No Longer Human cover art courtesy of Viz MediaNo Longer Human

Creator: Osamu Dazai
Writer & Artist: Junji Ito
Publisher: Viz Media
List Price: $34.99

Osamu Dazai was a 20th century Japanese novelist whose No Longer Human became Japan’s second best-selling novel. Dazai’s first-person narrated novel is largely autobiographical; the novel’s obsession with death and suicide, as depicted in the graphic novel’s opening pages by Eisner Award winning-horror manga-ka Junji Ito, reflected its creator’s spiraling descent into madness. Ito, whose macabre style uniquely suits the subject matter, adapts Dazai’s 1948 novel to spectacular and stomach-churning savagery.

Yozo Oba is a man afraid of revealing his true self to others; he hides behind humor and clownish mockery. In high school, Yozo befriends a homely loner named Takeichi but becomes scared when Takeichi glimpses Yozo’s true nature behind his clowning. When a joke gone awry results in Takeichi’s suicide, Yozo feels liberated and indulges in destructive behaviors that include boozing and womanizing, and “In the morning, I was again the shallow, fearful clown.”

Misfortune greets him after a failed lover’s suicide pact, and the ghosts of his past indiscretions come back to haunt an increasingly fragile pscyhe that unravels with each subseuqnet relationship. At one point, while on another suicide bend, Yozo despairs: “At most, society was the individual…it was not worth fearing. I believed this, but when a crowd of individuals formed, the pressure increased tenfold, a hundredfold.”

No Longer Human is a perfect vehicle for Ito’s talents. Ito infuses the misfit Yozo and text with relish and ferocity, providing a vivid and startling portrait of the anxiety and psychoses that set Yozo’s (and correspondingly, Dazai’s) moral compass adrift in a sea of self-loathing and self-destruction. The image of Takeichi and the women who have served as his sacrificial lambs confront Yozo at every turn.

Ito puts their visages onto the faces of his hapless victims and on the faces of children he meets along his path and in dreams. Ito remains largely faithful to the original text but takes an interesting turn when he sets up a meeting between the fictional Yozo and original author Dazai to break the fourth wall. The ghostly pallor of Yozo’s face, whose eyes are cloaked in sunken shadows, is the mirror that Ito uses to compare Dazai’s own mental decline. 

No Longer Human is a dark and depressing novel whose supernatural bent plays well into Ito’s capable hands. While not the easiest read to digest, Ito gives the novel’s delicate subject matter its proper due. His vision meshes well with Dazai’s to become a seamless, powerful statement on the darker impulses of humanity.