Aoi Bungaku Ep. 2: A Black Blob Approaches

In my previous entry regarding Aoi Bungaku, I lamented Madhouse’s decision to tweak certain aspects of Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human. The first episode had piqued my interest in Dazai’s work so much that I acquired for myself a copy of his famous novel (along with other Japanese classics but we can talk about them some other time). To my surprise, I found No Longer Human to be very enjoyable, but to my equal disappointment, Madhouse’s adaptation is different in ways I found wholly unnecessary. Does this, however, make it a bad anime?

So that others won’t mistake this as a rant against Aoi Bungaku, the answer is an affirmative no. With that said, I’ll try not to repeat my criticisms of episode one in this entry unless it’s relevant. Others have argued that the mystery elements introduced in the anime still happen to fit the original themes of the novel, but I disagree. Yozo’s true character may be murky, especially to those around him, but all the events in the novel are his personal recollections from his personal notebooks. I’m not saying that it is impossible for Yozo to completely misunderstand himself to such a degree that he may or may not have been Tsuneko’s murderer, I just find it unlikely. We can agree to disagree and I’m leaving the matter at that.

In the second episode, we learn of Yozo’s high school life through flashbacks. Whereas episode one introduced us to Yozo’s sexual trauma, we are treated to Yozo’s teenage development in episode two. The portrayal of young Yozo doesn’t diverge much from the novel though there are some subtle changes. In the anime, his facial expressions would imply that he’s a victim, the target of jokes and jeers from his peers although he clearly states at one point, “Now that I think back, I was clowning.” Even with these words, however, there’s a crucial difference between the novel and the anime. These words sound a bit revisionist, as if an older Yozo is ashamed of his childhood and isn’t being entirely honest with himself. In the novel, on the other hand, he sounds much more certain that everything was all an act:

I missed the bar and sailed on as if I was making a broad jump, landing with a thud in the sand on the seat of my pants. This failure was entirely premediated, but everybody burst out laughing, exactly as I had planned. — page 44

Whether or not Yozo is a victim is much more subtle in the text than in the anime. In the novel, Yozo plays a significant part in erecting a wall between him and his peers, but one could argue that society’s inability to understand one another is what drives Yozo to such lengths.

We learn early in the first notebook that there has always been a gap between him and others; mundane aspects of humanity would go unnoticed by most but not Yozo: “…this revelation of human dullness stirred dark depression in me” (22). In the anime, he claimed that he only clowned around to feel at least one connection, however tenuous it may be, to others, but I got a different impression from the novel. I suspect he clowned because he fears human intimacy; he fears people’s realization that he is missing much if not all of his humanity: “The fear of human beings continued to writhe in my breast…” (43).

One kid, however, doesn’t laugh and sees through Yozo’s antics. This is Takeichi.

I found this assertion from Takeichi, pictured above, rather odd; he says no such thing to Yozo in the novel. More importantly, Takeichi claims he can see Yozo’s true identity. Why is anime Takeichi so astute in comparison to his novel representation? One other thing to note is the difference in how we interpret Yozo’s actions leading up to this point. In the anime, it would appear that he’s merely being friendly toward Takeichi. Yozo remarks to himself that Takeichi is dangerous, but his concern onscreen seems somewhat genuine. In the novel, we are treated to a lengthy internal monologue, asserting that he wishes nothing more than to deceive Takeichi as he had done with others: “In order to win over Takeichi I clothed my face with the gentle beguiling smile of the false Christian” (45). I still think a sympathetic portrayal of Yozo is intentional by Madhouse and I personally disagree with it, but I’ve discussed this before so moving on.

We are treated to a new element exclusive to the anime, a mysterious horror element:

It is somewhat familiar to No Longer Human’s book cover:

nolongerhumancover

And it’s a little odd, to be honest, to see Yozo breaking down over this encounter with his “true self” in the anime as if he had never known who he really was until meeting Takeichi. Maybe he hadn’t realized it by high school, but should Takeichi really be the catalyst to Yozo’s realization? Maybe, maybe not. In the novel, Yozo finds not only a friend in Takeichi but also a window to his true self, a self he might have lost behind years of constant clowning. Through art, Yozo could see his true self hidden behind all the smiles and callous clowning. Yozo thus speaks admiringly of French artists such as Van Gogh and Renoir:

They did not hide their interest even in things which were nauseatingly ugly, but soaked themselves in the pleasure of depicting them. In other words, they seemed not to rely in the least on the misconceptions of others. — page 55

For once, he need not worry about putting up a facade, constantly being that clown to entertain and distract people. Through art, Yozo could be honest not only to himself, but he could allow others to take a peek, particularly Takeichi. Regarding Yozo’s self portraits:

Here was the true self I had so desperately hidden. I had smiled cheerfully; I had made others laugh; but this was the harrowing reality. I secretly affirmed this self, was sure that there was no escape from it, but naturally I did not show my pictures to anyone but Takeichi. — page 55-6

Yozo’s fear and breakdown in the anime when he encounters his “true self,” the monster, is thus odd, because it seemed like such a positive development in the novel that he should be able to see himself without all the masks and falsehoods. In both representations, Yozo sets out to capture his true self on canvas, but it is such a sinister event in the anime. The painting causes Yozo to recoil in fear whereas he is proud to show his self portraits in the novel to Takeichi. The exercise of painting seemed so cathartic that he would later regret losing his self-portraits in his adult years.

