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Welcome to our first installment of the Anime Watchers Club! I hope those of you who were able to watch the first four episodes of Aoi Bungaku found it interesting. Be sure to comment on what you liked, what you didn’t like, any observations you’d like to share, any questions you have, or any topics of discussion you’d like to bring up.

No Longer Human

As Masato Sakai, the voice actor for the protagonist (Oba Yozu) informed us, No Longer Human is the most-read novel by Osamu Dazai, published in June 1948 (shortly before he committed suicide). Based on the tidbits of background info given, the parallels between Osamu Dazai and Oba Yozo are rather uncanny–and though I wouldn’t call No Longer Human autobiographical, the similarities at least suggest the story was very personal to the author, which I feel helped make the emotion of this story so powerful.

“I’ve lived my life in shame. I have no idea what a human is.”

Perhaps my biggest question while watching this four-episode story was “What exactly made Yozo no longer human?” And when precisely did Yozo become “a monster”? The anime starts by showing Yozo assisting to swindle people in anti-governmental protests, revealing how he’s able to fool everyone with his rousing theatrics. And by the end of the episode, he has essentially brought about the death of a woman who helped him escape, via a double suicide that failed on his end. Certainly not a series of events anyone would want to go through, but he did bring them upon himself, so it’s understandable why he blames himself so much.

But the interesting thing is that he was labeled a monster way back when he was a child. At school, he acted silly and clownish to gain some semblance of friendship with his classmates, even if it only resulted in laughter at his expense. Sadly, the one to notice the mask he was wearing was a child who was surprisingly manipulative in other ways, creating a bizarre partnership that would last the rest of Yozo’s life. So why did this boy call Yozo a monster? It seems that he recognized Yozo was not only pretending to be a fun, silly boy, but was doing so in order to hide some kind of emotional detachment from the rest of humanity. Brief flashbacks of Yozo’s childhood only gives us hints to work with, but it appears Yozo was molested as a child, and had a rather cold relationship with his disparaging father. Just as in Dazai’s family picture, Yozo is shown as a child grinning while the rest of his family poses straight-faced, creating a rather eerie dissonance that exemplifies Yozo’s disconnect from those around him. Who was there for him to trust or look up to as a child? What possible meaning is there in a word like love, when his most memorable childhood experiences involve molestation, exploitation, discouragement, and ridicule?

The Monster Inside

It becomes understandable at this point how Yozo subconsciously held himself in such low esteem, when his life as a child was so thoroughly outside of his control. When he looks in the mirror and sees a monster, he has come to accept that he is fundamentally different from everyone he associates with. He is a monster disguised as a human–and while I’m not certain if the visual representation of the monster is ever described in the book, it lends itself well to the anime medium. The monster is a dark shadow, its features grotesque and only vaguely human with its large, misshapen head and half-dead (or perhaps stoned) expression. There’s no way one could mistake this being for a human, and Yozo understands that he can’t let people discover his “true” identity.

I found it interesting that at one point, Yozo brought the monster to life as a separate entity by drawing it. This creative act would haunt him the rest of his days (literally in his head, but symbolically in reality), as the monster would remind him of his repeated failures in life to become one with human society. How many artists and writers are haunted by the images and stories they bring to life? Once the brush or quill hits paper, the idea becomes real–it’s solidified, holds weight in the reality we consciously interact with, and can be observed and interpreted by countless other human beings. We can think all manner of things in our head, but once we act on them, our thoughts begin to affect our lives in much more drastic ways.

The Artist’s Mind

If you look at what Yozo is drawing in each episode, you’re getting glimpses of what is on Yozo’s mind. When married to/living with the newspaper woman with the glasses, Yozo finds himself filling the role of father to the widow’s young daughter. With this in mind, it makes sense that he is drawing manga for children–and makes everything all the more tragic when the girl denies acknowledging Yozo as her father.

When Yozo’s felt he’s been abandoned by those he loves(?) and by all of society in general (except for the young vendor woman who saves him in his hour of desperation), his art shifts to pornographic imagery, inspiration fueled by the many women he held sexual relations with over the years. I feel there’s multiple ways to interpret this shift. In one way I feel Yozo is “using” society, or “taking advantage” of its lewd passions in order to make his living, perhaps comparable to utilizing a prostitute’s services in some ways. In another way, it may have been an act to help him separate his relationship with the vendor woman Yoshiko from all his past relationships with women. In his mind, there was little value to these past relationships, for in the end things always fell apart. To Yozo, Yoshiko was different. She wasn’t a prostitute, nor was she ever married to another man. She was his pure goddess, and his alone.

All of this of course leads to the tragedy of episode four, and the resulting dissolution of Yozo’s emotional state.

Betrayal or Act of Love?

It’s been pounded in Yozo’s head as a child by his father that those who can not take care of themselves (ie earn an income as a contributing member of society) are worthless–not even human. All throughout his life, Yozo has been deemed a hindrance, an annoyance, and a stumbling-block to his father (who holds an important governmental position), and Yozo has always wanted to “prove his father wrong.” This situation puts Yozo’s earlier participation in anti-government protests in an interesting light (despite his insistence he doesn’t care about any of it), but it also shows just how significant Yozo’s work as a manga artist is to him. It’s not just a way to earn him a living–it’s a way to vindicate himself as a human, and he entertains the possibility that he will one day become even greater than his powerful father in the eyes of the world. Won’t that show Yozo has “won,” in this lifelong struggle against his father?

