April 30, 2011
Usamaru Furuya – Viz – 2011 – 3 volumes
Honestly? I wasn’t sure where this was going. The episodic stories can be appreciated for their artwork and surrealism, but the characters that each chapter introduces wind up accumulating without much purpose, and there hasn’t been much in terms of ongoing plot. Hikari just meets new people and solves problems in every chapter. And as amazing as the art and some of the situations were, the stories themselves are a little weak.
Turns out everything was building up to this volume. The conclusion to this series was unexpectedly touching, and unlike the rest of the chapters.
There are three stories in this volume, all multi-part. The first story introduces the last of the incidental characters, a boy named Yuto who has withdrawn from society. He shows up at the school festival escorted by his mom, and the incidental characters go out of their way to make him feel welcome. Hikari winds up solving his problems (Yuto’s “heart image” was a drawing of himself as Ashura, destroying a city), with everyone apologizing for his awkward and erratic behavior. Unfortunately, Yuto’s problems wind up being very simple and easily solved, which is my problem with most of these stories, but some of the issues that the story brings up are still interesting, and it’s always fun to watch Hikari being misanthropic.
Now, the next story acts as a bridge between the episodic stories and the multi-part conclusion. Hikari winds up helping Sugiura again, the first boy he helped and the one that has been the best friend to him throughout the series. Sugiura confesses his feelings to Akane, is dumped, and then tries to rebound with another girl. The problem is a complex one, and not entirely solved by the resolution to the story. But more interesting is the fact that Sugiura recognizes the pencil drawing that Hikari does, and forces Hikari to admit to his strange powers and reluctant quest to make people’s lives better.
The surprisingly dark ending to that story leads into the conclusion, where Hikari winds up drawing and entering his own heart. To give you an idea, this story addresses the helicopter crash that happened in the first chapter of the series, the trauma that was abruptly brushed aside and never really mentioned again. Seeing poor, misanthropic Hikari laid bare is most heartbreaking, and it’s surprising to see just how sensitive the story can be after I spent most of the time oogling the art and glossing over the somewhat shallow characters.
I can’t really give too many details without spoiling the ending, but it’s fair to say that it’s well worth the three-volume trip through the series. And the artwork is still just as unique and amazing as it was in volume one. Granted, the one-shot stories can wear on you a bit, but they do get more interesting as the series progresses, I promise (though the conclusions are never really anything to write home about). And what saves them from being too boring or formulaic are the extended sequences, drawn in pencil, where Hikari and Chiaki navigate the surreal landscapes of people’s hearts. That never really gets old, largely because Furuya is such a wonderful artist.
There’s a bonus essay in the back where Furuya talks about writing the series that is also fairly interesting. He mentions that this was originally supposed to be a 2-volume work, but that he had to extend it to three very thick volumes. In other words, it wasn’t prematurely cancelled or anything, it was just meant to be a short work.
I literally just finished the volume, and promptly wrote this article. Maybe I’m getting a little carried away, but yeah, I really liked this series, and the ending is terriffic. I would dearly love to read more of Usamaru Furuya’s work in English. That is all.
This was a review copy provided by Viz.
February 22, 2011
Usamaru Furuya – Viz – 2011 – 3 volumes
In case you missed it last time, I LOVE Usamaru Furuya. Honestly, I am completely and ridiculously biased about this series, but I still think it’s great, and I think that a lot of the problems I had with the first volume were solved in the second. The reason I came forward with that disclosure first thing is that I’m not sure how they are solved, because it does a lot of the same things. But I liked this volume a lot better, and the best gimmicks about the art and story are being put to good use.
The structure of the chapters is the same. A classmate of Hikari’s (new every time) is having trouble, and Hikari complains about his arm rotting until he accidentally finds a way to “draw the darkness of their heart,” then complains some more until he enters his drawing and accidentally solves whatever moral problem the person was having. The topics are a little more indepth this time, including two unusually touching stories about gender identity. One from a character who finds himself increasingly uncomfortable as a male, and another from a girl who can’t identify herself as a girl because of childhood teasing and builds barriers to function in her current relationship. Other stories touch on ambition and jealousy. A couple of the stories are multi-chapter this time, too.
The topics of conflict with the featured characters were more complex, and while I still feel like the characters were going through the motions to solve the problems, they were much more interesting to read. The characters du jour also did a good job of talking through what was bothering them in every case, and once again, I can’t get over the surreal pencil drawings and landscapes Hikari enters into in every chapter. It’s truly the highlight of the series for me, the fun it has with the art. So I guess the second volume really did improve on the first.
There were some bizarre pop culture references that took some puzzling in most cases. The second story arc pivots on an Evangelion, but not really Evangelion, anime that the couple (one that Hikari helps in the last volume) enjoy together. Hikari gets to pilot the Eva unit in the heart landscape and everything. Later, there’s a Walt Disney World parody called Borise World. While the Evangelion dodge was an easy one to figure out, it was the fact William Borise was obviously Walt Disney that linked the two… I have no idea where Borise comes from Disney, assuming both are spelled and pronounced the way I think they are. There’s also a Morning Musume reference in one of the later stories.
