~by Usamaru Furuya
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.