Junji Ito is a master of horror, having given the world sea life attacking the surface dwellers on mechanical spider legs in the story of Gyo and balloon-headed doppelgangers charging their counterparts via Ito's short stories. Junji is now diving into a new brand of horror that doesn't so much focus on monsters with gnashing fangs and deadly claws, but, rather, the demons that harbor within man himself. In No Longer Human, the horror artist adapts the work of Osamu Dazai and his terrifying story that crawls its way under your skin with each passing page.
No Longer Human follows the character of Yozo Oba, a young man living in Japan in the early 1900s who is plagued by demons. Oba isn't your stereotypical protagonist, rather, he is a cursed individual, struggling with his inability to express emotions. Yozo is a sociopath, inadvertently, and sometimes purposefully, destroying anyone that becomes a part of his life. What sets this manga apart from so many horror stories is following this single character from his childhood to his later years, as his life spirals into madness and the supernatural.
With the story, Ito decides to forego focusing on zombies, vampires, or ghouls, instead having Oba plagued by ghosts of those who he's come into contact with. In his early school days, Oba, who has difficulty expressing emotions and connecting with people, instead plays the role of the class clown. One day, one of his classmates discovers just what Yozo is doing and thus the road to Hell is created for our unsettling protagonist.
Ironically enough, the ghosts themselves are a byproduct of the true monster of the tale in Yozo Oba, who simply continues his "path of good intentions" and drags those around him into a hellish spiral. The story itself only gets more terrifying the closer you move toward the finish line. I found myself thinking about No Longer Human for days following my first read of it, as Yozo's life and the conclusion of his story unnerved me more so than many horror stories of recent memory.
Oba himself is an extremely complicated character, attempting to make his way in life under the overbearing role of his father, his relationship with women that are seemingly perpetually doomed, and his own self-hatred that leads himself to spending night after night attempting to drinking himself into oblivion. This manga is a tough read, as there are simply no winners to be found within it and once you put the book down, the background of how it came to be may scare you that much more.
Junji Ito brings his A-game here, displaying the mundane with amazing details, as well as portraying the spirits with horrific aplomb, harnessing his years of living in horror to his advantage. There's a scene, in particular, where Oba struggles with his inner demons that is unlike any sequence that I've ever seen portrayed in a comic book or manga to this date.
No Longer Human is a masterpiece, assembled by a creator at the top of their game. Ito's stunning visuals work amazingly in tandem with the story created by Osamu Dazai. While works like Uzumaki and Tomie are getting adaptations of their own, we can only cross our fingers that this tale is one day adapted into a Hollywood picture, though it may be too unsettling for a general audience.
Rating: 5 out of 5
No Longer Human is currently available via Viz Media's website, online retailers, and comic book shops.