The series consists of adaptations of six modern classics of Japanese literature: Osamu Dazai's No Longer Human (Ningen Shikkaku) & Run, Melos! (Hashire, Melos!), Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro, Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s Hell Screen (Jigoku Hen) & The Spider's Thread (Kumo no Ito), and Ango Sakaguchi's In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom (Sakura no Mori no Mankai no Shita).
No Longer Human (Ningen Shikkaku) - A high school student becomes lost and alienated. Despondent and aimless, he falls into a cycle of self abuse, depression and drugs that taints his life for years. Told in four chapters, each chapter deals with a different point in his life and the final chapter leaves him standing alone - an empty and hollow caricature of his former self.
In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom (Sakura no Mori no Mankai no Shita) - A love story between a 12th-century woman and a mountain bandit who abducts her.
Kokoro - A 1914 tale of a young man's life journey during the Meiji era. The work deals with the transition from the Japanese Meiji society to the modern era, by exploring the friendship between a young man and an older man he calls "Sensei". It continues the theme of isolation developed in Soseki's previous works, here in the context of interwoven strands of egoism and guilt, as opposed to shame.
Run, Melos! (Hashire, Melos!) - An updated retelling of a classic Greek tale of the story of Damon and Phidias. The most prominent theme of "Run, Melos!" is unwavering friendship. Despite facing hardships, the protagonist Melos does his best to save his friend's life, and in the end his efforts are rewarded.
The Spider's Thread (Kumo no Ito) - The Buddha Shakyamuni chances to notice a cold-hearted criminal suffering in Hell. But this criminal did perform one single act of kindness in not stepping on a spider in a forest. Moved by this selfless act, Shakyamuni takes the silvery thread of a spider in Paradise and lowers it down into Hell, but it falls upon the criminal to seize the opportunity and pull himself out - if he can.
Hell Screen (Jigoku Hen) - A famous artist is commissioned by a great lord to create a series of paintings depicting scenes of the "Buddhist Hell." The artist is unable to paint scenes that he has not seen himself, prompting him to torture and torment the Lord's staff to create his imagined images of hell. His creative efforts taint the household, as the story descends into madness and destruction.
For a long time now, the psychology genre has been dominated by the likes of Elfen Lied, Higurashi, Monster and Requiem for a Phantom. All these anime looked at psychology as the mindset of a murderer or the troubled past of the protagonist, and there were also shows like Death Note, which focused on the psychological warfare of two geniuses. This has been the way anime have defined the psychology genre for years.
But, as always, along comes a player that changes the way the game is played.
Aoi Bungaku Series thrusts you into the shoes of the protagonists and synchronizes their brain to yours.
It gives you a spectacularly detailed insight into their thoughts and feelings, all while following an intense storyline.
The show is the anime adaptation of several literary masterpieces in Japan (much like Ayakashi Classic Japanese Horror), some of them dating back to the late 1920s. ABS portrays six such immortal classics, each of them highlighting the complex and fickle nature of the human mind. Except for the first arc, each arc lasts only two episodes. Writing an in-depth analysis of each of the stories would be giving away too much and might ruin the experience. If you want absolutely no spoilers, then I recommend you do not read the MAL synopsis either, as it contains nearly half the story. Here’s a quick breakdown of the basic elements of each of the stories, while keeping the spoilers to a bare minimum:
(NOTE: Each arc is a completely different story, are in no way interrelated and can even be viewed as a standalone anime. That’s the primary reason why I’m reviewing each arc separately.)
1. No Longer Human – This classic, written by Dazai Osamu, focuses on a psychotic and troubled mind – that of a congressman’s son. Set in 1929, this dark and gloomy arc was the longest, lasting four episodes, which proves to be more than enough time to let the viewer unravel the protagonist’s twisted perceptions of society and how he bears the pressure of being crushed under the weight of his own ego. Drenched with sadness and yet pregnant with hope, each of those four episodes is memorable to say the least. After watching this arc, you understand why No Longer Human was the defining work of the author and the most read literary piece in Japan.
2. Under Cherries in Full Bloom – Probably the most bizarre two episodes of an anime I’ve ever seen in my life. Ango Sakaguchi, the author, tries to tell a tale of how people need to speak their minds in order to live a peaceful life. However, his idealistic approach on decadence falls short in this anime adaptation, because of unnecessary humor, inappropriate chibi animations and dreadfully boring jazzy songs. The sudden light-heartedness and lackadaisical pacing feels like a fish out of water after watching the melancholy and sorrowful No Longer Human.
