Watch Aoi Bungaku Stuff So Much Failure in 24 Minutes and Be Won Over

aoi bungaku 01 my life is shameful

Here comes the hype: FALL 2009 HAS FINALLY ARRIVED! Kimi ni Todoke may be refreshing amidst the sequels and one-trick fanservice programs. Letter Bee may be interesting in its small, charming way. Trapeze may be hit or miss. But this show, this is the show that is worth talking about. It has ambition, from its subject matter, its storytelling, its characters, and design… It grabs me with both hands behind my neck and stares at me forehead to forehead.

It tells me in ragged and broken breaths… WATCH ME. I’LL SHOW YOU SOMETHING.

aoi bungaku 01 no longer human

I feel that if this pilot episode had been but a one-shot film “No Longer Human: Kamakura’s Double Suicide”, I would have been quite satisfied. It’s pretty intense, and goes into the flesh of the characters, or at least the protagonist quite incisively even if it opens it up and leaves it bleeding at the end. This episode is crammed with failure.

“My life was shameful. To me, I was unable to comprehend the way a human lived.”

This is how our narrator (Youzo) introduced the narrative, narrating from the first person. This will be a refrain throughout the episode. The setting is the 4th year of the Showa Era (1926-1989), which should place it right about 1930.

We see a lady in a kimono dash off from a streetcar/tram and run to a bar where she apparently works in. The manager questions her in a dry voice: “Were you looking for your husband again.” She says yes. A lady by the bar says that it’s a useless attempt anyway, and exhales a puff of smoke from her cigarette.

aoi bungaku 01 maymi will be murdered

Youzo tells us that the woman goes by the name of Mayumi, and that he later learns of her real name: Tsuneko. While she puts on a red dress with a billowing skirt and puts on rouge on her lips. He tells us h0w people called him the murderer of this woman.

About that time, he says, he joined this anti-social movement. It’s a curious name for such, which is perhaps a translation issue. The way the meeting the organizers conduct the meeting, it sounds more like an anti-government socialist movement. However, the movement is a con.

The orator is riling up the listeners with his anti-government rhetoric. “According to our inside sources, so far, over 100,000 people have lost their jobs! And the number is increasing everyday!: Then he provides an interesting claim:

“The number of prostitutes is increasing as well!”

But! But he repeats it, as if it were a cue for something, for someone.

aoi bungaku 01 anti government movement scam

And it was. Our narrator speaks up, claiming that his sister, his sister still in middle school was sold into prostitution to pay the family debt! And back on cue is our orator, who leads the by now instigated crowd of men to join the party, with a not-so-subtle request for financial assistance to fund their ‘movement.’

It’s a simple con rather well-presented by the show, and this is where the action picks up. The police breaks up the meeting. Their leader a gruff looking large man in a hat. We know this man is hardened, perhaps cruel because a kitten rubs against his foot as he bid his time before busting the meeting. He kicked it away.

We find out that our narrator is this young fop, the son of a congressman. He was studying in art school but joined the ‘movement’ for kicks, out of boredom — because he has no talent for art, and nothing good to do with his time. It had caught up with him and his father already cut him off financially. I gather that this was why he was using the movement to con the poor and rob them of their money.

He escapes by jumping through a window, and splits up with his partner (the orator in the meeting), who also takes half the last money from the congressman before he cut his son off. The refrain plays again:

“My life is shameful.”

He becomes disoriented and reveries about his past, how he told his father that he wanted to be an art student. The police officer is stalking him as he staggers in an alley. He makes a run for it in his geta slippers and manages to elude the officer momentarily. He finds himself in the bar where Mayumi who is also Tsuneko is working.

What happens next is a somewhat complex sequence wherein she spots him and makes him an excuse to get away from her customer (by telling him that he is her kid brother), and he then relies on her to hide and escape from the officer stalking him when he went into the bar — who happened to be a regular customer of Mayumi, who hates him for his arrogance.

Mayumi displays a near-instant attraction to him, perhaps due to something of younger-brother kind of appeal. Remember that she is married and showed seriousness in finding her missing husband. But perhaps she’s reached the point of resignation. Because she has sex with Youzo later at her place.

aoi bungaku 01 sexpositional dialogue

Aoi Bungaku provides an immediate contrast to many other shows. We have a sex scene, where actual sex happens. It’s not that there weren’t any awkward moments between Youzo and Mayumi that one wouldn’t find in an innuendo-laden fanservice show, but Aoi Bungaku so far doesn’t deal with innuendo and fanservice. It’s straightforward:

Here be sexual tension. Involving adults, it leads to sex. Here’s some sex.

