The first volume of Usamaru Furuya’s No Longer Human, based on the novel Ningen Shikkaku by Osamu Dazai, plunged us deep into the life of Yozo Oba. Oba isn’t like your average student; sure, he gets along with his classmates, but it’s all a meticulously orchestrated facade. In reality, he’s self destructive at best and a soul-sucking leech on others at his worst. Volume 2 has its share of ups and downs following an attempted double suicide, but for the most part we’re firmly glued to Oba’s ever spiraling descent.
For those just joining us—and you should really pick up the first volume and read that if you haven’t—Furuya (Short Cuts, Lychee Light Club, Genkaku Picasso) portrays Oba’s story as something he stumbled upon while surfing the ‘net for manga ideas. The mangaka is as gripped as his audience, putting off sleep to continue reading Oba’s diary, and it’s no wonder why. It’s easy to reflexively despise our subject from the start. He’s manipulative, despondent, and when it comes down to it, a very weak person. Despite an overwhelming disconnect with humanity as a whole, though, he somehow learns how to use his inexplicably thick charm to worm his way into people’s lives and, ultimately, use them until they can’t be used anymore.
Oba really hits his stride in this volume, fully embracing his ability to meet women, bend them to his will, and discard them when finished. It becomes a full-on compulsion, and just when you think he’s climbing his way out of the hole he dug himself, he allows his grip on reality to loosen, sending him ever deeper. It’s hard not to get frustrated with him, especially when he uses his natural talent to land a serialized manga to great success. Where he was somewhat reckless and naive in the first few chapters—using his powers to fight for causes he didn’t care for or even fully understand—Oba is now a slave to his own “dark genius.”
Even the silver lining on the scattered clouds of Furuya’s dark yet beautiful adaptation won’t glimmer for long. This volume bubbles up to another seeming high point as it comes to a close, but there’s no pretense that things might all end up well and good for our protagonist. We’ve known since the first pages that none of this would end on anything less than a devastating note, but following Oba’s life from point to point is what keeps the pages turning.
It really stands out whenever Oba comes close to discovering one of life’s many truths, but any realization he comes to will be too little and much too late. He may have somewhat come to grips with the fact that people are, in fact, individuals, but his is a cycle that’s doomed to repeat. Reading No Longer Human is part voyeurism, part rubbernecking, but it’s hard to call the fall of someone so detached and nihilistic anything close to “tragic.” Still, it remains oddly fascinating thanks to Furuya’s attention to detail and remarkable visual execution of Dazai’s work. The volumes thus far are fairly short and hold up well to multiple readings, so there’s enough reward here to recommend risking a brief plunge into Yozo Oba’s murky world.
Publisher: Vertical Inc.
Story & Art: Usamaru Furuya
© Usamaru FURUYA 2009