Usamaru Furuya – Vertical – 2011 – 1 volume
Holy crap! This book is amazing! Graphic, extreme in just about every way, intense, insane… pretty much all of the above. I adore Usamaru Furuya, and this book pretty much made me a fan for life, twisted and sick though that may seem.
There is a note in the back that the story is based on a play performed by the Tokyo Grand Guignol theater troupe, and that Suehiro Maruo was one of the performers. This play was apparently what inspired Furuya to become an artist. That Suehiro Maruo was involved makes a lot of sense, because the art and parts of the story and gore evoke Maruo quite a bit. Furuya isn’t quite as bold and ornate in his illustrations as Maruo, but he comes pretty damn close. Furuya’s art and story are also much more readable than the stuff I’ve seen from Maruo.
The story itself… hm. I don’t know what to make of it. It was utterly original, in that I had no freaking clue where it was going at any given time, and I liked that. It does have that in common with 20th Century Boys, another series which is hard to predict, but Lychee Light Club was more because the characters were literally insane.
What is it about? Well, it’s about a group of boys who form a club to escape what is apparently the dreary life in their heavily industrialized town (the when isn’t specified, but their uniforms suggest early 20th century). It’s about their strict hierarchy, their inexplicable desire to murder to keep their club location a secret. It’s about admiration, power, love, devotion, and sex. It’s about how they build a robot. And it’s about how even a little mistrust sows the seeds of doubt and sets off a bizarre chain reaction. It’s about how Zera will either rule the world or die.
Really, there’s lots of things going on at once, and the importance changes from chapter to chapter, usually. It’s interesting like that. When leader Zera begins to suspect members of the Light Club of insubordination, murder and paranoia begin to take hold, and the latter half of the volume is about how the club falls apart and the members are slowly picked off.
It’s the ending sequence that I will never forget, though. It is extraordinary. Visceral, gory, abrasive, and exquisite. It is disgusting, there’s a bit of a twist I didn’t see coming, and it’s even a little noble. Does love enter into this story? Not really, but there’s a little sweetness at the very end anyway.
A big part of what makes the ending so successful is the artwork. It’s good all the way through the book, but Furuya really has his style pegged here. In general, he’s good at adapting the art style to his story, but in general his character designs always look sort of similar. Here, they are a cross between Genkaku Picasso and Suehiro Maruo in the way their eyes and expressions are drawn, and of course the ubiquitous uniforms (and, as my roommate asked immediately when I told him Maruo inspired it, yes, there are people wearing eyepatches). The characters definitely have a wonderfully sinister and maniacal appearance at all times, even the more cheerful members of the Light Club. Girl Number One, Kannon, is the only touch of beauty throughout the entire book, both appearance and personality-wise. Appropriate, since she is the only beauty that Lychee learns to identify. The murder scenes, though, are what really stands out. Someone is gutted within the first ten or so pages, and while there are some murders throughout the book (including a really unlikely, but well-drawn one where someone is folded in half backwards), it’s the gore in the ending sequence that reaches the true heights of guro visual greatness. I have a hard time with ero-guro in other works since, while it is always visually striking, usually it involves rape and abuse along with murder. Morally, I’m uncomfortable with the work. In this case, however, the extra elements are absent, and even the murder is somewhat karmic. My conscience is clear, save for the fact that some of the violence is difficult to stomach.
It’s definitely for those with a strong stomach. And while I may make it sound fragmented and a little confusing, the story is pretty easy to follow and doesn’t really diverge from the path it sets out on. The artwork alone, especially at the end of the book, should be enough for people looking for “underground” manga or comics, but the story stands up well too, where normally “underground” works are a little more out there. I dearly hope this book does well, because I would love to see anything and everything else by Usamaru Furuya, and I know Vertical is more than good for it as long as the sales hold up.