Junji Ito isn't a great writer. He's excellent at monster design, drawing strange, gross creatures and gore, but his characters are often flat, boring, and interchangeable. They're just a means to an end, a literary device, a blank slate for the reader to relate to. Their only purpose is to get spooked by the strange, gross creatures Ito is obviously far more interested in.
No Longer Human is an excellent, character driven novel about one man's decent into decadence. Its horror (if you can even call it that) is internalized. A man slowly self-destructs due to addiction, mental illness, and his own nihilism. It's a work
of great subtlety and beauty.
Junji Ito's No Longer Human tells a very similar tale, but with many changes that drain the story of both its meaning and nuance. It is externalized horror, because that is all Junji Ito can do. The chapters are episodic, and usually end in a blood bath. I'd estimate that 9 out of 10 indistinct, interchangeable women we meet in this book die horribly within 2 chapters of their introduction. Our drug addled, alcoholic, socially awkward main character is so handsome that he drives every woman (and even some men) he meets to suicide. Yup, it's Tomie all over again.
Why? Why is Ito jumping on the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies band wagon years after that was a thing? Why take a novel about a very personal breakdown and turn it into a manga about...I don't even know. Scary suicide corpses?
In short, Ito sucks at character work, and No Longer Human is a character study. He tries his damnedest to mold it into something scary, but instead we're left with Ito's least imaginative art, and a shallow husk of a story. It's like those old, "spooky" covers Marilyn Manson used to do, classic songs turned into something you might listen to on Halloween for a laugh.
Ningen Shikkaku, or also known as No Longer Human, is a famous novel by Osami Dazai, which had many remakes from before, and more planned for the future for one simple reason - the story had certainly passed the test of time, and it always was an exciting read, strongly resonating with any reader for it's relateable themes of abuse, straight up suffering from existing , as well as having fears and phobias about things that we can't control in our lives.
With this retelling of the story, Junji Ito had added his own craftsmanship in adding the bizzare and thought-provoking horrors into the
story, making it much more graphic, literal and expressive for the reader. The art is refined , detailed and grotesqe, and the story benefits from it.
Character-wise, the main one is portrayed great, but no one else from the cast is given detail and relatebility, which makes half of the protagonist's aquaintances feeling like a cannon-fodder.
The deep and realistically harsh portrayal of the human psyche, as well as showing the readers that people shouldn't look as a monsters to behave like one, solidifies this work as an exploration of the depths of the human mind, and it's void of malice and vice.
No Longer Human is a timeless classic and must-read for anyone interested in the human mind or in the way we bond with the others, and the remake of Junji Ito is a good gateway to experience the story.
No Longer Human by Junji Ito is classic Japanese novel reimagined by a classic horror artist. The keyword here is "reimagined". While this version follows the original closely, it is still remade to fit the style of Junji and expands the story with more content. This is indeed the one complaint readers might have with this work, but it isn't necessarily a bad thing. This wasn't meant to be a 100% adaptation of the origina and change doesn't always have to be bad. Ultimately, the novel and this manga are two different books that should be judged separately.
The original story is one of existentional
horror and psychological dread. This new take on the story adds another layer - the visual, grotesque horror that is only hinted in the original. This is where Junji's craftmanship truly comes in play, as the depictions of "ghosts" and the humanity throught the eyes of the protagonits are truly chilling. This is Junji's first major work that doesn't use the supernatural as a source of the predicament and this change was a great succes. Otherwordly illustrations of inhumane horrors that come from weirdly familiar human source are, after all, from source closer to a reader and can hit closer to home.
Of course, the horrors aren't the only way the illustrations help with conveying the story. What I really liked is how the character design reflects the character itself and their background. This can be most easily observed with Tsuneko and it's amazing how just a small difference can portray the depression, tiredness and worn-out lifestyle through her face.
Back to the story portion of the manga. The core of what makes the original story great is still present, so I would like to focus on what is different and new in this work. Some say that the additional bits that Junji added are too violent and don't fit the naration. I disagree - violence is a part of human nature and the one portayed in this manga is well within the real possibilities. I could go even further and point out that using a reality of violence commited by humans in a way that makes the reader feel like it doesn't belong in the world brings the reader closer to how Yozo felt about humanity. I also found the little twist at the end that nods to the circumstances of the publication of the original novel a great idea.
