“Life Is In The Eye Of The Beholder” – Aoi Bungaku (anime) – 9/10 Sugar Cubes

All say, “How hard it is that we have to die” – a strange complaint to come from the mouths of people who have had to live. ~Mark Twain

Genre: Psychological/ Horror/ Historical/ Seinen

Review Status: Full (12 Episodes/ 12 Episodes)

Licensed: Unlicensed in the US

Art/ Animation: Wow. For the most part, this remains in the ‘breathtaking’ mode, with bright colors, excellent shading, and animation that is fluid and wonderful.

Summary: The series consists of adaptations of six modern classics of Japanese literature: Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human (Ningen Shikkaku) & Run, Melos! (Hashire, Melos!), Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro, Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s Hell Screen (Jigoku Hen) & The Spider’s Thread (Kumo no Ito), and Ango Sakaguchi’s In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom (Sakura no Mori no Mankai no Shita).

No Longer Human (Ningen Shikkaku) – A high school student becomes lost and alienated. Despondent and aimless, he falls into a cycle of self abuse, depression and drugs that taints his life for years. Told in three chapters, each chapter deals with a different point in his life and the final chapter leaves him standing alone – an empty and hollow charicature of his former self.

In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom(Sakura no Mori no Mankai no Shita) – A love story between a 12th-century woman and a mountain bandit who abducts her.

Kokoro – A 1914 tale of a young man’s life journey during the Meiji era. The work deals with the transition from the Japanese Meiji society to the modern era, by exploring the friendship between a young man and an older man he calls “Sensei”. It continues the theme of isolation developed in Soseki’s previous works, here in the context of interwoven strands of egoism and guilt, as opposed to shame

Run, Melos! (Hashire, Melos!) – An updated retelling of a classic Greek tale of the story of Damon and Pythias. The most prominent theme of “Run, Melos!” is unwavering friendship. Despite facing hardships, the protagonist Melos does his best to save his friend’s life, and in the end his efforts are rewarded.

The Spider’s Thread (Kumo no Ito) – The Buddha Shakyamuni chances to notice a cold-hearted criminal suffering in Hell. But this criminal did perform one single act of kindness in not stepping on a spider in a forest. Moved by this selfless act, Shakyamuni takes the silvery thread of a spider in Paradise and lowers it down into Hell, but it falls upon the criminal to seize the opportunity and pull himself out – if he can.

Hell Screen (Jigoku Hen) – A famous artist is commissioned by a great lord to create a series of paintings depicting scenes of the ‘Buddhist Hell’. The artist is unable to paint scenes that he has not seen himself, prompting him to torture and torment the Lord’s staff to create his imagined images of hell. His creative efforts taint the household, as the story descends into madness and destruction.(MAL.net)

Review: As these arcs are essentially six different stories, they each deserve a paragraph to themselves. Overall, though, this is a fantastic adaptation of literature. While I can’t attest to how accurate they are, I was nonetheless intrigued, horrified, and touched by this anime. It has everything- stories that draw you in, art and animation that’s above par, and music that only adds to the experience.

No Longer Human was an interesting experience. I take that back- it was mind-bending. The worst scars to heal are the ones that you can’t see, and this man had ones that never did. As both a study of a man, and almost an autobiography of the author, it reveals depths of insanity fostered by someone who had a traumatic past and was never able to overcome it. It is the longest of the arcs, and perhaps the most horrifying as a psychological study.

In The Forest was just outright horror, with an interesting execution (ha, ha, ha). What happens when love goes very, very wrong? This happens. A man is willing to give everything, the lives of his wives, the heads of local nobles, etc, to get a woman to love him- and the sad part is, he was just caught up in her madness and vanity. Trust me, just because you’re cutting the heads off of people doesn’t make you instantly insane. And this was also a surreal experience due to how the animators and writers decided to stylize the violence as a Noh drama, with screens and popping red flags to indicate death. And the opening for the entire arc? Completely misleading. This…. Is not a happy story.

Kokoro was fascinating because the writers decided to add a part of the story that wasn’t originally in the book. Since it was told from first-person, and they decide to show the story from both POV’s, the person watching gets to decide who the unreliable narrator is- or decide that neither one is trustworthy. IS it the story of a man who sees his friend intimidate a woman into intimacy, and marries her to save her from it? Or is it the story of a man’s friend who falls in love with a woman, but sees the man steal her away out of jealousy?

Run, Melos! came the closest to a ‘happy story’ out of all these- a story of best friends and a betrayal that nearly broke one of them. How can one write about friendship when he no longer believes in it himself? When writing a play, he finds himself seeing the story from both sides, but not believing that the other side is sincere. Interesting as the writers/animators decided to insert the characters into the play that was being written, and thereby showing how closely they paralleled.

The Spider’s Thread- As this was written for children, it is perhaps the easiest of themes and ideas to understand. A man, a killer with no remorse or regrets is put to death, but is so consumed by his anger and narcissism that he is unable to escape hell when salvation is offered by a lone creature that he spared. The hell scenes are trippy, but very effective, and overall is an interesting story.

Hell Screen: while in real life the story is unrelated to Spider’s Thread, the anime keeps a character from the previous by choice of the writers and animators. It was also chosen to be portrayed in the same story universe that Spider’s Thread had. As a story, it’s also an interesting look at people- how much suffering and despair do you see before you go mad? Before you start to subvert those in power that are causing it? An artist is ordered by his tyrannical king to paint the city as it is on the walls of his mausoleum, and the artist does…. With a different interpretation of ‘as it is’. Unfortunately, you see the depths that the madness has driven him to, so that he no longer cares about showing the King how wrong he is, but you also see the madness that the King possesses.

Overall, this has a lot to offer someone looking for insights into characters and people. Or people who just want mind-bending stuff that could easily be considered nightmare fuel. Either way, this will satisfy!

Recommended: Sure, for those 17 and over. 16 if mature enough to handle the subject matter. With at least one semi-graphic sex scene (a few implied), somewhat grpahic murder, suicide, and death.

Other titles you might like:
Higurashi no Naku koro ni (anime and manga),
Monster (anime and manga),
Bizenghast (manga),
Franken Fran (manga),
Shinigami no Ballad (anime and manga),
Hell Girl (anime),
Denpateki na Kanojo (anime)


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