The anime jumps back to the present, whereupon waking up Yozo learns that Tsuneko is dead and he has been cut off from his family in every way possible. According to the anime, Yozo is a threat to his father’s image as a congressman, but I believe that by this point in the novel, his father had already ended his occupation in the Diet. I could be wrong, however, but my point is that the anime appears to be fixated on assigning significant blame on Yozo’s father. He is portrayed as a monster, perhaps one greater than even Yozo’s monster:

We are introduced to not just Flatfish but also Shizuko, a writer for a magazine agency, which, according to novel Yozo, is a second-rate rag. Like the first episode, the anime fleshes out secondary characters with details that the novel’s first person perspective couldn’t realistically develop. We get a short little scene where Shizuko, deep in thought, almost carelessly gets herself run over by a train. This and other flourishes, like her melancholic family atmosphere with a daugher she’s raising by herself, don’t bother me as much as Tsuneko’s portrayal in episode one. I feel that the events we see here are at least consistent from what we can see of Shizuko from the novel, even if they are made up by Madhouse.

We also get treated to Horiki’s rather exploitative nature in the anime. It’s not quite a huge departure from the novel, but I find that it renders Horiki a little too premeditated. In the novel, Horiki is definitely a bit of a parasite and his company tends to start Yozo upon a downward spiral, but we are never treated to such a clear insight to Horiki’s motives as what we can see pictured above.

Some events are played out of order, such as when and how Yozo comes to meet Flatfish, but these changes are ultimately insignificant.

As Yozo attempts to sleep in his new home, more accurately a prison, the mystery of the previous episode appears again, suggesting that Yozo’s “true self” murdered Tsuneko that fateful night. Again, I don’t really believe this mystery is consistent with the themes for the novel (you can see much of my argument regarding this in the last entry and its entailing discussion for yourself here). The second episode goes so far as to have Tsuneko potentially haunting Yozo from her watery grave. At the very least, the anime wants to paint him with a guilty soul for having survived, which I think is consistent with the novel. The sinister feel of the mystery, however, is not.

I thought instead of the dead Tsuneko, and, longing for her, I wept. Of all the people I had ever known, the miserable Tsuneko was really the only one I loved. — page 88

I just can’t imagine that he would feel guilty of being her possible murderer. I’ve explained in the previous entry that I just don’t think Yozo is a murderer. This addition to the anime feels like an attempt to interest anime fans. In the anime, he continues to be haunted by his “true self,” when during this same time in the novel, Yozo is busy detailing his new life with Flatfish. Obviously, the former sounds a lot more exciting.

There’s such a fixation on his guilt in the anime, a guilt I just don’t find in the novel. As a result, he runs away from Flatfish in the anime for entirely different reasons than in the novel,

leaving out a crucial conversation between Yozo and Flatfish. Although I can understand that we only have four episodes to delve into a complex character study, I think the dinner scene in the novel is very important when it comes to understanding Yozo’s contempt for human beings:

In later years I came to realize that if Flatfish had at the time presented me with a simple statement of the facts, there would have been no untoward consequences. But as a result of his unnecessary precautions, or rather, of the incomprehensible vanity and love of appearances of the people of the world, I was subjected to the most dismal set of experiences. — page 102

The episode ends with Yozo at last meeting Shizuko. It’s most likely unimportant, but Horiki’s anime home is pretty posh compared to the squalor of his novel home.

To be perfectly clear, I still think this is an excellent anime. The animation quality isn’t bad and while Madhouse doesn’t randomly change the show’s style anywhere near as often as other studios, like Shaft for instance, there’s a coherence when Aoi Bungaku does shift gears. At times, I wanted to get up and wipe the Vaseline off my monitor only to realize the anime is just that naturally blurry. I’m not sure whether the quality of the raw is to be blamed or Madhouse simply abusing the soft focus look, but it’s annoying nevertheless. As an adaptation, I still feel somewhat dissatisfied with the changes discussed above, but the horror elements were very well executed. Had I not known that this arc was based off of a novel, I’d be cheering on this mystery/horror anime, clearly the best show this season.

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2 Replies to “Aoi Bungaku Ep. 2: A Black Blob Approaches”

  1. His self-portrait in the anime did seem similar to the novel cover.

    I actually like the change in the anime of Yozo going crazy because he was sort of seeing his true self. Though he’s supposed to be more afraid of others than himself, I think being afraid of oneself is easier to portray. However, I didn’t like the part of him sort of imaging his other self killing Tsuneko. I really prefer his reaction in the novel.

    1. I just think it’s a little… cheap. We know he’s trying to fit into human society. So how do we get it across to the audience that, at any moment, Yozo’s true self could ruin everything? The anime’s answer is by literally having a dark side stalk him. It’s like being beaten over the head with a hammer. I wish they could have done it more delicately. I feel like in the novel, he has more of a resignation that his true self will emerge any moment now no matter how hard he tried to be human.

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