Manga Review: No Longer Human by Usamaru Furuya

ImageOsamu Dazai is considered one of the greats of Japanese literature. One of his most well known works has to be Ningen Shikaku or No Longer Human, a novel about Yozo Oba, a fictional character whose many exploits and ordeals mirror actual events in Dazai’s own life. Because it is considered such a timeless classic amongst Japanese society, the book has been adapted into a movie, an anime and, two manga series. Today, I’ll be talking about the 3 volume manga adaptation released in the U.S. by Vertical inc., that was written and drawn by Usamaru Furuya, the man behind Lychee Light Club and Genkaku Picasso.

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Original novel. Released in America by New Directions Publishing.

Prior to reading this manga, I had already read the original novel as well as seen the Aoi Bungaku anime adaptation so, I was already fairly acquainted with No Longer Human’s lead role Yozo Oba and his clownish ways. Furuya starts off by establishing that even though this is his interpretation of an existing story, it has it’s own flavor to make it stand out. The story takes place in modern day as opposed to the pre-World War II setting from the novel however, aside from a few name changes and the fact that the story is told as if it were the mangaka himself reading this from a blog that was posted by the fictional Oba, little about the story is altered to fit the new setting, which would be a problem but, Yozo Oba’s trials of life are universal enough that a simple change in setting isn’t enough to offset the story. Yozo experiences a feeling of anxiousness towards his fellow man that I believe isn’t too uncommon to those reading this. He begins to believe that he can’t consider himself human because of the fact that he doesn’t place priority on things that other people do, such as status, monetary gain or, pursuit of education or employment. Yozo’s teenage years can simply be described as hedonistic, and it is not until he finds a kindred spirit in the form of a depressed hostess that his life truly takes a pitfall.

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Promotional art for anime adaptation with character designs by Takeshi Obata

Dazai’s semi-autobiographic tale is interestingly dark with a main protagonist who, while open to interpretation, I personally found somewhat identifiable and intriguing. Furuya’s art is surreal and refreshingly bizarre, which I found extremely fitting for the story that’s being told. As stated before, Furuya’s slight alterations are what truly makes this work stand out when compared to the source material. Some changes are simply cosmetic, like giving a girl butterfly tattoo for the sake of symbolism or, giving Yozo an addiction to heroine instead of morphine to keep the story relevant to the setting. A noticeable difference is how the main protagonist is portrayed as opposed to the novel. Whereas in the novel, the reasons for Yozo’s anxieties and doubts regarding his humanity are more abstract while in the manga through fantastically illustrated flashbacks and moment of sybolism, we get a deeper look at Yozo’s personality and why he’s become what he is. Usamaru Furuya takes an excellent story and finds a way to make it his own so, I highly recommend this as well as Osamu Dazai’s novel to anyone looking for a great psychological drama.

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