No Longer Human Vol. 1 (Vertical)

Usamaru Furuya turns decadent novelist Osamu Dazai’s semi-autobiographical tale of a disconnected young man into something that’s a little too decadent for its own good.

 

 

 

160 pgs. B&W; $10.95
(W / A: Usamaru Furuya)
 
As the story goes, manga author Usamaru Furuya (Genkaku Picasso, Palepoli, Short Cuts) was putting off finding an idea for his next series by surfing the internet when he stumbled across the online diary of a misanthropic young man named Yozo Oba. What grabbed Furuya’s attention was a trio of pictures of Oba—the first, as a creepy six-year-old forcing an awkward smile; the second, as a dead-eyed 25-year-old aged far beyond his years; and the third, as a suave 17-year-old with the world in the palm of his hands. What haunted path led this boy from A to B to C? Furuya was so engrossed that he can’t help but click for more.
 
Oba’s diary is titled No Longer Human, and he means it: he feels completely disconnected from the people around him. He puts on a brave face, forcing convincing smiles and performing as the class clown, and he even resorts to purposefully not trying too hard at school to keep people rooting for him. On the inside, however, he feels cold and distant, envisioning himself as a puppet being forced to perform. At art school, he meets a rich kid named Masao Horiki who introduces him to the worlds of smoking, drinking, and hookers. Oba meets these new experiences with the same reaction as more ordinary matters: with complete and total disconnect.
 
In reality, Oba’s story comes not from an online diary but from Osamu Dazai, one of Japan’s foremost novelists. Dazai comes from the decadent school of writing, and maaaan, does No Longer Human revel in its decadence. This wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t all so preposterous—Oba gets two prostitutes to fall in love with him in the first 50 pages—or so pandering. And yes, I get it: Dazai and Furuya are trying to show us just how disconnected Oba is by showing that even the most extreme human experiences have no impact on him. But thanks to leaden dialogue—whether that’s the fault of Dazai, Furuya, or translator Allison Markin Powell, I can’t say—Oba’s emotions never really ring true, and the female characters are personality-free sex robots except for Ageha, a hostess that makes at least some impression before her story reaches a quick and unfortunate end. As a result, the constant sex reads like little more than an excuse to have some nudity in every single chapter.
 
Speaking of sex, it’s kind of surprising that Vertical rated their English edition for ages 16 and up, because maaaan, is this one dirty comic. No, it’s not porn—it’s too thoughtfully structured for that—but when the number of thrusts or even the implication of oral sex can bump a film’s MPAA rating from R to NC-17, this book was given a lower age rating than either despite having a pair of fairly graphic depictions of oral sex. That just seems like asking for trouble.
 
On a brighter note, Vertical’s edition also features a first for a manga release: rather than printing in the original Japanese reading order or simply mirror-imaging the artwork to read left-to-right, Furuya prepared his own left-to-right reading version in tandem with the Japanese version, specifically with Western audiences in mind. If he took any shortcuts in doing so, they don’t seem obvious because (unlike the sometimes, though rarely, cumbersome cut-n-paste method used by Dark Horse on Blade of the Immortal) the book definitely reads like the pages were always intended to be read this way. Art-wise, there’s little to complain about in this book: Furuya has a fairly realistic style (fans of Death Note’s Takeshi Obata will likely find much to like), yet he is equally at home drawing everyday situations or nightmares from the depths of Oba’s psyche. And most importantly, Furuya’s panel-to-panel storytelling is a breeze to read. His strengths as a storyteller leave me tempted to check out more of his work, even if the remaining two volumes of the depraved story he’s telling in No Longer Human aren’t it. | Jason Green

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