My Week in Manga: March 4-March 10, 2013

My News and Reviews

Last week I posted two reviews in addition to announcing the winner of the Ayako manga giveaway. The giveaway post also lists all of the manga by Osamu Tezuka that I know of that has been licensed in English. As for the reviews, I took a look at Koji Suzuki’s quantum horror novel Edge and Kindred Spirit, the eleventh volume in Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s Death Note manga series. Suzuki is best known for his horror novel Ring, which has been adapted many times over. Edge was the first of his works that I’ve read. Unfortunately wasn’t particularly impressed by it. I wasn’t particularly impressed with Kindred Spirit, either, but I still plan on finishing the series. There’s only one more volume to go, after all. I also updated the Resources page. Somehow I ended up with a duplicate entry, which I deleted. In its place I added Junbungaku, one of my Japanese literature buddies.

A few fun things found online: Bento Books has launched a new Kickstarter project to publish Daigo Okazaki’s thriller Black Wave, set in the aftermath of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. On Facebook Alexander O. Smith, the translator for the novel, talked a little about the project. He is donating his time to the project and any personal profit that he makes on the book will be donated to help the ongoing earthquake and tsunami recovery efforts in Japan.

March 2013 marks Dark Horse’s 25th year of publishing manga. On the Dark Horse blog, Carl Horn posts about Celebrating 25 Years of Manga. March has been declared manga month at Dark Horse, but I’m not entirely sure what that entails. The call for participation for March’s Manga Moveable Feast has been posted! This time we’ll be focusing on historical manga. Khursten of Otaku Champloo will be hosting the Feast from March 24 through April 1. Check out the links to find out how to participate. As always, I’m really looking forward to the Feast.

On a much sadder note, Toren Smith, a pioneer in the U.S. manga and anime industries, has unexpectedly passed away. Smith’s friend James Hudnall announced the news on his blog. Jonathan Clements posted a wonderfully written tribute to Smith on Manga UK’s blog. Michael Toole also wrote an extensive article honoring Smith at Anime News Network. I am primarily familiar with Smith’s translation work on series like Blade of the Immortal, but he was incredibly influential beyond that. He certainly will be missed.

Quick Takes

I Can’t Stop Loving You, Volumes 1-2 by Row Takakura. Since I enjoy a bit of the supernatural mixed in with my boys’ love, I had hopes for I Can’t Stop Loving You. Unfortunately, I wasn’t particularly impressed by the manga as a whole. Kyouji is training to become an exorcist, but there’s one problem: he can’t see ghosts. Fortunately, his boyfriend Yu can. In part, I Can’t Stop Loving You is supposed to be a comedy, but it’s not really that funny. One of the running gags (before Takakura forgets about it) is that Yu is so strong that he and Kyouji can’t even have sex because he ends up inadvertently injuring him in the throes of passion. I’ll admit I found that funny, but the joke can’t sustain even one volume of this short series.

Rurouni Kenshin, Omnibus 8 (equivalent to Volumes 22-24) by Nobuhiro Watsuki. After the slight lull in the previous omnibus, this collection kicks Rurouni Kenshin‘s pacing up a notch. Kenshin’s past has been revealed and the scene has been set; the series leaps back into duels and confrontations. One of the things I like most about Watsuki’s action sequences is that each individual fighter has his (or her) own martial style. Visually, they are all different and make for engaging combat. I particularly liked the powerful elegance of Enishi’s Watōjutsu. I was also happy to see that both Saitō and Aoshi continue to have important roles in the series. What does seem to have gone missing is the series’ humor. Recently things have been leaning towards the more serious and dramatic.

Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei: The Power of Negative Thinking, Volumes 1-4 by Koji Kumeta. Although I’m enjoying Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, it is a difficult manga to recommend to a general audience because so much of the comedy in the series relies on knowledge of Japanese society and culture. It presents a barrier, although there are plenty of translation notes which explain most of the references being made to help the reader along. I particularly appreciated the literature references, but then I’ve read many of the books being alluded to. The humor in Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei is satirical and rather bleak which is appropriate as the titular character frequently declares “I’m in despair!” over the smallest things.

Lychee Light Club directed by Masahiro Takada. I was very intrigued when I first heard that a Lychee Light Club anime was being made. It turned out to be nothing like the manga by Usamaru Furuya upon which it is based. The Lychee Light Club anime is primarily a gag comedy. The manga wasn’t without humor, but it was of a very different type. The anime does require familiarity with the original story and characters in order to fully appreciate it and most of the jokes being made. I was vaguely amused, though, and I don’t regret the twenty-four minutes it took to watch the entire series. (It’s only eight episodes long, each of which are only three minutes.) But in the end the series is largely forgettable.

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.”

Lychee Light Club

Creator: Usamaru Furuya
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781935654063
Released: April 2011
Original release: 2006

While Lychee Light Club is not the first Usamaru Furuya manga to be made available in English it is the first of his works that I have had the opportunity to read. I became interested in the title when Vertical first licensed it but it was the stunning cover that completely sold me, even before I knew what I was really getting myself into. Lychee Light Club, originally published in Japan in 2006, is based on a 1985 Tokyo Grand Guignol play of the same name. Knowing this origination is enough to expect the story to be of a dramatic, horrifying, sensational, and probably bloody nature. Apparently, and interestingly enough, Furuya’s version of Lychee Light Club has been adapted back into a stage play. Furuya has also written a prequel called Our Light Club. I really hope that Vertical, which published Lychee Light Club in 2011, will be able to license the prequel as well.

In an abandoned factory in the run-down industrial town of Keikoh meets a group of nine junior high students from an all boys school who call themselves the Light Club. They gather in secret to build a living machine fueled by lychee fruit to carry out their plan to abduct beautiful girls. The intensely charismatic and terrifying Zera, who holds the most power and control over the group, is obsessed with obtaining the ideal of eternal youth and beauty. The Light Club intends to literally idolize the captured girls. But after Lychee’s completion and eventual success, things quickly fall apart as the Light Club is utterly consumed by paranoia and jealousy. Violence erupts as the boys are turned against one another, incited by Zera’s increasingly pronounced mania. Lychee, the machine meant to make the Light Club invincible, instead brings about their downfall.

Lychee Light Club is a dark tale and the art is appropriately dark as well with plenty use of black. At the same time, Furuya’s artwork is also disconcertingly beautiful and stylish. Even the very graphic depictions of blood and gore, of which there are plenty, are strangely seductive. It certainly isn’t something that everyone will be able to appreciate and Furuya is not at all subtle about it. Another interesting approach used in Lychee Light Club‘s artwork has to do with the panels shown from Lychee’s perspective. When the machine is first initialized, it can only see in strict black and white; only after it has been programmed with the concept “I am human” can it begin to perceive different shades of grey. It is a symbolic and significant change that has serious consequences.

Ultimately, I was enthralled by Lychee Light Club in all its disturbing glory. Granted, it’s not a manga that I would recommend to just anyone; but for an audience prepared for uninhibited violence with highly sexually charged connotations, I wouldn’t hesitate. The theatrical influence of Lychee Light Club is readily clear. For one, almost the entire story takes place in a single room. In addition to this, the staging of various scenes and the characters’ placements in them are reminiscent of a stage production. To some extent because of this, the Light Club seems to out of context with the rest of their world. Instead of rebelling against a specific society, it feels as though the boys are struggling with and fighting against vague concepts. The story is admittedly strange and incredibly perverse, but neither does it claim to be anything else. Lychee Light Club is horrifying, and it should be.