3. Kokoro – Natsume Soseki is considered the Charles Dickens of Japan for good reason. I felt like I was drifting along in a sea filled with the characters’ emotions. When I talked about this anime being the game changer, I was mainly referring to this arc. It weaves a bittersweet story of love, lust, trust, jealousy and friendship.
4. Run, Melos! – “Is it more painful to wait, or to make someone wait?” The most straightforward story of the lot. The storyline is very basic and is about a playwright’s life, as he spends his life waiting for his childhood friend to come and meet him. Once again, this was written by Dazai Osamu and is the retelling of a Greek legend (Damon and Pythias), the overall theme of the arc being unwavering friendship. As I said, it’s a very simple story and it can get a tad predictable, but since it lasts for only forty minutes, it’s an enjoyable ride.
5. The Spider’s Thread – What starts off as a brutal Assassin’s Creed anime, ends up as a crude moral story that is far too short to convey any real message. While the basic idea of Ryunosuke Akutagawa was to entertain children with this novel, the anime adaptation is aimed at a much more mature audience because of its gore and profanity. A good story, but 20 minutes proves to be too short to convey the author’s ideals.
6. Hell Screen –Penned by the same author as Spider’s Thread, Hell Screen succeeds exactly where The Spider’s Thread fails – it gets its point through in a single episode. This arc is about an artist and his struggle to paint his masterpiece, much like O.Henry’s “The Last Leaf”.
The animation in this show is one of the best I’ve ever seen, if not the best. The show features some of the highest production values to date. It’s also one of the very few anime that managed to use CGI well. The generous use of the morose red in the first arc, No Longer Human, was what contributed to the eerie atmosphere of the anime.
The soundtrack is great. While the instrumental pieces were fitting, the series doesn’t have an OP and the ED was not very good.
As far as content warning goes, this show is rated R17 for a reason. Not only does it feature a large amount of blood, gore, sex and profanity, but it also contains strong messages about the society, which younger audiences will neither understand nor appreciate.
But when it’s all said and done, Aoi Bungaku Series is not a show that will ever have universal appeal. Due to its complex nature and dark atmosphere, this show will most probably never see the light of the day.
[ THE WRAP-UP ]
Aoi Bungaku Series is one of the darkest and most complex anime out there. Not only does it show ‘psychology’ in an entirely new light, but it also provides an artful insight into Imperial Japan. Excellent animation and a strong soundtrack make sure that this anime is technically sound. Being an adaptation of six different novels, each arc is bound to have a different impact on the viewer, but maintain an overall consistency in the intensity of the storyline. Aoi Bungaku Series is definitely not for everyone and is made for a limited audience. If you don’t like the first couple of episodes, then I don’t think you’re going to like the rest of the series either. Those looking for happy endings or lighthearted storylines are not going to be impressed with this one. However, if you’re in the mood for a dark, depressing anime about the world’s cruelty and a gripping psychological anime, then Aoi Bungaku Series might fit the bill. Individual story ratings given below:
No Longer Human – 9/10
Under the Cherry Blossoms – 7/10
Kokoro – 10/10
Run, Melos! – 8/10
The Spider’s Thread – 8/10
Hell Screen – 9/10
One thing I have learned after finishing this series, that the world and its society is a one cruel place full with violence, madness, and betrayal, or in the other hand, overpowered by those with the authority.
The Anime itself is divided into 6 different famous Japanese literatures made by famous authors from the past and all of the arcs has no connection with the others, but don't let this make you down because those 6 literatures sure were masterpieces indeed. You may prefer some arcs over the others, but overall it was a roller coaster full of emotions. One has to think deeper to
get the full and real meaning of each arc, or as an english teacher would say, you need to think outside the box. You wouldn't really expect what to happen next since it's like a train of irony. You will be left with awe once you finish a certain arc. You will most likely doubt your own instincts since at first you'll be like "ah he's a bad guy", but then later on you'll be like, "wtf I was wrong."
If I can give a number higher than 10, then I would gladly choose that number as Aoi Bungaku's art was a hell of a masterpiece. The art was one of the parts why this show was awesome. The art gave the Anime a mysterious atmosphere and in some part, creepy. Heck, I would be glad if all Anime were drawn like this.
You get different sounds in each arc. The background music that they play when a certain creepy event is happening was so good that it'll make either your eyes closed or wide open, if you're a masochist. Also, when emotional parts strike, the background music really helped to make a viewer sad or cry.
