BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

No Longer Human (vols. 1-2) by Usamaru Furuya, based on the novel by Osamu Dazai, translated by Allison Markin Powell

No Longer Human 1-2

What does it take to update a 60+-year-old story? In the case of Usamaru Furuya’s 21st-century manga adaptation of the literary classic Ningen Shikkaku, a semi-autobiographical novel by Dazai Osamu (published in 1948 in Japan, translated into English as No Longer Human in 1958), an updated wardrobe and the requisite techno-gadgets seem to be all that was needed to create a thoroughly contemporary tale of hedonistic decadence and human disconnect.

From what I remember of reading Ningen in the original in grad school (no, I couldn’t do it now in my old age), Furuya closely follows Dazai’s narrative, even using original Japanese passages (with English translations on the facing page) to begin his chapters. In addition to the contemporary facelift, Furuya also ups the graphic factor – a whole lot of ‘show’ going on, so parents BEWARE: this is most definitely NOT a kiddie cartoon in content or execution.

Told as a story within a story, a manga artist named Usamaru Furuya (surprise!) stumbles on an online “‘ouch’ diary” written by a mysterious young man, Yozo Oba. Three photos show Oba at ages 6, 17, and 25. The transformation from young child to handsome teenager to decrepit old man in such a short time is so startling that Furuya must find out why.

“I’ve lived a life full of shame,” volume 1 begins. Oba, the privileged, handsome son of wealthy parents, gets through life playing the clown. Everyone seems to like him, and yet no one really knows him. In art school, he meets fellow student Horiki, who quickly introduces him to smoking, drinking, and women. He gets embroiled with an anti-American, anti-capitalist student group, misses too much school, and is cut off from further parental funding. His meaningless drifting leads him to a deserted beach with a young woman who sports a butterfly tattoo …

Volume 2 finds Oba in a hospital room, then jail. He’s released to live with one of his father’s former minions who controls his every move. Oba eventually escapes, and learns to prey on lonely women to support him – from a single mother to an older bar owner, he seems to have a magnetic effect on the opposite sex, even as he remains emotionally immune and desperately detached. Until, of course, he meets a sweet, innocent young woman …

The original Dazai novel is split into three manga volumes, with the final installment ironically scheduled for Valentine’s Day. In spite of how Volume 2 seems to end, these titles certainly should NOT be nestled in between the chocolate and roses. Hallmark sentiments aside, however, Dazai’s story in any genre is ultimately a sobering reminder to ‘reach out and touch someone’ – without a mask, without an agenda, without expectations, just an honest, heartfelt human touch.

Readers: Young Adult (with caution), Adult

Published: 2011 (United States)



Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.