Perhaps its audience will be an older set of viewers, because this kind of depiction doesn’t directly appeal to a giggling 9-12 year old male; even if there was a flashback scene wherein You-chan as a very young boy is surrounded by giggling women, and is suggestive that they showed him something sexual.

aoi bungaku 01 starting really young

In any case, the narrow escape from the police leads to sex:

“Somehow your chest gives off nostalgic smells” Mayumi says to him while on top. “It’s paint smells, of an art student.” He responds.

This is an interesting thing. Not only is the sex scene sexy for animation, it’s made more so how the attraction between them, the getting to know you part of the relationship — accelerates during the sexual act, with subdued bedroom voices that add to the sexiness of it all. “So are you becoming an artist?” Mayumi follows. “I have no talent.” Youzo confesses.

A picture frame is lying face down. It tells me that they’re fucking in Mayumi’s place, and that her husband would be in that framed photograph. She admits as much later, acquiescing to failure in their post coital tenderness. The talk moves to quitting, to giving up on art school, on looking for a missing husband. “He’s a convict” she says, asking Youzo “Interested?” No, he isn’t, and says as much.

aoi bungaku 01 a chest for an ashtray

And he says some more:

Joining the movement is just for showing off. Honestly, I have no interest in it… because there is no progress in drawing. Plus, isn’t the anti-social [movement's] behaviors an art itself?

More failure, and I find it delicious how Mayumi calls him out: “Liar, don’t try to act cool.” His inauthenticity is plain, and it’s good that the show knows it to be so. But there’s compassion too. Mayumi gives him some:

I understand. You think there’s something wrong with this world. You think your way of life is strange.

Now I think this dynamic would be interesting enough: an older, wiser, and more worldly woman showing a younger pretentious man how things really are. But what interests me further is Youzo’s reaction. He doesn’t really react to her — not in a way she can see in the darkness. He let’s the ash from the tip of his cigarette fall on his chest as he lies on the mat withdrawing inward to his thoughts.

Women, these creatures… why do they always use the meanings of the world to explain things? Why can’t they learn to accept reality? …At that point I want to kill that woman.

He tells her how there’s no way for him to go further as well, how life itself has failed him. I find it interesting how Youzo rejects what could be wisdom, and what is clearly compassion; and wishes to outright kill its source. At the same time he’s been acknowledging his failure as a human being. This creates an interesting profile: a failure that retains contempt for others:

The individual thinks of himself so highly that his declaring himself a failure cuts down so many others as even greater failures. After all, if he could fail so hard, how could anyone else not fail? He acknowledges again, this time to Mayumi: I’m ashamed. Of what? she asks. Of being alive. A short pause, then her response: “Me too… I’m tired.”

A set of stares are exchanged, then a chorus: “Let’s die together.”

aoi bungaku 01 romantic railway to regret

Their death trip treats us to a rather beautiful sunset commute by railcar by the sea, a walk through some billowing sand, a dinner of seeds in a cave, and a double-suicide by the ocean cliffs. This time she echoes his narration. “If I can be reborn, I wish to live more like a human.”

She asks him to come push her soon, and he does so immediately. He is a murderer now, even if only in his mind. What follows next is to jump… to join her in death. And we find out that he does. But he comes to fully in a hospital, to the reality that he has failed at dying, but has ended up a murderer. In his mind he can see her looking at him, floating from the surface of the sea looking down… which would mean that it was him who was at the bottom of the sea.

aoi bungaku 01 mayumi looks down to the depths

Further Reading

Sometimes dialogue is powerful because it is about something [->]

Digiboy provides comparisons of Aoi Bungaku with other shows (2009digitalboy 2009/20/2009)

Love for the episode, noting the inference re You-chan as a child centerpiece of an orgy (Sapphire Pyro 2009/10/11)

Low prospects for the popularity of the show, but an acknowledgment of its potential (psgels 2009/10/11)

Someone wanted and expected darkness, and got some (Crazyyanimegirl 2009/10/19)

Youzo compared to Yagami Light in terms of character design (tsuiteru 2009/10/12)

Two comparisons of the first episode to the source (novel) material (Moe Sucks 2009/10/21) and (Yumeka 2009/10/20)

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
This entry was posted in analysis, Aoi Bungaku, first impressions and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to Watch Aoi Bungaku Stuff So Much Failure in 24 Minutes and Be Won Over

  1. Autonomous says:

    :o

    You know, I dismissed this one out of hand. Sometimes I fail so hard it hurts. :(

    • Nah don’t be too hard on yourself. I drop shows that end up being my favorites. Case in point is Eureka SeveN; I dropped it after 7 episodes a few years ago, only to rewatch it this year and become my 2nd favorite show.