6 different arcs, which mean a lot of new characters. In each arc, you get awesome characters, and by awesome I mean characters surrounded with mystery and such. You wouldn't expect that character would do that to other character such. Also, 2 of the mains in 2 arcs looked like Light from Death Note. :D Plus, you get a 3d guy in every beginning of an episode. Where can you see an Anime with 3d people on!?
Pretty much enjoyed the entire series. There are 6 arcs so normally, one would prefer one over the other. Overall, it was really good. Superb, I must say.
I would frankly say that this is the first Anime I've seen with a different type of storytelling so I'm going to give this a 10. It was very unique. You can't help it but fall in love with the arcs although in some cases, you will most likely hate some of the arcs before you prefer the previous one and wanted that arc to be longer.
As a huge fan of the psychological (mostly thriller) genre, this anime was a diamond in the rough. I have not seen a series that did so well in presenting and going through human psychology. Not only that but, Aoi Bungaku also takes a look at issues involving human morality. The whole series consists of 6 works of fiction from Japanese authors. On the surface the idea sounds dull as it relates with classic Japanese literature, which as we’ve seen in multiple school SoL anime, are apparently a bore to read. Though I don’t know what the original pieces of
work were like, I can say without a doubt that this adaptation turns these suggested ‘boring’ pieces of literature into something very interesting that will open your mind to a different perspective on human psychology and morality.
I’m not a huge expert on art, or animation for that matter (only expertise I have is grade 9 art). But, even an amateur can tell that this series does a very nice job in changing its colour tones for each story. Some of the darker stories such as No Longer Human and Hell Screen had a much darker tone and much darker colours as compared to In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom which had a more colourful palette in its creation. These tones were the most prominent thing to me visually. The character design was also very solid and matched the character personalities to a tee. General art work and backgrounds were also very solid.
There are no openings for this anime as almost each episode is instead started off with a narration, explaining the story, its background, and a little bit about the author. I find this refreshing and unique as it gives you very useful information before heading into the story. There is not much music playing in the background in the anime, especially when there is dialogue. But, in the few instances where there is a musical score in the background, it matches the tone of the series very well. The first series, No Longer Human, had much more dramatic and eerie music playing, in contrast to Kokoro which had more poppy SoL type music playing. The OST for each series represented what type of setting/genre the story was placed in.
This section is hard because there are a lot of characters and in some stories they’re main focus while in others they are not that important. In fact, most of the stories focus more on the themes and the message of the story than the characters. Because of the nature of this series, I will not do a character review section.
Aoi Bungaku has a variety of 6 different stories, each conveying their own message and having their own meaning. All of them are unique and interesting and I didn’t find any of them to be below average. I will do a rundown of my thoughts on each one.
- No Longer Human:
The first piece of literature to be shown in the anime is in my eyes, the best one. No Longer Human shows the life of a man, named Yozo Oba, who has lost all hope in his humanity and, for the most part, life. It shows the inner thought process of a man on the verge of suicide, as he is disowned by his father for following his dreams. You see how he hits rock bottom due to the traumas of his past actions and childhood horrors. The author does a great job of delving into human psychology as it is shown how and why Yozo has completely lost faith in himself as a human. The piece not only shows how sensitive and powerless we really are as humans, but also how society can make us this way with its generalized standards.
- In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom:
This story is much more basic in comparison to the first. It tells the story of a bandit who falls in love with a mysterious yet beautiful woman and how he does anything for her. I feel this is one of the weaker stories as it doesn’t really convey a message of deeper meaning. Instead, it just shows how easily humans can be manipulated and used; the comedy also doesn’t really help or fit in.
Kokoro is another great adaptation, but goes towards a more slice of life feel as opposed to the rest of the stories. The plot in this one is basically, without spoiling too much, about a love triangle. Yes, on the surface it sounds very dull and out of place, but if you take a deeper look you can see that the story shows the struggles of suppressing human emotions and how understanding each other’s (very powerful) emotions can play a key role in life in general. On top of this, the story adds a twist by adding a second, non-canon, episode in the adaptation. This episode shows the importance of perspective and really makes you think about the situation differently. The episode shows the story in the perspective of what was deemed as the ‘antagonist/rival’ of the first episode. I found it a very unique and necessary part, and without it I feel the story would probably be much worse.
