Title: No Longer Human
Author: Usamaru Furuya
Publisher: Vertical Inc.
Volume: Volume 2 (of three), $10.95
Vintage: 2010 by Shinchosha Publishing Co., December 2011 by Vertical Inc.
Genre: Psychological drama
Please check out this month’s Manga Moveable Feast at Experiments in Manga, celebrating the works of Usamaru Furuya!
Manga artist Usamaru Furuya (the “character”), while searching for story ideas, came across the diary of one Yozo Oba. He quickly became engrossed in the man’s story of hopelessness, tragedy, and shame. At the end of volume 1, Yozo attempted a double suicide with Ageha. While Ageha died, Yozo survived, and he now finds himself lying in a hospital bed. As he recovers, he is visited by the police investigating Ageha’s death. He’s informed that he’s being charged with assisting suicide and is taken to the police station. In the eyes of the investigators and the prosecutor on the case, things just don’t add up, and no one believes the details of his relationship with Ageha. Yozo realizes that if he’s found guilty, he’ll have to spend the rest of his life paying reparations to her family and making amends for her death, and he decides that this is his chance to latch onto a reason for living. However, quite suddenly, Ageha’s family withdraws the charges, his trial is canceled, and he is set free. A former employee of his father’s, Shibuta, picks him up and takes him in. He soon comes to the realization that his father must have paid everyone off, including Ageha’s family, the prosecutor, and even Shibuta. For half a year, Yozo does little more than exist. Then one day, he convinces Shibuta that he’s ready to turn his life around and takes the chance to run away. With nowhere to go, Yozo recalls his friend Masao Horiki. He finds that Horiki has become an illustrator, and realizes that he can’t be a burden on his only true friend. At Horiki’s he meets an editor named Shizuko Tanaka, and once again decides to use his good looks to his advantage. He immediately ingratiates himself with Shizuko and moves in with her and her young daughter, Shiori. At Shizuko’s he begins writing his diary, leading up to his current situation of living as a kept man. As he explores the events of his life, he realizes how important money is, and ends up submitting a kids’ manga to Shizuko’s publishing house. Things finally look like they’re turning around for Yozo, but he begins to feel suffocated by Shizuko’s love for him, and spends all of his paychecks on alcohol and cigarettes. The only time he feels like he can breathe is when he goes to a local bar, where the proprietress reminds him of Ageha. Feeling guilty about interfering with Shizuko and Shiroir’s life, he finally abandons them as well, and moves into backroom of the bar. At Bar Manos he finds acceptance, kindness, and a place to belong. Not only was his world starting to become happier, Yozo was falling in love. A nearby cigarette store is staffed by a young woman named Yoshino Asai, and for the first time, Yozo finds himself truly in love. Having never had a normal relationship with a woman, Yozo is awkward and strangely shy around Yoshino, but he eventually discovers that she has feelings for him, as well. At long last, for the first time in Yozo’s life, he’s truly happy.
Well, this one was slightly more upbeat than the first volume. I say slightly, because it’s still pretty dark, and although there is an enormous bright spot near the end (especially in comparison to everything else), the book ends with the suggestion that this happy life won’t last much longer. And I can’t say I’d be surprised. I can feel it coming, even without the warning text on the last page. The question is, does Yozo destroy himself, does he bring all his misfortunes on himself, or do outside influences drag him down? Yes and no. After the death of Ageha, Yozo resolves to move forward and spend his life making things up to Ageha for continuing to live while she died. He wants to get a real job, pay back her family, and make himself respectable. He latches onto this reason to live, and then his father takes it all away so easily by buying everyone off. Even having effectively cut himself off from his father, the man still controls him. The women around him certainly don’t help. Misaki, Ageha, and Shizuko were all content to have sex with Yozo, pamper him, and let him leech off of them. I can only hope that since he has real feelings for Yoshino, that he won’t fall into the same routine with her. Aside from his father’s lingering influence, there’s a real sense that Yozo has cut his puppet strings and is attempting to live on his own in some way. It’s unfortunate that running away and into the arms of yet another woman is the way in which Yozo feels he can escape his father, because he ends up seriously harming those he gets involved with. At least he feels guilty about it. When he ditches Shizuko, it’s not only because he feels suffocated by how attached she and her daughter are becoming, but because he realizes that his continued presence will destroy their lives. Without him around, he realizes, they can have a perfectly happy life together. He ends it badly, as is his way, by simply running off without word or explanation, but at least it wasn’t a 100% selfish decision. Maybe he really is trying to turn his life around. He’s at least becoming more aware of how he hurts people with his actions, though I can’t say he does his best to prevent that. He’s also finally starting to see the beauty in a world he previously felt was dark and empty. Though, as they say, it’s brightest before the fall. The calm before the storm, the deep breath before the plunge. This is not a happy story. His relationship with Yoshino starts off with a broken promise, and that typically doesn’t lead to good things. Yozo doesn’t seem able to handle a good thing, only take advantage of it. However, he’s found something pure and sweet with Yoshino, so I’m very interested to see where that will take him. On the other hand, the sweeter something is, the worse its destruction, so I’m equally interested in finding out how he’ll destroy everything once again, or how the world around him will. Though it’s impossible to believe that Yozo doesn’t have at least some part in his own downfall. Furuya has a wonderful ability to illustrate the human condition, in particular the darker parts of it, making No Longer Human an excellent read. I can’t say it’s for everyone. Yozo can be really despicable at times, there’s nudity, sex (both beautiful and dirty), and really lewd and nightmarish images from Yozo’s psyche. But if you want a good story that is so fantastical it feels absolutely real, a story of one person’s struggle to do more than exist, then be sure to check this series out. The final volume comes out in February.