Born Evil or Made That Way: 'No Longer Human, Part 1' Manga Review

We observe Yozo Oba, the disaffected, profoundly damaged lead in Usamaru Furuya's No Longer Human like some kind of bug under glass which has been given the ability to report on the outside world. The observations are in our language, but uncomfortably outside of our range of experience. Oba, who's online diary entries comprise the bulk of No More Human's story realizes that there's something skewed with him and how he sees the world, but he considers the people around him, the "normal" ones, somehow defective.

Yozo Oba is actually the creation of Japanese novelist Osamu Dazai, himself a troubled individual who used the novel as a thinly-veiled autobiography detailing his own aimlessness, decadence, and alienation during his youth and in the years following World War II. Furuya takes the novel and sets in modern Japan, keeping the first-person-account aspect but curiously making it an online journal discovered by an unidentified manga artist. I say "curious" only because at this stage, there's no clear sense of any impact the framing device might make on the story, save to create a parallel between "Oba," the persona in the journal and the "real" Oba, matching the Oba/Dazai parallel.

Oba is a popular, outgoing high school student with rich parents who support his financially comfortable life in Tokyo. As a student, he attempts to maintain a facade of normalcy, getting good grades but downplaying his ability with jokes, silly faces, and gregariousness. He plays the clown at school and only drops his disguise during extracurricular painting classes, where he meets the good-natured Horiki. I won't spoil the how's and why's, but from this meeting, Oba's life begins to spiral downward in such a natural, almost expected way. Along the way, he reveals that the only real feeling he has come from sex with prostitutes, the transactional nature of these encounters feeling more "honest" to him and therefore more understandable.

Could he be classified as a sociopath? If I could be allowed to play internet psychologist, it appears that he exhibits all of the key signs, with the notable exception that he over-conforms to misdirect any sort of suspicion that something is wrong with him. As his story progresses in this volume, Oba attempts to identify the shape of the cause of his dysfunction, but even that explanation feels thin and inadequate to cover the pervasive emptiness at his core. During these scenes of introspection, the story takes on a puppet motif, but I'm not sure I buy it or even Oba's own understanding of what's wrong with him. It's not that he's too controlled, it's that he's thoroughly untethered.

Furuya's art is interesting: all of the women look like characters from sh?ujo titles with their slim, delicate frames, while the males have more varied body types and faces, some of them possessing more exaggerated styles. While he avoids a grid layout for his panels, they nonetheless have a very controlled style that emphasizes a lot of juxtaposition (matching faces, poses, etc. across panels). Fair warning to anyone who picks this 16+ title up: there's a fair amount of nudity and sex, so please be aware that it earns its rating.

The print edition of No Longer Human is available now from Vertical, Inc..

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