My Week in Manga: January 16-January 22, 2012

My News and Reviews

This is it folks! Experiments in Manga is hosting the Manga Moveable Feast for the first time ever! This month’s Feast will focus on Usamaru Furuya and his work. I’ve been participating in the Feast since December 2010, but as I just mentioned, this is my first time hosting. I’m anxious and stressed and hope it turns out well. But, I’m also really excited about it all. I encourage everyone to take time to contribute to the Feast, or at least wander around and read some of the submissions and maybe leave a comment or two. Keep an eye on Experiments in Manga and I’ll try to direct you to Feast content that you might have missed. To start you out, I posted the introduction to the Usamaru Furuya Manga Moveable Feast just yesterday. I will also be updating the archive page throughout the Feast.

Somewhat related to the Feast, last week I posted a review of Japan Edge: The Insider’s Guide to Japanese Pop Subculture. I say somewhat related because the book includes excerpts from Furuya’s debut manga Palepoli, but that wasn’t the focus of my review. It is why I tracked down the book, though. Japan Edge is a bit dated and is out of print, but still has value. And completely unrelated to the Feast, I also posted a review of Natsume Sōseki’s coming-of-age novel, Sanshirō. I didn’t like it as well as his masterpiece Kokoro, but I still enjoyed it and found it to be entertaining.

Quick Takes

Genkaku Picasso, Volumes 1-3 by Usamaru Furuya. Genkaku Picasso was originally intended to be a two volume series. It turned into three volumes, each progressively longer than the one before. I’m glad that Furuya had the opportunity to expand on his original idea, because the first volume, while it has its charm, is somewhat weak. The final two volumes are much better and Genkaku Picasso turns out to be a great little series. The manga starts out very episodic, but eventually the overarching plot becomes more important. The longer stories work better; they feel less rushed and Furuya has more time to explore. There’s also a nod to Lychee Light Club in the third volume, which I got a huge kick out of.

Lychee Light Club by Usamaru Furuya. Lychee Light Club was my introduction to Furuya’s work. It is also arguably the most graphic and extreme manga of his currently available in English. After all, it is based off of a Tokyo Grand Guignol theater performance. The manga also takes inspiration from the work Suehiro Maruo. Be prepared for blood and guts and beautifully crafted, but very disturbing imagery. And a dark and disturbing story, too, for that matter. Lychee Light Club is definitely not a manga for everyone, but for its intended audience it is fantastic. I’m really hoping that Vertical will license the prequel, too. (My previously written in-depth review of Lychee Light Club can be found here.)

No Longer Human, Volumes 1-2 by Usamaru Furuya. Osamu Dazai’s novel No Longer Human has three manga adaptations of which I am aware. Furuya’s adaptation is the one I was most interested in, so I was thrilled when Vertical licensed the series. I don’t find Yozo, the protagonist, to be as sympathetic as he was in original novel, but Furuya’s interpretation still works marvelously well. The manga is dark and oppressive, but so was the original. The third and final volume is currently scheduled to be released in February; I’m really looking forward to the conclusion. (If you’re wondering about the changes that Furuya made from Dazai’s original novel, Genji Press has an excellent post—Dehumanizer Dept.)

Short Cuts, Volumes 1-2 by Usamaru Furuya. I quite enjoyed Short Cuts, Furuya’s first series written for a mainstream publication. It’s a gag oriented manga with each chapter, or “cut,” being only a page or two long. Certain characters do make reappearances, and there are a few recurring jokes, but for the most part each cut is fairly self-contained. Copious translation notes are included which is particularly useful in the case of Short Cuts because the manga’s humor frequently depends on knowledge of Japanese culture. However, there are plenty gags that are funny regardless. Personally, I find most of Short Cuts to be hilarious. A warning, though: Furuya can be very vulgar at times. One of my favorite things about Short Cuts is the wide range of art styles that Furuya employs.

Love Exposure directed by Sion Sono. In my opinion, Love Exposure is an absolutely brilliant film totally worth the nearly four hour needed to watch it. I enjoyed it immensely and was thoroughly engaged throughout. Love Exposure is intense and bizarre to say the least, dealing with themes of religion, love, lust, cults, sex, and violence. The sheer number of genres that Love Exposure incorporates is impressive. Comedy, drama, martial arts, psychological thriller, crime, horror, romance…I could keep going. And it’s all used to create a unique but somehow coherent story, often absurd and over-the-top, but always engrossing. Usamaru Furuya appears as Miyanishi and pulls off a cool, creepy persona very well.

Noriko’s Dinner Table directed by Sion Sono. I didn’t realize until after I started watching Noriko’s Dinner Table that it is actually the sequel to Sono’s film Suicide Club, which I haven’t actually seen yet. Noriko’s Dinner Table takes place before, during, and after the events depicted in Suicide Club. While the references to the earlier film will certainly be more meaningful for someone who has seen it, Noriko’s Dinner Table actually stands fairly well on its own. It’s a strange but intense film. Much if not all of the camera work is done by hand and the narrative uses a lot of voice-over work, making the film feel very personal. Usamaru Furuya shows up as “the man in the cafe.” Despite being unnamed, it’s not an insignificant role; you can’t miss him.

Zoo by Various. An adaptation of Otsuichi’s horror short story anthology by the same name, Zoo is a collection of five film shorts. A different director and creative team worked on each story. I didn’t find them to be quite as compelling as their original counterparts. I think the difference is that it’s not as easy to get into the characters’ heads. But Zoo is still an excellent adaptation and stays very true to the original. Usamaru Furuya worked on the screenplay, storyboard, and character design for “Hidamari no Shi” (also known as “Song of the Sunny Spot”), the only animated short in the collection. The other stories include “Kazari and Yoko,” “Seven Rooms,” “So Far,” and the titular “Zoo.”

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