Everyone is at fault. Everyone does poor ol’ Yozo wrong. Horiki keeps exploiting him. Daddy didn’t like his pictures. Society keeps reminding him that he’s a monster.
If I sound annoyed, it’s because I feel Yozo’s characterization has become one-note. In my previous entries on Aoi Bungaku, I noted that while the adaptation wasn’t perfect, had I not known that it was an adaptation, I would have had few complaints. The third episode, however, is the first episode where I feel like I just can’t divorce the text from the anime. In the novel, Yozo sounds bitter but brutally honest in his insights. In the anime, he has become a naive fool.
“Isn’t society just a bunch of individuals gathered up?” isn’t for Yoshiko, shown above, to say. In fact, it comes from Yozo himself in the novel. For some reason, Madhouse decided to mess up the timeline of events and thereby altering the entire tone of the story. In the novel, Yozo first comes to the realization above long before he ever met Yoshiko. While Horiki is visiting him at Shizuko’s home, Yozo thinks to himself,
What, I wondered, did he mean by “society”? The plural of human beings? Where was the substance of this thing called “society”? I had spent my whole life thinking that society must certainly be something powerful, harsh and severe, but to hear Horiki talk made the words “Don’t you mean yourself?” come to the tip of my tongue. — page 119-120
It is this realization that sends Yozo down the wrong path again: “From the moment I suspected that society might be an individual I was able to act more in accordance with my own inclinations” (120). In the anime, on the other hand, society’s constant persecution of Yozo’s “sin” is what pushes him down the wrong path. As a result, Yozo lives down to people’s expectations. They say I’m a monster? I guess I’ll give them what they want.
I just don’t like this change. I just don’t like the victimization of Yozo, the characterization that he is a tortured artistic soul. He may as well start singing “I tried so hard but, in the end, it doesn’t even matter.” There’s no depth to this Yozo, a mere child who seems so utterly oblivious. He’s no monster at all in the anime. The adaptation leaves out the cruel bits of Yozo that makes us pause and wonder at his true nature. We are compelled to sympathize for poor Yozo in the anime whereas the text gives you a cold, hard look at someone who may not be entirely at fault for all his misfortunes but, at the same time, isn’t entirely blameless either. Yozo would often pawn Shizuko’s belongings just to indulge in his alcoholism, living more like a parasite than a supportive member of the family.
The relationship between Shizuko and Yozo feels particularly underdeveloped; she becomes almost a tertiary character. In the novel, we get a deeper look at how the relationship turned from sour to bitter: “…I would return to the apartment. I would say, ‘The more I look at you the funnier your face seems. Do you know I get inspiration for my cartoons from looking at your face when you’re asleep?'” (121).
Another poignant scene from the novel is cut short. When asked by Shigeko why Yozo drinks so much, Shizuko tells her daughter that
Whereas the anime ends there, the text goes on:
“Do all good people drink?”
“Not necessarily, but…”
“I’m sure Daddy will be surprised.”
“Maybe he won’t like it. Look! It jumped out of the box.”
“Like the funny man in the comic he draws.”
“Yes, isn’t it?” Shizuko’s low laugh sounded genuinely happy.
I opened the door a crack and looked in. I saw a small white rabbit bounding around the room. The two of them were chasing it. — page 123-4
This isn’t just a simple scene where Yozo realizes he might harm Shizuko and her daughter and thus leave them for good. Yozo had been complaining up to that point about being a kept man in Shizuko’s home: “Shizuko flattered me with these and other comments which, with the special repulsive quality of the kept man, I calmly accepted. Whenever I thought of my situation, I sank all the deeper in my depression, and I lost all my energy” (115). It becomes apparent that Yozo nothing more than a small white rabbit to Shizuko for Shigeko.
The parallels between Yozo and the small white rabbit are interesting. To Yozo, Shizuko had earlier remarked, “Most women have only to lay eyes on you to want to be doing something for you so badly they can’t stand it…” (115). Doesn’t that sound particularly like how most people treat a rabbit? Like Yozo, Shizuko brings the rabbit home for Shigeko to play with. Like Yozo, Shizuko tried to keep the rabbit in the box only to have the rabbit escape from their grasp. Shortly after observing this scene, Yozo “escapes” from the mother and daughter. He was ultimately their pet, a plaything for Shigeko. He had initially assumed he could be human by playing the role of the father in the household, but Shigeko, however, denies that Yozo could ever be her “real dad.” One wonders then whether or not Shigeko came to naturally call Yozo her dad. Maybe she only did so at Shizuko’s suggestion. Shizuko’s simple statement, “Maybe he won’t like it,” suddenly becomes quite loaded with meaning.
I felt dizzy with the shock. An enemy. Was I Shigeko’s enemy, or was she mine? Here was another frightening grown-up who would intimidate me. A stranger, an incomprehensible stranger, a stranger full of secrets. Shigeko’s face suddenly began to look that way.
I had been deluding myself with the belief that Shigeko was at least safe, but she too was like the ox which suddenly lashes out with its tail to kill the horsefly on its flank. I knew from then on that I would have to be timid even before that little girl. — page 118
Only the final episode of the No Longer Human arc remains. Perhaps the most tragic moment is coming up for Yozo. I’m curious how Yoshiko and Yozo’s relationship will translate to anime.