I’ve grown to like the characters. They’re pretty one-dimensional, sure, but that’s the point. I love cranky Hikari, who only ever complains and never really solves anybody’s problems. As a result of the “heart landscapes,” he also finds himself in increasingly awkward positions, such as on the floor spying on an intimate couple, playing a character’s clarinet in secret to try to get a feel for her, and more and more in the bathroom, where he can draw in peace without his increasingly large number of “friends” bothering him. For all his quirks and misanthropy, everybody he helps seems to genuinely like him in return, though I love that he is largely unchanged by this.
I’m afraid a lot of people were scared off by the first volume. Don’t be! If you were at all intrigued by the experimentation there, things are much better in this volume, I promise. And by much better, I mean the stories have been fine-tuned and things are less annoyingly formulaic. It’s more of the same, but better, and it gives the truly unique elements of this story a chance to be properly appreciated.
This was a review copy provided by Viz.
November 12, 2010
Usamaru Furuya – Viz – 2010 – 3 volumes
I am a huge, raving fan of Usamaru Furuya. The fact that, prior to this, the only work of his we’ve seen in English is part of Palepoli and Short Cuts, a Young Sunday gag strip about kogals, is utterly criminal. Genkaku Picasso fills the gap quite nicely, and I’m also excited to see Lychee Hikari Club from Vertical sometime in the future. I would be excited about 51 Ways to Save Her from CMX too, but I think I shouldn’t get my hopes up about that one.
Anyway, Genkaku Picasso. The premise is really great. A misanthropic high school kid named Hikari loves drawing and not much else. Much to his chagrin, a classmate named Chiaki hangs around him and insists on pestering him all the time. Tragically, they are hit by a falling helicopter and both are killed. But because Chiaki prayed hard enough for Hikari, he wound up being allowed to live, provided he helps people. And Chiaki can pester him anew by flying around as a tiny angel that only Hikari can see.
Hikari hates people, though, including Chiaki and everyone in his class. He only wants to draw. So how is it that someone so cranky and introverted can really help people? Well, he is sometimes compelled to draw an image of “what their heart looks like,” something Chiaki asked of Hikari right before they died. The images are drawn in a different, “non-manga” style, and are always surreal, things like a baby sitting next to a rabbit, or a giant man looming over a wall of money. Hikari has to dive into them and set things right in the bizarre heart landscape, thus helping the person pass their crisis in the real world.
While the other characters are little more than background noise, I like all of Hikari’s quirks. The fact he hates everything, and there’s not really any characters that “bring out the good in him,” is unusual in a series like this. He tends to get scared and pass out a lot, and most of the time, the “problems of the heart” resolve themselves with minimal help from Hikari. I also like how indelicate he is around people. Hikari has to ask questions to gain insight about the heart drawings he makes, and his questions completely ignore social protocol. “Have you had an abortion recently?” “Are you into S&M?” “Are you in debt?” Later in the volume, other characters start hanging out with him, but Hikari tends to ignore them, and they have little impact on his life. He hates people so much that he wouldn’t help anybody, even given his new gift, if it weren’t for the fact his body rots when he goes too long without helping.
The art in this series is really unique, too. It would have to be. The drawings of the heart are always in pencil, and when Hikari and Chiaki enter them, the comic reverts to a pencil-sketched surreal landscape with the two blundering around and encountering things like walls made of money, grabby-hand trees, or gigantic goth girls perched on mirror mazes. The conceptual flourishes in these drawings are much appreciated, and while the symbolism isn’t that deep, it’s still very nice to see. There are great flourishes in the regular drawings, too. Furuya’s clouds and landscapes are detailed and slightly unusual, I like how his characters lose their pupils when they’re shocked (in a really obvious, non-70s way), and there are a lot of other unique touches here and there.
Unfortunately, his proportions freak me out a little. The characters have such tiny hands and big heads.
Also, the structure of the series… the chapters are mostly one-shots. There are some elements that carry over, like the people around Hikari (when he helps them, they tend to make an effort to be his friend), but each chapter is a new story about a new character. The problems these characters have are pretty tired or just plain weird. The first crisis involves a boy who wants to kill someone in order to get his father’s attention, since the latter refuses to pay for an expensive college. The second chapter features a girl who is cranky all the time because she doesn’t eat any vegetables (huh?!). Another is about a girl who identifies so much with a singer that she wants to kill herself in a kind of tribute to the lyrics. Always, these stories have a neat resolution and a happy end. None of the characters are interesting or developed, Hikari isn’t really a hero, and because the stories are focused on these side characters, there’s not a whole lot of opportunity for Hikari to develop character-wise, either. The first chapter hinted at a possible romance between Chiaki and Hikari, but there’s no evidence of that later on.
Though the weakness in storytelling is somewhat crippling, the strengths outweigh that enough to make this a genuinely interesting read. The great premise, the interesting art, and the surreal landscapes of the heart are all very engrossing. The fact that a terrible shounen series is the skeleton they sit on is unfortunate, but it’s so bizarre that it transcends its shounen genre. It’s probably a good thing that it’s only a few volumes long, since that’s about as far as these good ideas can take it.
This was a review copy provided by Viz.