The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Aoi Bungaku

Title: Aoi Bungaku aka Blue Literature
Genre: Drama
Company: Madhouse
Format: 12 episodes
Dates: 10 Oct 2009 – 26 Dec 2009

Synopsis: When a conference with a group of anti-government activists is disrupted by the police, Yozo, the wayward son of a prominent official, finds himself fleeing and hiding in a cafe where a woman down on her luck takes him in. After a night spent in intimacy, they both agree to commit suicide, except Yozo manages to survive the plunge into the sea and becomes, in his mind, a murderer. So starts “No Longer Human,” a part of the Aoi Bungaku series which adapts six works of Japanese literature written by four 20th century Japanese authors.

The Highlights
“No Longer Human”: Artwork and presentation gives off a Kafka-esque atmosphere.
“In the Woods Beneath the Cherry Blossoms in Full Bloom”: Anachronistic, bizarre, and very unsettling.
“Kokoro”: I enjoyed their use of multiple perspectives to give a complete picture.
“Run, Melos!”: Heart-wrenching, but beautifully executed.
“The Spider’s Thread”: Graphically detailed.
“Hell Screen”: Purists might chafe at the rewrites.

That Aoi Bungaku is using classic stories from Japanese literature provides it with a firm foundation that allows it to cater to a mature audience looking for narratives exploring the human condition. But while the stories themselves may have withstood the test of time as a piece of text, the key to making a good anime adaptation lies in the studio’s treatment of the material. Here, Madhouse‘s reputation for putting in solid outings shows in the way it brings these stories to life, creating an engrossing experience for both Japanese literary neophytes and those who are familiar with the works being presented.

Had Aoi Bungaku been a word for word retelling of these great works, the series might not have been as remarkable. But Madhouse‘s treatment runs the gamut of making a few tweaks to revamping the background details entirely in a given work and for the most part, they succeed in retaining what makes the stories engaging. Granted, not all of the experiments will pay off. For example, the first half of the adaptation of Akutagawa’s “The Spider’s Thread” is brutish and violent and lingers a bit too long in driving home the point that the principal character, Kandata, is irredeemably evil. However, Madhouse makes up for that through the fluid animation, and, later on, in their depiction of Kandata’s vision of hell, with its surreal, chaotic happenings.

One instance where Madhouse manages to recontextualize the work entirely is in another Akutagawa work, this one titled “Hell Screen.” The original work focuses upon a painter’s descent into madness as he becomes so obsessed in capturing the image of hell that he commits atrocities just to be able to depict it accurately. Aoi Bungaku‘s version of the painter puts him in the role of a rebel who willfully defies his lord’s orders to draw a beautiful picture of a kingdom and instead, paints the ugly truths that the lord wishes to conceal. Though the message may be slightly different in this instance, it is still a compelling one nonetheless as we sympathize with the artist’s steadfast belief in bringing the truth to light.

Of the works presented, the best one by far adapts Dazai Osamu‘s, “Run, Melos!” to include a parallel story. Originally taken from an ancient Greek tale between Moerus and Selinuntius, Aoi Bungaku centers upon a playwright in charge of writing the script for an upcoming stage adaptation of “Run, Melos!” and it is his struggle to complete the story that makes this story such a fascinating one. Through his eyes and his recollections of the past, we see how pained he is by his friend’s seeming betrayal, and how that memory tortures him as he writes the script. The depths of his despair drive the drama and when paired alongside “Melos”, results in a heartrending, but in the end, redeeming story that is not easily forgotten.

The commonality that links each of these stories is a focus on individual suffering ranging from Shigemaru’s madness in “In the Woods Beneath the Cherry Blossoms in Full Bloom”, to the uncomfortable breach that develops between the characters in “Kokoro”, to Yozo’s suicidal tendencies in “No Longer Human”. But even more than that, these stories open a window into the soul of their respective authors and the struggles that they dealt with. The themes that these series touch upon are universal and identifiable, demonstrating their staying power through these adaptations in a way that renders them literary masterpieces.

The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: zzeroparticle

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