Genkaku Picasso 1

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.

2 Responses to “Genkaku Picasso 1”

  1. Levi Says:

    äh I have a question. Is this yours : ?

    I search any clamp in 3d figures ( Vol.1,2,3,7,8)…and…sorry, if I bother you, äh…would you like sell some of the twice figures *duck*….sorry for my bad english…I live in germany ( I´m a student, but my english is very bad)…I search any Clamp in 3d land figures, but i couldn´t find them :-(….

  2. Connie Says:

    Hello! Yup, that’s one of my pictures, but unfortunately I’m not looking to sell any of those right now. Hope you don’t have too much trouble tracking them down, I know it’s been a few years since they were released. Not even my sets are complete, I’m missing four of the bonus figures and the nifty box you keep all the pieces in. Unfortunately, I don’t have any suggestions for shopping venues, either, I bought mine as they were being released.

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