      Besides, this show has only shown us so much. But do watch it.

      • maAkusutipen says:

        this is rather off topic, but about Eureka SeveN;
        have you seen a copy of the movie floating in the internet with subs?

        Please do tell if you have seen it and can you please share some links?

  2. GL, I’m going to be honest here, I don’t get the point of this post being so fucking long. I think you could have easily just posted about the dialog in the sex scene with allusions to the failure throughout the episode and gotten largely the same effect. you bragged about how great this post would be, but you didn’t even really say much or add anything to the episode for me except for your point about the main character’s pretentiousness. I am disappoint – this post could be much better!

  3. maAkusutipen says:

    Aoi bungaku is such an ambitious project. People will be intimidated by it. Heck, in the screencap you should that says no longer human used uncommon kanji compounds! Hehehe I think I feel the pressure on the fansubbers who will pick/are picking this up.

    well it is expected for srsbzns literary works to be translated into anime. So I guess this is not really for your run of the mill otaku. This is more for those who actually have read some of the novels and maybe would like to see some highlights of them in animated form?

    I believe in order to fully appreciate the short stories to be featured in the series, I think there should be references to the original material. But well that is a luxury. Japanese literary works are HARD to understand for untrained gaijins. Well if we look at it in terms of how they are actually written.
    I actually tried to read Toki wo kakeru shoujo in its novel form in Japanese. I gave up after the first paragraph!! Its way way different. The vocabs used and special grammar are particular stumbling blocks.

    And oh because in the links for further reading you pointed a link that compares Yagami Light to the character here, It is unavoidable because well the character designer for this part of Aio Bungaku would be the same person who thought of light. Heheh.. I am curious to see for the part of the series when the character designs would be for Kubo Tite sensei! Hehehe Will we see another Ichigo.. heheehe

    • I don’t know about who the target audience for this show is, only that I find myself quite engaged by it. The level of detail, the images that match the notions expressed through dialogue, it’s all very interesting and I want to see more.

      • Spike411 says:

        I’ve just read Dazai’s original novel Ningen shikkaku in Czech translation (the name was translated as Failure). Unfortunetaly I’m not very much capable of analyzing and deconstructing stuff like you, so saying I liked it must suffice. :)

        Then I’ve watched the first episode of the anime, so far so good, but the fansub we both watched is really poorly translated. E.g. Tsuneko was not searching for her husband, she was visiting him in the prison. Also the political movement Yōzō was involved with (his involvement was pictured quite differently in the novel, by the way, also his meeting Tsuneko for the first time was “undramatic”) was really some socialist/leftist group, as you guessed correctly. Fansub group gg took up the project, maybe their translation will be better.

        Also some of the “reminiscences” at the end of the first episode make much more sense if you read the novel (e.g. Yōzō was apparently “raped” at an early age by his family’s maids/servants).

        I’m really looking forward to the next episodes and story arcs (I’ve also read the two Akutagawa’s short stories which are to be adapted a few years ago).

        • Spike411 says:

          Oh and by the way, the novel was originally serialized. Dazai (“successfully”) commited suicide after the last issue had been published.

        • Thanks for the clarifications! I’ve posted on the next two episodes as well, and will write one for the fourth which had a ‘guide’ that shared Dazai’s life and subsequent successful suicide.

          I hope you enjoy reading my work on the series. It can get really lonely since not a lot of people are watching this rather engrossing show.

          • Spike411 says:

            I’ll certainly read your further posts about Aoi bungaku, I’ve just refrained from doing so until I watch the episodes.

            I enjoy reading your posts about Bakemonogatari and I’m also curious about your experience watching Utena (I *love* the movie, I’ve seen it maybe 20 times and I’m not exaggerating; I think I’ll watch the series once more soon-ish, too).

            If you like analyzing anime shows, maybe you’d enjoy works of Oshii Mamoru or you’d find the book ‘Mamoru Oshii: Stray Dog of Anime’ interesting. (BTW you could find PDF of the book somewhere on teh interwebs if you wanted to try before buy.) The book certainly motivated me to fill in some gaps in Oshii’s works I had (still gotta watch Urusei yatsura, Talking Head and Tachiguishi retsuden).

            Also your waifu is cool!

  4. kadian1364 says:

    I find this anime infinitely more intimidating than Trapeze. It’s so heavy and dense, and barely through 1 episode. This is exactly the kind of show that makes me wait until it’s all over. Not just because I don’t know if it’ll be good or just another mindfuck, but because, even if it does make good on its hefty promises, I just don’t think I can follow something this “difficult” at 1 episode per week. I’ll wait for a batch all together in front of me and see it in a week/weekend and put it together when its all fresh in my mind.

