Ambitious adaptation is too often gone ignored within the anime space. With publishers overseeing and being deeply involved in the creation of TV or film adaptations, there’s often little opportunity to try new things. Therefore, it’s common to see works that reinterpret or change the setting of classic literature that has since entered the public domain. This allows modern writers and directors to take these stories and create a new context around them.
This was the approach of Human Lost, an adaptation of Osamu Dazai‘s 1948 novel “No Longer Human”. While paying homage to the original with the characters and core elements of the narrative, Human Lost itself is an entirely different beast, resembling Psycho-Pass or Ghost in the Shell far more than anything Dazai sought to portray. Ultimately, the adaptation choices it made were interesting, but the result is a lack of intimacy and a distracting amount of science fiction concepts.
There’s still a lot to like about Human Lost, but with the emphasis on “a lot”. Yozo Oba brings along many of the troubles of his namesake for this adaptation, with some being represented literally. For example, the title of the novel “No Longer Human” refers to the idea of being disqualified from a specific idea of society. In Human Lost, we see humans literally transform into monsters, and question, “Are they No Longer Human? Or have we already forsaken that by avoiding death?”
On paper, these are interesting questions and they’re framed in a Shin Megami Tensei-like way, with one character representing a bright future, and the other advocating for one of chaos. Much like in the novel, Yozo Oba is ultimately trapped between their influences and regresses into the film’s unique idea of self-destruction. But unlike the novel, the audience isn’t trapped with him. Instead, the film attempts to balance its exploration of this conflict with other societal issues and character motivations.
Without the time to fully explore all these ideas in practice, the result is a whole lot of sci-fi technobabble and long speeches about abstract concepts, but little reason to actually care about the characters or what’s happening to them. For an adaptation of a novel written in first person, we have a very basic idea of what Yozo’s actually going through and the direction of the film does little to aid with this.
The audience does get to experience some cool fight scenes and an especially exciting motorbike chase with Boston Dynamics-like dogs near the beginning, but an unfortunate amount of the runtime is spent with characters talking in platitudes with dream-like backgrounds. Some of these do effectively explore character relationships, but too often fail to make an impact.
This is also the case in regards to the visuals. There are effective scenes and some great designs, but ultimately the visual direction lacks character. We’ve seen the team at Polygon Pictures tackle sci-fi worlds plenty of times before, but the grey walls and outfits can get grating quickly. We can look forward to a brighter approach in Drifting Dragons, but for now, it’s a combination between the holographic designs of Psycho-Pass with the typical greys of Polygon Pictures sci-fi.
Although even with a more visually interesting world, it wasn’t going to make up for the lack of emotional impact in Human Lost‘s narrative and characters. It’s worth discussing when talking about creative adaptation, but for the casual viewer, it’s likely to be a forgettable experience.