Aoi Bungaku: Initial Impressions of the No Longer Human Arc

I have seen three pictures of the man.

The first, a childhood photograph you might call it, shows him about the age of ten, a small boy surrounded by a great many women (his sisters and cousins, no doubt). He stands in brightly checked trousers by the edge of a garden pond. His head is tilted at an angle thirty degrees to the left, and his teeth are bared in an ugly smirk. Ugly? You may well question the word, for insensitive people (that is to say, those indifferent to matters of beauty and ugliness) would mechanically comment with a bland, vacuous expression, “What an adorable little boy!” It is quite true that what commonly passes for “adorable” is sufficiently present in this child’s face to give a modicum of meaning to the compliment. But I think that anyone who had ever been subjected to the least exposure to what makes for beauty would most likely toss the photograph to one side with the gesture employed in brushing away a caterpillar, and mutter in profound revulsion, “What a dreadful child!”

Indeed, the more carefully you examine the child’s smiling face the more you feel an indescribable, unspeakable horror creeping over you. You see that it is actually not a smiling face at all. The boy has not a suggestion of a smile. Look at his tightly clenched fists if you want proof. No human being can smile with his fists doubled like that. It is a monkey. A grinning monkey-face. The smile is nothing more than a puckering of ugly wrinkles. The photograph reproduces an expression so freaskish, and at the same time so unclean and even nauseating, that your impulse is to say, “What a wizened, hideous little boy!” I have never seen a child with such an unaccountable expression. — No Longer Human, “Prologue”

Aoi Bungaku’s (Blue Literature) premise is not only promising, it’s also a little daring. We’re not talking about any regular adaptation here… these are classics in Japanese literature. Take No Longer Human for instance: it is considered not only Osamu Dazai’s best novel, it is also the second best-selling novel in Japan (source: Wikipedia). So how did Madhouse do? Well, it’s too premature after seeing just one episode, but I will say this. No matter how well it’s done, comparisons to the actual text are inevitable. It’s unfair, but it’s going to happen. From just the passage quoted above, it’s apparent that the translation to animation was far from perfect. Granted, an adaptation is allowed some leeway to reinterpret the source material, but then a question arises: did this interpretation do justice to the source material? Don’t get me wrong–I enjoyed the first episode, but I just can’t shake the nagging feeling that I’m getting an incomplete picture, no pun intended. On the other hand, if Aoi Bungaku does nothing more than motivate me to read some Japanese classics, it will probably accomplish more than any other anime this season can claim. I won’t say anymore at this point until I completely digest No Longer Human, both the novel and the arc.

Addendum: Parts of my views here are incomplete. I wrote a more extensive analysis of the first episode and how it compares to the novel here: No Longer Human: Differences in the Novel and Aoi Bungaku.

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