    • Oh man, I think there’s a better way. You either watch by arc… like how some people watched Bakemonogatari, or do so per episode. I think that if this show has dense episodes like this… a marathon would be overwhelming.

    • gloval says:

      I think this is a good approach. Last Spring season, I got a weekly serving of K-On and then watched Eden of the East one arc per day (I could’ve marathoned it too). So for this season, maybe KnT would be weekly (although, unlike K-On, it might turn out to be a “page-turner”) and Aoi Bungako would be watched later in rapid succession (some more rewatches might be needed too).

  5. Vendredi says:

    Thanks for profiling this, I’m scratching my head and wondering how in blazes did I miss this title from the Fall line-up. Part of the density of the show is because it is adapting six works of literature, *high* literature no less, on a par with stuff like Tolstoy or Camus. Also, it’s the ’30s. The ’30s makes everything better (potentially along with steampunk. By that logic, ’30s steampunk should be a guaranteed critical success. Should recommend this to director friends).

    As an interesting side note; the work this episode is based on, “No Longer Human” is apparently a big favourite of Koji Kumeta, the mind behind Sayanora Zetsubou Sensei, and apparently was some influence in the conception of the character of Nozomu Itoshiki. It’s also one of the top selling novels in Japan.

    • I thing I just jizzed my pants. Now I won’t necessarily privilege the source material as an auto-win over light novels like Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Crest of the Stars, Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu, Welcome to the NHK, or Bakemonogatari, but still!

      I plunged into this show with next to zero background knowledge, at least now I won’t be surprised at the maturity of the story material.

      Youzo, would indeed make for a proto-Itoshiki — take away the non-dark comedy, you just might make the immediate logical leap. After all he did try to kill himself and fail.

  6. Dan says:

    oh yeah I totally forgot about this. This is directly inspired by japanese classic literature, so of course it’s good :) (or, well, actually it’s that they did a great job)

    • Like I mentioned to Vendredi, I won’t think it’s an auto-win just because it has solid source material, but still. It’s notable and makes it something to look forward to. I won’t be a good judge of the adaptation, but in itself this episode made a strong impression on me.

  7. Etrangere says:

    Yay, best first episode I’ve seen of this season (okay, I haven’t seen many but still) so far!

    About that time, he says, he joined this anti-social movement. It’s a curious name for such, which is perhaps a translation issue.
    I really wish I had more background knowledge on this. May have to hit the wikipedia for it. It seems like a very interesting period politically speaking.

    Mayumi displays a near-instant attraction to him, perhaps due to something of younger-brother kind of appeal.
    Well, he does look very pretty in a realistic bishounen way, really.

    We have a sex scene, where actual sex happens.
    I’ve just started watching Kemonozume the other day, and Aoi Bungaku is similar to it that way : a very mature attitude toward sex scenes that is so far from the usual anime fanservice, very refreshing and rather hot.

    At the same time he’s been acknowledging his failure as a human being. This creates an interesting profile: a failure that retains contempt for others
    I don’t think that’s particularly unusual. Speaking from personal experience with depression, at least, it’s when you think the worst about yourself that you feel the worst about other people, and vice verca.

    • I suppose you’re right about depression, how people retain even more contempt for others the more upset they are about themselves.

      In my case (not depression but +|-) it wasn’t contempt for others at all, but more like shame… despite retaining an attitude of superiority; i.e. how shameful my life is so humiliated considering how these lesser folk have it so much better, etc etc. Never did I feel disgust for others, if at all, the disgust was directed inwards.

      The manic parts were dependent on the adulation of others, it feeds on it. Perhaps this had something to do with it.

      In any case, +|- isn’t exactly depression. Thanks for the feedback.

  8. The sex here is straightforward indeed. I find people who enjoy disgustingly perverted fanservice to be disturbed in these kinds of scenes to be pretty pathetic. They’re like . . .afraid of the real thing? What are they, low class perverts? LOLz *gets shot*

    And wait, is it just me or your have really focused your analysis on the sex scene? Bwahahahha xD

    Haha, well, this is a mature series so mature stuff is something tolerable/acceptable/normal to its appropriate audience. Speaking of audience, some find this scary though even if it isn’t exactly under the horror genre o_O Or maybe it’s just because I’m a horror fan . . .hhhmm x_x

    • If you think about it, the episode is a litany of failure, but sex is the only thing Youzo and Mayumi did right.

      The contrast is pretty interesting isn’t it?

      It is the only act that inspired resolve into specific action (i.e. to kill themselves). Of course, there are bigger reasons and their having sex with each other isn’t the direct reason at all. However, the choice was to do it together. This would not be the case if they didn’t hit it off under the sheets wouldn’t you say?

