One thing I like to do when I get to work is to see what keywords or topics are trending on Japanese Twitter, to see what random or entertaining rabbit hole I can go down. Yesterday I saw that the novel No Longer Human was trending because the book had experienced a boom in popularity in the U.S. over the past year and a half…thanks to anime and manga.
According to the magazine Shukan Shincho, the 1948 novel experienced a boom in the English-speaking world during the pandemic. Part of this was the popularity of the manga by the same title by eerie horror mangaka Junji Ito, and part was the popularity of Bungou Stray Dogs, a popular anime and manga series. If you’ve ever wanted to see famous literary authors like Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Ryunosuke Akutagawa and Agatha Christie do battle with supernatural attacks based on their books, you should give it a try.
No Longer Human — in Japanese, 人間失格 Ningen Shikkaku, literally “Disqualified From Being Human” — is a 1948 novel exploring themes of depression and alienation from society, written in the first person. It’s considered to be an autobiographical novel, mirroring the troubles Dazai Osamu was experiencing himself, as he took his own life soon after the book’s completion. The depressed character in Bungou Stray Dogs, who is at times suicidal, is based on the character from the book.
I’ve been a fan of Japanese literature for years, and read several of Dazai Osamu’s stories during my “let’s learn Japanese through literature” phase of study. While his most famous story will be Hashire Melos! (Run, Melos!), I also enjoyed one called An Urgent Appeal (Kakekomi Uttae), which is basically an internal monologue by Judas Iscariot about his personal rationale for betraying Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. So you can tell there’s a lot going on inside the mind of this author.
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