Sunday, October 25, 2009

First Impressions: Aoi Bungaku - No Longer Human 1-2

I wasn't about to blog this series. While I was making my shortlist for this season, I noticed Aoi Bungaku, of course, but without any idea what it's really about, I dismissed it, thinking I'd be better off with the three series I picked up for this season. But then, for some reason, the show kept popping up and when I finally read what it's all about, I realized that it's an adaptation of six literary Japanese modern classics, which include, among others, Kokoro by Natsume Soseki. And with that as the final draw, I plunged in and so far, what a ride!
No Longer Human
EPISODE 01: Kamakura Double Suicide
ED: We Say Hello (Manami) [YouTube]

Youzo, a well-off but lonely young man on the run from the Tokyo Police for being a member of the Social Movement, meets a bar hostess, Mayumi (real name Tsuneko) who helps him escape from his pursuers. Mayumi's husband has disappeared and she spends most of her free time trying to look for him in vain. After meeting Youzo, she takes him under her care and the two of them plunge into an intimate relationship, the kind that only two people who share the same intense feelings alienation from the world can have, somehow ending up in a decision to commit suicide together. But only Mayumi dies while Youzo survives to relive the horror of the incident for the rest of his life.

No Longer Human
EPISODE 02: Monster

Youzo's suicide attempt makes it to the news. Worried that the incident would tarnish the family reputation, his father orders Youzo back home and to stay put no matter what. Meanwhile, a woman who works for a newspaper hears about the incident but refuses an assignment to get Youzo's interview. Her life parallels Mayumi's in that she has no husband and has only a daughter to go home to. Confined in his room, Youzo relives his childhood as the only son of a wealthy family, living with his emotionally distant father and the women who always seem to favor him. He begins to have hallucinations of a dark entity which he believes to be his true self as well as visions of Mayumi, whom people are saying he murdered. Youzo eventually runs away but with no one to help him, he has no prospects. The woman from earlier finds him and offers him her home.

Ningen Shikakku (lit. "No Longer Human") is a novel written by Osamu Dazai. It's the second best-selling novel in Japan, next only to Natsume Soseki's Kokoro. Prior to this anime, I've never heard of the work, mainly because I have read only one or two works that can be considered Japanese literary classics -- Natsume Soseki's Kokoro and Bocchan.

Based on my readings on Osamu Dazai (Wikipedia), the novel appears to be autobiographical. Both Youzo and the author (real name Tsushima Shuji) grow up in a wealthy family, both get involved in radical political parties as young men, and both attempt double suicide with a Kamakura woman whom they barely know. With its focus on suicide, the psychological motivation behind it, and the emotional consequences, this story is dark. Therefore, it's only right that Madhouse takes the helm of this bound-to-be animation classic.

Stylistically, Aoi Bungaku bears strong resemblance to Kurozuka with its employment of sparse, nearly colorless, noise-rich landscapes and sudden explosions of neon to represent the character's subconscious. The atmosphere, however, is a lot closer to Mouryou no Hakko, with both series' first episodes showing character suicide as the catalyst of the plot, while the character designs look like they're lifted right from the pages of Death Note and with good reason as both series have Takeshi Obata in the designing board. One might also say that the simplistic narrative is similar to Casshern Sins.

The voice cast includes the uber-talented and ubiquitous Paku Romi (Mayumi/Tsuneko), who incidentally also voices Kuromitsu from Kurozuka, Sakai Masato, Mizuki Nana and Noto Mamiko (whom I just know will voice the naive woman). On the directing board for the "No Longer Human" arc (episodes 1-4) is Asaka Morio, the same man behind NANA and Gunslinger Girl, so there's no worries in that area.

Music-wise, Aoi Bungaku is contemplative and surreal like an extended meditation. There are some jazz pieces as well, which is reflective of the story's setting. The ending theme is a nice jazzy, down-tempo vocal number with Engrish lyrics. I don't know who sings it and ANN doesn't seem to have any info on that but it's a nice, if a bit forgettable, song.

Aoi Bungaku is the only dark series I'm watching this season and so far it fulfills all my needs from the genre. Currently, there are only two groups subbing the series, INP and the Suimasen-Nekomimi-Commie (SNC) collaboration. INP releases episodes faster but the quality is low. I'm still downloading the SNC version. The filesize is in matroska format and larger so I guess I can safely presume the quality will be good.


Aoi Bungaku @ Anime News Network