  9. Kiri says:

    This was pretty awesome. It’s nice to see classics not everyone is already familiar with being adapted. Thanks for prodding me towards it. It’s a good balance for the other stuff I’m watching this season, lol.

    In certain scenes in certain angles though, Youzo looked like Light Yagami. This has hilarious connotations.

  10. animekritik says:

    I’m having a hard time convincing myself to watch this because I’m a big fan of the novel and everything I’ve heard about this adaptation sounds off. It’s like the animators looked at the events depicted in the novel, decided they were “depressing”, and then decided to do a depressing anime to go along with it; whereas in reality the point of the novel is that Dazai (I mean, this is totally autobiographical) is not “human” at all, and what outsiders find depressing is to him ridiculous and, often, hilarious….

    But I should just take some time and watch the anime…I know!

    • I haven’t read the novel and may not be able to for some time (unless there are english editions locally available). I sympathize with your apprehension, I truly do.

      I can only write about what I’ve seen, and I’m tremendously impressed by it and will hopefully be able to write substantively about it. I won’t go into the intentions of the author, because I hardly ever do.

  11. animewriter says:

    Well, it’s about damn time we got a anime series that included real sex occuring between adults. While I got my wish for an adult series covering adult issues, one thing I found interesting is that as soon as the two characters finish having sex they decide to kill themselves. What the hell is this, a Friday the 13th, or Halloween type horror movie where sex=death. Can’t we ever get a anime that includes adults having a normal sexual relationship, I would have preferred that the two character wake in the morning and say “wow, last night was great, you were really wonderful, how about we keep seeing each other?” (I guess that would have spoiled the story)

    But, then again, if you consider Roland Barthes’ theory about great literature, orgasm, and death, Aoi Bungaku holds up because I think this series is a great piece of art/literature.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_petite_mort

    • The second episode hints at how Youzo has this sex thing as that one skill he has down pat. Even his clowning and fakery can be seen through, but as Mayumi indicates — it can’t be that bad if she is willing to die with him and by his hand.

      Yes I’m familiar with Mssr. Barthes and his little death. We may have gotten adults here, but we’re also dealing with a monster who is no longer human — at least by his own view of things.

      • animekritik says:

        Youzo knows how to please women, I do remember that from the book.

        BTW, strictly speaking, the title Ningen Shikkaku means “Disqualified as Human”. The standard translation “No Longer Human” seems to imply that he transforms into a monster, but in fact he says over and over he has always been not-human.

        Gah, I should watch this instead of commenting…

  12. Caraniel says:

    I think that this is my favourite show of the season hands down. Its just got so much depth – obviously due to its fantastic source material, but also due to the animation and acting; I got completely sucked into this show in a way that hasnt happened to me in ages!

  13. maAkusutipen says:

    this just hit me…

    I know of Nippon Animation’s World Masterpiece Theater..

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Masterpiece_Theater

    so I guess Aoi Bungaku is a project in the same vein… It is just that the source materials are not really for the kids… hehehe…

    I totally envy Japan for utilising anime this way! Well our local counterparts did attempt to make dorama adaptations of Filipino literary classics but very poor script writing bogged the end results soooo much…

    • How can I forget Little Prince Cedie, Princess Sarah, Trapp Family Story, and A Dog of Flanders… also The Little Match Girl from Andersen Monogatari?

      Think about it. Adaptations for local television exist for 2 things (outside of advertising revenue generation):

      1. Fanservice in the form of
      a) titillation via shipping (i.e. the ‘love teams’)
      b) flesh/skin (there are beach/summer episodes too, though this is far more a staple of sit coms)
      2. Promote, give work to the tv stations’ massive ‘talent’ pool. In Japanese and Korean dramas you have stories with very small casts. This is never the case in local dramas where you easily see 25+ characters.

      Somewhere along the way, the script crumbles under the weight of all those intentions.

  14. I’m glad so far that I took you up on that offer. This show surprised me. Maybe it’s because it feels nice to see a show cut the bullsh*t & some of the standard childish tropes & tell a story. I’m starting to have expectations, but I’ll stop there & just let the episode sink in.

  15. Pingback: Watch Aoi Bungaku Stuff So Much Failure In 24 Minutes And Be Won Over | Tight Miniskirts

  16. ayame says:

    Brilliant and insightful commentary! It sure helps writing down things about what you’ve watched. You notice more and more things along the way, don’t you? I must admit that, although I was captivated from the series, No longer human was a bit bizarre and incomprehensible for me, but thanks to your post everything seems clearer now :)

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