Oda Didn’t Understand Dazai: An Opinion By Me
@catboychuuuya wanted me to elaborate on that bit in my Soukoku post about Odasaku not really understanding Dazai. I aim to please, so here I am.
Part A: Buraiha Trio
Oda wasn’t necessarily a bad friend. He just didn’t really know what to do with Dazai. I actually think Ango was both a better friend toward, and had a better understanding of, Dazai (Oda pushed Dazai toward the light, but Ango was the reason he got to stay there).
Oda decided that Dazai should live in the light, but I think Ango always thought he belonged there. Like he knew that Dazai had the potential to be good.
In the prologue of the Dark Era light novel, Ango is the one truly bothered by Dazai’s apathy and suicidal tendencies. Oda has very mild reactions to all of it. Dazai is basically crying out for help, and Oda’s reactions are very indulgent (kind of “that’s nice, sweetie”).
"'Oh yeah, I created a new hot-pot recipe. Would you guys be up to trying it next time we hang out? I call it the 'superhuman stamina pot.' You can run for hours without getting tired after eating it. It’s a dream of a—'
'Not in a million years,' Ango sternly declined.
'If it keeps you from getting tired, then it might be pretty useful before a hard day's work,' I added.
'…Odasaku, that's exactly the problem right there. You're enabling Dazai. You don't speak up, and that's why he goes off the rails.'
I see. So this was what Ango meant by 'enabling' him. You learn something new every day."
Now, again, Oda was not a bad person or friend. It’s normal to joke around with your friends. But also, I think it’s pretty clear (Particularly in Storm Bringer and the Dark Era) that Dazai was genuinely struggling in the mafia. He was extremely unhappy.
Another problem with Oda is that he put Dazai on a pedestal like almost everyone else in the mafia (exceptions are Chuuya and Ango for sure).
"No matter what he did, Dazai seemed to reach heights that normal people couldn’t."
The difference between Odasaku and the rest of the mafia is that Dazai greatly admired Odasaku. He admired his belief system and resolve. That’s why I think it’s so sad that Oda didn’t really understand Dazai, because Dazai took Oda’s word as gospel.
There’s one last quote from the prologue that I want to talk about:
"We had a saying in the Port Mafia: 'The greatest misfortune for Dazai’s enemies is that they are Dazai’s enemies.' If he wanted to, he could even have a picnic in the middle of a firefight. Dazai was practically born to be in the Mafia."
This is the first case where I think it’s clear that Oda has a fundamental misunderstanding of Dazai.
Dazai was not born to be in the mafia. He was groomed to be in mafia by Mori. Mori picked him because he was an extremely intelligent, yet directionless child. I think we all spend so much time thinking of Dazai as a puppet master that we forget that he is also capable of being manipulated himself.
Dazai is eighteen during the Dark Era. Eighteen. He’s a teenager. He’s not a mastermind. He’s a lost kid in desperate need of guidance. He spent four incredibly formative years of his life suffering under Mori’s thumb (One before officially joining the mafia, three after). Odasaku was Dazai’s hope, someone he could look to instead of Mori. He wanted to be like him so badly.
Part B: Something to Live For
“Odasaku…,” Dazai said softly. “Forgive me for the absurd wording, but—don’t go. Find something to rely on. Expect good things to happen from here on out. There’s gotta be something…”
Yeah, you read that right. Dazai just presented an optimistic outlook on life.
He’s speaking to someone who has just lost his main purpose in being in the mafia, taking care of those orphans. Yet, he’s begging him to find a new reason to live anyway.
Part C: Last Words
That brings me to Odasaku’s final moments.
“‘You won’t find it,’ Odasaku said in almost a whisper. Dazai stared at him. ‘You should know that. Whether you’re on the side that takes lives or the side that saves them, nothing beyond your own expectations will happen. Nothing in this world can fill the hole that is your loneliness. You will wander the darkness for eternity.’”