With this in mind, along with Yozo’s very positive viewpoint of his wife, an extraordinary depressing light is put on the reveal that Yozo’s boss is either a) raping Yoshiko, or b) receiving sexual favors from Yoshiko in order to keep publishing Yozo’s hentai manga. Yozo assumes the latter, and the show doesn’t show much to counter this. Yozo is left a hollow shell of a man, but I found it interesting how Yozo stopped Yoshiko from killing herself… only for him to kill himself instead, deciding that he is entirely inhuman at this point.

In other words, it appears Yoshiko was giving herself up to another man for the sake of Yozo, the one she loves. Has she willfully betrayed Yozo? Or is this a selfless sacrifice in order for Yozo to feel like he’s succeeding at his work? I interpret the series of events as the latter, but the fact of the matter is there’s no way Yozo can accept this and live on as he had been. Yoshiko was no longer the pure goddess Yozo was so desperate for her to be, and Yozo had to accept that he had failed to legitimately achieve an income on his own merits. But most of all, he saw this series of events as his fault entirely. In his mind, he could have felt that if he were capable of creating manga that would actually sell, his wife wouldn’t have had to become (in his eyes) a prostitute, no different from all the women he had tried to disassociate from her. Nor would she have tried to kill herself, to make up for her “betrayal.” The fact that Yoshiko tried to commit suicide because of his incompetence as a human being was the final blow.

He couldn’t let her die the same way he had brought the woman in episode one to her death. In this sense, having him eat all the pills right then and there can be seen as a redemptive act, where Yozo tries to prevent Yoshiko from killing herself. She saved his life, and gave up everything for him. Realizing that (in his mind) he is ruining Yoshiko’s life, he can’t allow himself to live any longer. At every stage in his life, Yozo sees himself as a hindrance to everyone who plays a role in his world, and what could be more inhuman than to “kill” the one person who still loved him, despite all his (seemingly) insurmountable, unforgivable flaws and deformities?

There’s more than one way to interpret all this though, which I feel makes literature in general very fascinating.

Playing the Clown

My first experience with the No Longer Human narrative came from Mizuki Nomura’s light novel Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime. The story deals a good deal with some characters who find themselves relating to Yozo quite a bit–namely in how he was able to always smile and act playfully with those around him, despite feeling nothing inside. In the end, the eponymous Book Girl (Tohko Amano, a yokai and literature connoisseur in both senses of the word) points out just how much literature can affect people emotionally, and at one point stresses the importance of reading some of Dazai’s other works (such as Run, Melos!), which generally cast life in a much more favorable light than No Longer Human. Like Yozo, if we repeatedly deem ourselves as inhuman, we’re going to honestly believe there’s something fundamentally wrong with us. When we’re depressed, it’s easy to focus on everything that’s wrong with ourselves, and with the world around us. If we find ourselves entirely unable to connect with other human beings, it doesn’t have to mean we’re inhuman. It may simply mean this is something for us to work on. Every person has some kind of struggle in life, and it’s up to each individual to decide if she or he will run away from it, or actually find a way to deal with it.

I believe that Yozo’s purposeful blunders and comic acts as a child were a form of running away from his troubles. At such a young age, it’s difficult to know how to deal with the sorts of things he had to go through. But even as an adult, it’s easy to find ways to escape from the woes that sometimes accompany daily living. Alcohol, drugs, and prostitutes were all adult methods Yozo took to “run away” from his misery on a regular basis. And when even that wasn’t enough, the ultimate form of running away came from his attempted suicides (along with his [presumably] successful suicide at the end).

If Yozo had faced his difficulties with a clear mind, how much better would he have fared? Would he have somehow been able to escape his cycle of self-destruction? At the very least, it seems that all his forms of running away only made his problems worse–though it appears that considering his emotional state (as battered as it was from the very onset), it may be arguable that he really needed some avenue of escape just to survive. Through and through, No Longer Human is a tragedy, but it successfully leaves the viewer with plenty of worthwhile things to ponder.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed this anime adaptation of No Longer Human, and look forward to the rest of the stories that will unfold over the course of Aoi Bungaku. For these first four episodes at least, I must compliment the art, music, tone, atmosphere, and the general direction taken for this story. Everything meshed really well, and I had to watch all four episodes in one sitting, since I was so engrossed by it all. I also want to compliment the voice acting, and particularly Masato Sakai for his role as Yozo. It was an excellent performance that really captured the fragile emotions of his character.

There are lots of little things to notice from episode to episode, which shows the thought that was put into this adaptation. Perhaps my favorite motif was the way Yozo had to exit through windows several times throughout the story. This seemed to drive home the concept of Yozo being “no longer human,” since he’s not even “allowed” to use doors like a normal human being. Again and again, he has to escape his troubles through windows… It makes for a rather sympathetic image, and may well represent Yozo’s deepest feelings throughout the story. I hope to read the actual novel for No Longer Human some time soon, to see how similar this anime adaptation is to its source material, and what methods Dazai uses to evoke specific emotional responses from his readers.

Please feel free to leave any comments you have, and encourage your friends to add their thoughts and opinions as well. If you end up watching these episodes at a later date, go ahead and comment whenever you wish! And remember that next week we will discuss episodes 5 through 8 of Aoi Bungaku, so go ahead and start watching those before our next Anime Watchers post, which should come next Sunday (April 15th).