Now, I have mentioned that the novel and the manga should be judged separately, but one can't escape the thought of comparing those two. So I would certainly suggest that you should read both this and the novel. It's up to you if you want to start with the adaptation of the original, though I'd say that reading the novel first and the manga shortly after while your memory is still fresh would be the best to enjoy both of those works to the fullest. You should also check out the manga by Furuya Usamaru which is yet another interesting take on this story.
And finally, some notes about the official English release. I really liked how Viz used the English release of the novel as a reference point, so the feel is so similar and frequently the exact same phrases appear, helping the transition from novel to a comic. The English cover is also very aesthetic and overall feels good, so if you can, you should definitely get the omnibus release.
Junji Ito has done it again. When Ito is not working on his own material, he seems to pick up my favourite literary works and adapts them into the manga medium. Following Frankenstein he has now also tackled Osamu Dazai's No Longer Human. An odd choice, actually. No Longer Human might be schocking, depressing and even terrifying to some, but it has never been intended as a work of horror.
It's worth noting, that this is also not the first time a manga artist has tackled this source material within the medium, as Usamaru Furuya had already drawn his version of the story between the years
of 2011 & 2012. The end result was a 3 volume series with a "Death Note"-like bishounen artstyle, that contemporarized the story setting and left parts of the novel out, but still delievered an albeit short, but nevertheless faithful adaptation of Dazai's work. There were some other attempts as well, but I am not too familiar with those.
Ito's version is less utilitarian. Here, I would like to point out, that it's been years, since I last read the original novel whole and while I occasionally revisited parts of it, my memory might not be perfectly factual. One thing I noticed is that Ito doesn't skip a thing. Heck, he even pads the stuff out with a bit of his own madness. This character dies, that other one murders somebody, some kid is uneccessarily scary looking... while we are at it, why don't we commit some arson? Cool, I guess. People won't forget Ito is a horror author that way. There's just one problem: No Longer Human is not a horror manga. Sprinkling this horror-esque panels around the manga, just because Ito is good at it, felt like it worked against the story to me and more like these jumpscares in modern horror movies, that don't do anything, but make you jump up and get annoyed 2 seconds later. I guess sometimes it does work, when the scene calls for it, but othertimes it just falls flat.
Have I jumped into the criticism too quickly? I guess, I could establish the plot a bit as well. No Longer Human is speculated to be an autobiographical psychological tragedy written by Osamu Dazai. It follows Yozo Oba and his tragic process of growing up. Feeling alienated in a world, he can't quite comprehend himself, he hides away his shame and anxiety and resorts to clowning, which eventually grows into a fullblown personality disorder and inability to connect with his outter world and functions as a springboard into the downward spiral of his life. The novel is not without a reason a canonized work of Japanese literature. It grabs the reader's attention with it's poetic opennes to the main character's inner turmoil, that I assume most people can atleast in part relate to. That's however not all, as (and I assume Dazai wasn't aware of this) it also shows a vivid portrait of a developing narcissistic personality disorder, as well as thematizes several social issues as suicide stygma, general societal as well as class-based expectations, substance abuse, as well as poverty and ambition. Honestly, there are a bunch of college essays still to be written on this book.
But back to Ito... I already mentioned, that Ito has done more than the necessary to re-tell the story for manga readers. Ito's story is mostly the same thematically, but padded out with some otherwise unnecessary scary twists and turns, that don't change the direction of the story too much. There is a bit of a meta-approach, that shows in the last part of the story, as Ito is about to give the story a more sympathetic ending... (I'll end this here, as it delves into spoiler territory. I'll just say this much: I almost liked how Ito padded out the last part of a story, only to go sikes afterwards and give us another unecessary horror scene in the end in order to not mess with the real history of the novel).
Visually, the novel looks great. There was a clear difference in skill and production value when comparing It0's art to Furuya's after reading both stories. It's excellent, even if I would refrain from overdoing the scary parts that often myself.
Ultimately, I wouldn't call it a bad manga, but the unnecesarry scary padding Ito added seems to make more sense, when you consider Ito's legacy as a horror mangaka. Come to it like I did - being primarily a fan of the original novel (in this case atleast I give priority to Dazai over Ito) - and you just might cut yourself on the unnecessary edge Ito honed around it's corners (sheesh, it's odd to call Ito unnecessarily edgy). It's a faithful retelling of the original and you can tell the story means a lot to Ito on a personal level, but I still prefer the source material over it.