My first Manga Moveable Feast! I’ve lurked in the manga blogging community, but this is my first contribution, so hopefully it’s not too terrible!
Having no prior familiarity with the original No Longer Human novel that Usamaru Furuya’s manga adaption is based on, I picked up the manga for two reasons: a) I liked Lychee Light Club b) the premise for the original novel — a young man alienated from other human beings, having no idea to relate to them genuinely — seemed like a personal struggle I could identify with and appreciate. It turns out I could relate to the main character Yozo, but it left me with some uncomfortable feelings.
“I also need to pay attention to my teachers. I make sure to give the wrong answers at critical moments. A perfect student isn’t popular. I need a bit of slipping up in order to be liked.” — Volume 1, p. 15
For someone who didn’t necessarily feel an innate understanding of or connection to other human beings, Yozo’s calculated displays of emotions seemed learned to perfection. Having learned social rules as an “outsider” (almost like he studied them), it seemed easy for Yozo to manipulate people’s perceptions of himself. Soon, he was a class clown, popular with women and well-liked. At the same time, I couldn’t helped but feel sorry for Yozo; it was clear early on he’d suffered some trauma at the hands of his father, and his constant inner battle to appear perfect and agreeable all the time seemed like it would wear on anyone. I thought, “Yozo just wants everyone to like him,” and I found myself rooting for and relating to Yozo, ultimately thinking that Yozo would connect more and more genuinely with people as the volume progressed.
Instead, Yozo “calculated displays of emotions” were used to survive. He seemed to care less about whether people liked him as opposed to using people in order to sustain himself. This became apparent when Yozo met Misaki in the middle of the first volume; Misaki is kind (it’s obvious she has a crush), buys Yozo food and a laptop, and eventually has sex with Yozo; Yozo on the other hand seems this than taken with her and more excited that he “scored a laptop.” Even with Ageha, I find it odd that Yozo just so happened to be sitting outside in the rain right after her work shift ended; another warm bed to get him through the night. Everything with Yozo seems calculated just right to take advantage of whatever situations and people arise.
The more I read, the more I felt like an “outsider” to Yozo; a voyeur almost, not unlike the Usamaru character in the manga as he scrolled through the “Ouch Diary.” “This is awful,” I thought. “How can anyone manipulate people like this?” My feelings of disconnect with Yozo especially intensified with the mother and child arc in the second volume. Shiori, the daughter, quickly gets attached to Yozo; the mother, Shizuko, admits that she loves Yozo, despite his drinking, apathy, and generally being a leech. At this point, I thought Yozo was downright pathetic, caught in a downward spiral I wasn’t sure he even cared to escape from.
Realizing he’s in far too deep emotionally, Yozo leaves the mother and daughter for good, escaping to a bar run by an older lady that he’d recently began to frequent. It’s here that Yozo makes me re-think his entire character: “If God exists and if he’d listen to the prayer of scum like me, just this once in my life, I pray this — May those two find happiness. Some modest happiness.” Yozo isn’t trying to hurt anyone, he isn’t completely with feeling — he’s simply surviving the only way he knows how.
And in retrospect, maybe everyone else is too. For me, Yozo seemed so dislikeable because of how calculated all of his actions were. Had things simply happened, would I have liked Yozo more? How are his actions any worse than the Shizuko’s, who knew Yozo didn’t love her? Did Misaki buy things and lavish attention on Yozo because she wanted a boyfriend? Did Ageha keep seeing Yozo because she was lonely? None of these things excuses Yozo’s actions and outright manipulation, but it struck me that the character that feels less than human was so aware of how his actions affected other people, while the other characters in his relationships simply reacted to their own feelings, wants, and needs. It’s here I realize that I’m left with uncomfortable feelings towards Yozo. Yozo is a manipulator and takes advantage, no doubt, but how many of us acknowledge it like he does? Does that make him any better or worse that us — no longer human? These are questions I could mull over a long time.
That being said, the end of the second volume gives the sense that Yozo is redeemable, but whether he’ll get the chance to be is doubtful. Now I’m glad I’m not terribly familiar with the source material so the ending will be a surprise. Thanks for this one, Vertical.