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November 11, 2011

Bento Bako Bonus: No Longer Human volume 1

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Written by: Kristin
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Title: No Longer Human
Author: Usamaru Furuya (Genkaku Picasso), original novel by Osamu Dazai
Publisher: Vertical Inc.
Volume: Volume 1 (of three), $10.95
Vintage: 2009 by Shinchosha Publishing Co., October 2011 by Vertical
Genre: Drama, psychological

No Longer Human is a story within a story. The book begins with a depiction of Usamaru Furuya himself, trying to come up with his next manga idea. He comes across an online diary by a man named Yozo Oba called No Longer Human.  Intrigued by the series of photos on the front page, which depict an awkwardly smiling child of a wealthy looking family, a 25-year-old man who looks well beyond his years, and a handsome high school student, Furuya decides to read the diary to find out how a person could so radically change in just a few years. The first line of the diary immediately creates interest – “I’ve lived a life of shame.” For a Japanese person, this is a heavy statement. The concept of shame defines Japanese culture. In extreme cases, a life lived in shame might as well not be lived at all. The statement carries a LOT of weight, is what I’m saying. The diary begins with Yozo as a 17-year-old high school student. We watch Yozo clowning around for some laughs, and even purposefully getting wrong answers in class, all to make himself popular. Yozo has carefully cultivated a specific image of himself that he presents to those around him in order to maintain the image of an ideal student. Funny, friendly, nice, not overly smart, and humble in the face of praise. With the pressure from living such a life for 17 years, Yozo joins an art prep school where he feels he can be himself. At the art school he meets a young man named Masao Horiki. Yozo observes that Horiki is also a clown, but that his persona isn’t calculated, and comes easily. Horiki becomes sort of a breath of fresh air for Yozo, and they begin to hang out regularly, usually going to sex salons and brothels, where Yozo finds he can truly be himself in an honest exchange of money for sexual satisfaction. Yozo appears to be broken somehow, unable to express genuine emotion because he is incapable of understanding it. He has no idea what “ordinary” means, doesn’t understand humans, and is in fact frightened by them. Though for someone who claims not to understand humans, he does seem to understand exactly what they want, even if he doesn’t know the why. Eventually, Horiki and Yozo’s quest for hot chicks leads them to a group of political activists called the Japan United Labor Reform Association. Interested in this side of the human experience, Yozo decides to join the group, and finds himself able to look down on those he sees as pathetic humans. He does find a bit of solidarity within a group of misfits, a place filled with other people who don’t fit into normal life, and he becomes more active, climbing up the ranks. Things are going surprisingly well, until Yozo’s father finally gets fed up with his son failing to attend school and spending lots of money, and takes away his apartment and credit cards, moving him into a small and giving him a much smaller allowance. His life quickly and drastically changed, Yozo doesn’t know how to cope, and rather than return to school and get a job like his dad hoped, he does the opposite and continues to attend the meetings of the political group. He beings to take advantage of one of the high ranking young women in the group, who readily offers to take care of him. The leader, Sasaki, decides that Yozo will be one with the “honor” of being in charge of orchestrating several bombings in the city. He quickly realizes he’s been set up to take the fall, and runs away. Now homeless, he meets yet another girl willing to look after him in a hostess named Ageha. He finds a sense of loneliness in Ageha that resonates with his own soul, and grows to seriously care for her. With is father having abandoned him, the political group out to get him, nothing to live for, and nothing to his name, he returns to Ageha and reaches a pivotal point in his life alongside her.

The semi-autobiographical book this manga is based on was the last published by Osamu Dazai before he committed suicide at the age of 38. It is a dark and depressing story about a lost young man who can’t seem to fit in with the people around him. A lot of Yozo’s issues seem to stem from his father, who appears to have been largely not present in the boy’s life growing up. When he was present, he would try to manipulate and mold Yozo into the ideal son, but somehow Yozo never understood what was wanted of him. Told to be like other children, other people, Yozo can’t seem to grasp what being normal or ordinary means. For what reason should he smile? How does he know if his food tastes good? Is a certain toy really what makes children happy? How much more is “more”? How can he be sure what is normal for one person is normal for another? Why doesn’t anyone else seem to be as frightened of living as he is? The only way he can connect with others, is to put on a precisely cultivated act that balances what everyone wants from him. However, the pressure of living this lie becomes too much, and he snaps. He tries to find some other way to live his life, but his father only wants him to be a perfect son. It doesn’t even seem like he bothers to try and find out why his son is acting out. He just punishes him, harshly, and continues to leave him on his own. He doesn’t send anyone to help, and when things still don’t go the way he wants, he cuts Yozo off entirely. Is it any wonder Yozo goes into such a fast downward spiral? It’s easy to pass him off as a spoiled, poor little rich boy sort, but his fall is so drastic, and he receives no help from those who should be helping him. Unfortunately, as he’s used to handouts and not very inclined toward hard work (well, it’s not that he’s lazy, he just has no drive or purpose), he falls back on women who offer to take care of him for nothing in return (well, except for some sex, I guess, which he isn’t at all opposed to). It’s not that he isn’t trying, because he clearly is putting forth some effort to find what makes him so different, what is missing from him that others have. He just can’t seem to find it. He’s genuinely shocked when Horiki tracks him down and shows concern for his well being, as he can’t believe someone would put so much effort into finding him when there’s nothing to gain. That Horiki could be an actual good person leaves him dumbfounded. But it’s Ageha that finally pulls at something within him. She is lost and broken in a different way, and he finds comfort in her arms. For once, he’s found someone he genuinely cares for. She is tired of life, tired of pretending everything is OK, just like Yozo. However, their meeting leads Yozo down another dark path, into a spiral of intense guilt…but that’s for the next volume.

I had not realized this was done by the same creator who made Genkaku Picasso. The name didn’t register for some reason, but the artwork inside sure did. It’s a lot more balanced than Genkaku, where one of my complaints was the drastic difference between the regular drawings of the characters and the extremely detailed drawings of the main character’s sketches. There’s a little of that here, but it feels much more normal and flows better. Also like Genkaku Picasso, this is a story about the human condition, and an exploration of life’s purpose. One last note. Vertical has rated this one 16+, but there’s a decent amount of nudity and sex in here, and I’ve seen other books with less than that wrapped in plastic. So just be careful who you pick this up for or where you leave it sitting out.

Kris
kristin@comicattack.net
@girlg33k_kris

Review copy provided by Vertical Inc.

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3 Comments



  1. My take: http://www.genjipress.com/2011/10/no-longer-human-vol-1-usamaru-.html

    I also did some close comparison with the original novel and another comic adaptation that’s recently been making the rounds. What’s striking is how little had to be changed, not how much.

    Also, I agree this really isn’t a 16+; this is a hard 18, and I suspect it only narrowly avoided being put in shrinkwrap.



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