D I S C U S S I O N – J A P A N E S E L I T E R A T U R E
“As long as I can make them laugh, it doesn’t matter how, I’ll be all right. If I succeed in that, the human beings probably won’t mind it too much if I remain outside their lives. The one thing I must avoid is becoming offensive in their eyes: I shall be nothing, the wind, the sky.”
Humans. Beings that are not to be trusted. Creatures that live only to torment their own kind. Life forms that waddle through each subsequent day like the previous, as though performing a ritual. Apparitions that leave immortal wounds on every other person. Which is why you don’t have a choice but immure your true self within the cage you call your body. And disqualify… as a human.
If you’re here, you’ve either watched Bungou Stray Dogs or read the manga Ningen Shikkaku, which is a graphic adaptation of the second best-selling novel ever in Japan, Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human. If you can recall, this is also the name of Bungou Stray Dogs’ Dazai’s special ability. This outstanding piece of literature is a rebellious take on the true nature of the human soul and character, an autobiography of a suicidal writer in the disguise of a bio. The crystal-clear descriptions and stunning build of the protagonist’s world leaves the impression of the author taking you on a tour of his own life, revealing its ins and outs.
Having led a very troubled childhood, Oba Yozo broods over the deceitful and outrageous nature of the humans around him (Osamu Dazai’s dark past in the anime as a Port Mafia member bears resemblance to this). The incessant pressure to follow a routined and structured life makes him ponder the irony of why humans even exist, why they have a free will, why they would even care to express their inner selves. He wonders why people come up with excuses like, “Human beings work to earn their bread, for if they don’t eat, they die.”
Having absolutely no way to enunciate his demands or communicate his feelings without provoking a storm of intolerable replies, he resorts to the last, risk-free option: deception. This outward transformation of personality, which Yozo calls his ‘clowning’, begins with him attempting to make his friends and family crack up at his carefully crafted jokes and hilarious skits on purpose. On the same token, BSD’s Dazai is seen to forcefully conceal his true emotions under the veneer of a comedic appearance, and is usually the centre of his group’s energy and comic relief.
The unending need to put on a mask every time he speaks instills in him a thirst for the unusual and irrational. As Dazai in the anime says,
“Hey, Odasaku, do you know why I joined the Mafia? I joined the Mafia because of an expectation I had. I thought if I was close to death and violence—close to people giving in to their urges and desires, then I would be able to see the inner nature of humankind up close. I thought if I did that… I would be able to find something—a reason to live.”
This very notion leads him to frequent bars, gunfights, and all that jazz.
On the flip-side, Yozo’s wish for a carefree life materialises in the ‘irrationality’ of prostitutes, Marxists, and oil paintings: The arms of a stranger, the frenetic errands assigned by a secret club, and an empty canvas where one is as free as the wind. Him earning the title of ‘lady-killer’ is just one of the many things you pick up when you succumb to your desires.
Ironically though, women are something Dazai fails to understand despite persevering. They never get to the point, let alone tell you what’s really going on in their mind. The first female missing this feature is Tsuneko. Tsuneko is something Yozo needs to protect, someone he can live on for. When he discovers that Tsuneko committed adultery with another man, he decides to leave this world behind:
“Anything I would never want to lose will be lost. It is given that everything that is worth wanting will be lost the moment I obtain it. There’s nothing worth pursuing at the cost of prolonging a life of suffering.”
The decision culminates in a double suicide with Tsuneko at the Kamakura river where, ultimately, Yozo is saved. The preferred mode of suicide for Dazai in the anime is also drowning—a reference to the real-life Dazai attempting double-suicide on repeat with various women, each time failing up till the ultimate one.
“What is society but an individual.” The threat of being ostracised from the outer world, from humans altogether, holds Dazai in constant fear. Society, the ubiquitous individual. It’s everywhere you go, in every person you see. It emanates an aura of hostility, terrorising the more carefree breed of people. In fact, Dazai’s resolution to end his life stems from a growing hatred and distaste for society, human emotions, and the lack of freedom.
On a completely different note, BSD’s Dazai is seen to have a past with Fyodor Dostoevsky (like the real-life Russian novelist who wrote the famous Crime and Punishment). This again symbolises Dazai’s search for meaning and the true nature of the human soul. In the book No Longer Human, Yozo categorises each word as being either ‘comic’ or ‘tragic’. Tobacco is ‘tragic’. Death is ‘comic’. The antonym of flower is wind. The opposite of crime is not virtue, it’s punishment. If I had to take away one thing from this book, it would be this guessing game of antonyms, which lets you perceive the world and each of its components in a whole new light.
Death. Deception. Distrust. Every single one is enough to change your life for the worse. This masterpiece of a novel depicts each aspect in immaculate detail, warts and all. In this modern era, when each passing day is a burden, No Longer Human teaches us to lose our cares and our chains and find a meaning to exist. To not die.
Abrar Jamil is a sucker for anime, ridiculous food combos, and would eat almost anything with chopsticks. Send him anime suggestions at [email protected]