- Run, Melos!:
Run, Melos! was another not so great adaptation out of the bunch. Though it tells an interesting story about the importance of friendship, the message wasn’t very inspiring or new. The moral of the story was generic and mundane, thus I did not care much for this title.
- Spider’s Thread:
Spider’s Thread was an adaptation of a children’s book with a very basic and generic moral; it wasn’t very interesting as I have heard stories like it many times before except with a much lighter tone.
- Hell Screen:
This story is has a great message that could last forever and told in a very short and precise manner using the same type of fairy tale style setting as used in Spider’s Thread. The main point of the story was to show how art can fight oppression and help express many things. Hell Screen shows how influential art can be and how loud it can speak to someone. It also shows how a ruler having absolute power is corrupt and can ruin a nation.
Aoi Bungaku is a great series of 6 short pieces of classic Japanese literature with some great themes explored in them. The art was very solid and added a certain tone that matched each story very well. The sound, though lacking, was nice and the background music, just like the art, gave life to the story and matched it very nicely. The stories were also a breath of fresh air compared to a lot of other shows out. Though not all of them were great in my eyes, they were still well done and each had a unique atmosphere to them; none of them were below average. The only major gripe that I had with the series that brings it down from getting a higher score is of course, the inconsistency. By that I mean the difference in the stories and how some were much better than others. Other than that, I feel Aoi Bungaku is one of the better anime I’ve seen even though it can be a bit hit and miss with so many different stories.
If you have never heard of Aoi Bungaku, don't be ashamed. It is NOT a well known series at all. This is unfortunate, because in both popularity and rating it is one of the most criminally underrated anime on all of MAL. What makes this anime good? I will try to do it some justice and explain.
Aoi Bungaku is an anthology of stories taken from classic Japanese literature. The most famous of the stories featured is the short novel "No Longer Human" which is covered in episodes 1-4. The story is about a tortured young artist who as a child was sexually abused
by his maid and emotionally abused by his politician father. As a result, the narrator feels alienated from society and never reveals his true emotions to others. He wears a mask until he becomes hollow and dead inside and no longer considers himself human. He meets a girl who is also suffering from great sadness and they decide to commit suicide together in scenic Kamakura. This is one of the most famous of all Japanese stories, so perhaps it helps explain why so many damn anime take place in Kamakura. She dies during the suicide, but the narrator survives and is haunted by guilt over her death. He attempts to live as a normal human, but the guilt always follows him. When he finally meets another woman that basically makes him feel normal, he discovers that she has been sleeping with his boss in order to keep him employed. The narrator has a complete psychological breakdown and wanders off into the snow, already showing signs of advanced tuberculosis. The stories are masterfully adapted and help capture the psychology, emotion, and philosophy of the originals, even if some of the stories stray a little in terms of plot. At the beginning of each episode, a narrator also helps by explaining certain aspects along with interesting facts about the author of each story.
The art is absolutely beautiful in this series and the animation changes to fit the tone of each story. The colors and shades are dark in the first tale due to the depressing nature, while they are bright and vibrant during the fairy tail adaptations in episodes 11 and 12. Studio Madhouse is a very excellent animation studio and they are really at their best with this one.
Each story is well adapted and has a different style and flavor of its own. This keeps things interesting and fresh. If you are a fan of classic literature, than you will probably have fun with this one.
People praise series like Tatami Galaxy and Mushishi for being artistic, deep, true masterpieces of anime that abandon obnoxious anime cliches and have all the dignity of true art. This series fits that description at least as well, but has a measly 8/10 while those 2 series both have a 9/10. This is sad since I personally felt that the first 4 episodes of Aoi Bungaku beat the shit out of any of the Mushishi episodes and can match in quality anything from Tatami Galaxy. I'm not just giving this series a 10/10 because it is an adaptation of a classic. Gankutsuou tried to adapt a classic and fell right on its face. I'm giving it a 10/10 because it is a GOOD adaptation of a classic that has real depth and artistic value without coming across as annoyingly pretentious. That is really hard to accomplish, yet Aoi Bungaku pulls it off with grace and style!
Anime aimed at teens is a lot of fun. But anime aimed at an older crowd is on a whole other level! You get more violence, gore, nudity and sex than you bargained for...which isn't entirely a bad thing.
We are mostly all here to watch anime and read manga, but there is plenty more in Japanese fiction that we can take advantage of. Here is a primer on modern Japanese literature and novels translated to English that anime fans should consider reading.