Okay, so, Odasaku is right that Dazai won’t find purpose in the darkness, but he’s wrong about why. Dazai is not an empty person incapable of happiness. Even though Dazai thinks this means that Odasaku understood him well, we can’t forget that Dazai doesn’t really understand himself. His feelings. His mind. Dazai genuinely believes that nothing can make him happy, but he’s wrong and the consequences to Oda’s words are huge.
Now, Dazai thinks he’s a villain pretending to be hero. He thinks he’s inherently empty. WHICH IS WRONG.
Think about why Dazai went to Oda’s side in the first place. Because Oda was his friend. Dazai put his personal feelings first in that situation, and he does that more often than people tend to notice. He’s actually motivated by emotions a lot.
During Storm Bringer, Dazai basically moves Heaven and Earth to stop Verlaine and keep Chuuya in the mafia.
“‘I joined the Mafia because of an expectation I had. I thought if I was close to death and violence—close to people giving in to their urges and desires, then I would be able to see the inner nature of humankind up close. I thought if I did that…’ Dazai paused before continuing, ‘…I would be able to find something—a reason to live.’”
We have to remember who prompted Dazai to think that, Chuuya. An idea born from Dazai’s relationship to another person, not the idea itself, was what made him join the mafia.
Ranpo is definitely autistic coded, but so is Dazai. Since No Longer Human was extremely influential on BSD, and that novel has a lot of autobiographical elements in it, it makes sense that Dazai seems autistic. After reading No Longer Human myself, I really do think that Osamu Dazai (the author) was autistic. Yōzō’s (the protagonist of No Longer Human) behavior is very autistic. I mean, at one point, he describes masking verbatim.
I’m mentioning this because I think that what Dazai hopes to understand is not a reason to live itself, but other people’s motivation to live. It’s an extension of the very autistic feeling of alienation from other people. Dazai thinks there’s something wrong with him because despite caring about other people a lot, he has trouble understanding their illogical behavior. He also struggles to understand his own illogical behavior.
I also think this is why Oda struggles to understand Dazai. Because people who aren’t autistic usually struggle to understand autism. Autistic people often get profiled as ‘sociopaths’ (an outdated term that refers to Antisocial Personality Disorder) and are seen as emotionless monsters.
Dazai distances himself from other people as a defense mechanism. In his own words, “I always lose the things I don’t want to lose the most. That’s why I don’t feel anything anymore. The moment you get your hands on something worth going after, you lose it. That’s just how things are. There is nothing worth pursuing at the cost of prolonging a life of suffering.” I think that indicates that he cares very much about the people in his life, but that he also lives in constant fear of losing them.
I don’t know how well I articulated any of this (I’m neurodivergent, can you tell?), but my point is that Odasaku took a lot about Dazai at face value, instead of trying to peel back the layers and understand him as a person. He ended up dehumanizing Dazai a bit in the process.
Dazai is far from perfect, but he’s also not inhuman.
I think about this quote from Atsushi a lot, “People need to be told they’re worthy of being alive by someone else or they can’t go on.” Like, what would have happened if someone told Dazai his life was worth living even without some grand purpose?
I feel like people who go out of their way to point out that Dazai hasn't really changed and only switched personas didn't really understand the Dark Era.
Oda, the person who knew him most, never asked of him to fundamentally alter the core of his person – in fact, he made it clear to him that the gaping hole at his center could never be mended, and he should go ahead and act in a different manner regardless. That's what makes it powerful – making the decision to be on the side of good, knowing that goodness might never come naturally to you.
Imagine how much harder it has to be to teach yourself to be better, while it's not how you're hardwired nor was it ever taught to you by anyone, compared to being a kind and sympathetic person naturally – which of course is wonderful and not any less admirable, but they're two different things, and the author makes it quite clear that both matter, that you can still choose.
I think that to ignore that regardless, to discard the conscious decision to go against both one's nature and nurture as "not real", is to miss the point.