. I do wonder if the recently introduced Aoi twins will continue to play a role in the series as most of the main characters are graduating high school in pursuit of their individual futures. While I was initially a little unsure of the addition of prominent new characters so late in the series, I ended up really liking them and their story arcsI’d now hate to see them discarded so soon. (Granted, Kai still has another year to go before he graduates, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the twins will continue to make appearances.) The fifteenth volume of Say I Love You would have been a natural ending point for the series. As many of the characters are preparing to go their separate ways, either by immediately entering the workforce or by continuing their education, a fair amount of time is devoted to introspection and reflection on the past. Mei in particular has changed significantly since the beginning of the series, but all of the characters have grown and matured as individuals. The characterization in Say I Love You has always been one of the series’ strong points. It will be interesting to see where the manga goes from here as both the story and characters move beyond high school.

Run, Melos! and Other StoriesRun, Melos! and Other Stories by Osamu Dazai. I forget exactly when it was that I first learned of Dazai’s short story “Run, Melos!” but it’s more or less a staple of the Japanese education system so references to the work are fairly common in Japanese popular culture. I’ve been wanting to read to story for quite some time but was under the mistaken impression that it wasn’t actually available in English. However, I recently discovered that it had indeed been translated as part of the Kodansha English Library series… which was only ever released in Japan. Thanks to the power of inter-library loan, I was finally able to read “Run, Melos!” along with six of Dazai’s other works of short fiction: “A Promise Fulfilled,” “One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji,” “Schoolgirl,””Cherry Leaves and the Whistler,” “Eight Scenes of Tokyo,” and “One Snowy Night.” I had previously read another translation of Schoolgirl but the other stories were all new to me. Normally when I think about Dazai it’s his tragic novel No Longer Human that immediately comes to mind; I had actually forgotten how humorous some of his stories can be. Even though there is still a fair amount of melancholy to be found, this humor is much more apparent in Run, Melos! and Other Stories. Overall, the volumes a charming collection of stories mostly set in early twentieth-century Japan (the exception to that being “Run, Melos!” itself) with surprisingly relatable characters.



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.

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.


Author: Osamu Dazai
Translator: Allison Markin Powell
U.S. publisher: One Peace Books
ISBN: 9781935548089
Released: October 2011
Original release:1939

Osamu Dazai’s novella Schoolgirl was one of his breakthrough works as an author. Dazai is best known for his short novels The Setting Sun and No Longer Human, both of which I have read and enjoyed, No Longer Human being my personal favorite. I was very pleased to learn that One Peace Books recently published a new translation by Allison Markin Powell of Dazai’s earlier work and was even more pleased when I was offered a review copy of the book. Originally published in Japan in 1939, Schoolgirl has been translated into English at least two other times (once by Lane Dunlop in 1992 and once more previously by Ralph F. McCarthy in 1988), neither of which I have read, making Powell’s translation the first I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy. Schoolgirl is also the first volume in One Peace Books’ new Modern Japanese Classics series which will continue to feature novellas as well as longer works of literature.

Schoolgirl follows the day in the life of a Japanese teenager in the late 1930s from the moment she wakes up until she once again falls asleep. She tells her own story candidly, more for herself than for anyone who might be prying. I’m not always a fan of stream-of-conscious storytelling, but Schoolgirl flows naturally and remains engaging throughout the novella. As the story progresses, the girl reveals her desires from petty wishes to more substantial dreams, shares her frustrations from minor irritations to deepest grief, and exhibits a growing maturity in how she approaches her life. She is a girl on the brink of adulthood, intelligent and sincere and a little bit selfish, and not without her share of troubles and worry.

One of the things that makes Dazai’s works so potent is the sense of authenticity with which his characters are imbued. They are likeable, imperfect, and completely believable as people. This is true of the titular schoolgirl as well. I found her to be charming and appreciated how honest she could be with herself. She’s still in the process of growing up and finding herself. There were moments when I couldn’t help but smile and think “Just wait until you’re a little bit older, you’ll understand better.” She may be a fictional character, but I found myself wishing the best for her as if I actually knew her. Another thing that impresses me about the characters in Dazai’s stories is that no matter how unlike me they are, I am still able to identify with them and care about them. I am in no way a late 1930s Japanese schoolgirl, but even though most aspects of our lives are different we still shared some similar thought processes and personal quirks. Dazai’s writing can be surprisingly universal.

Although I haven’t read any other translations of Schoolgirl in order to compare, I was quite happy with Powell’s work on the novella. The accessible translation reads nicely, is almost poetic in places, and while I would exactly call it “bubbly,” it is well suited as the voice of a precocious teenage girl. I did find myself interrupting my reading to look up references to pieces of literature mentioned with which I was unfamiliar, so it would have been nice if a few cultural notes would have been included as well. This additional information is not absolutely critical to the understanding and enjoyment of Schoolgirl although it does add some extra depth to the narrative. While Schoolgirl may not be as obviously tragic as some of Dazai’s following works, echos of the story and the themes he deals with in it can be readily found later on. I am very glad that I finally had an opportunity to read one of Dazai’s earliest successes. I’m also looking forward tremendously to seeing what other delights One Peace Books will be bringing readers as part of the Modern Japanese Classics series.

Thank you to One Peace Books for providing a copy of Schoolgirl for review.