Genkaku Picasso, Volume 2

Genkaku Picasso, Volume 2Creator: Usamaru Furuya
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421537542
Released: February 2011
Original release: 2009

Genkaku Picasso was the second multi-volume manga series by Usamaru Furuya to be released in English. The first was a seinen gag manga called Short Cuts which, like Genkaku Picasso, was published by Viz Media. Genkaku Picasso is very different from Short Cuts. It’s an example of one of Furuya’s few shōnen manga and is currently his only shōnen series available in English. Furuya is an extremely versatile artist, changing styles, genres, and demographics to suit his needs. He had his start in alternative manga, but Genkaku Picasso, while quirky, is a more mainstream title. Initially serialized in Jump SQ, the second volume of Genkaku Picasso was released in Japan in 2009. Viz Media published Genkaku Picasso, Volume 2 under its Shonen Jump imprint in 2011. I found the first volume of Genkaku Picasso to be intriguing, but more uneven and less compelling than some of the other manga by Furuya that I had read. But with the second volume, the series finds its footing.

After a bizarre near-death experience, Hikari Hamura, given the nickname Picasso by his classmates, finds himself in an even stranger predicament. Chiaki Yamamoto, a victim of the same accident that nearly killed Picasso, is now small enough to fit in his pocket and is sporting angel wings. Picasso himself has gained the ability to see into people’s hearts and minds. Compelled to draw what he sees, he can literally enter into the psyches of others through his illustrations. Using this newfound power, Picasso is able to help his fellow classmates. Not that he really wants to go to all that effort. In fact, he’d much rather be left alone to concentrate on his artwork. But unless he wants to let his arm rot away—another peculiar consequence of his accident—Picasso must do what he can to help those around him. With Chiaki’s assistance and prodding he has successfully resolved some of his classmates problems and has even gained a few friends in the process, but Picasso is still incredibly reluctant to get involved.

Although there has always been an ongoing story in the series, the beginning of Genkaku Picasso felt fairly episodic. However, with the second volume the series starts to become a bit more cohesive. The stories in the first volume seemed to be resolved a little too simply and cleanly, but as Genkaku Picasso progresses it becomes apparent that it’s not really that easy. Picasso has helped some of his classmates (though they are only aware of that subconsciously) but they continue to have problems; he hasn’t solved everything for them. The first volume’s stories had a “one and done” sort of feel to them while the issues in the second volume, even after they are initially resolved, are long-lasting challenges. They are things that the characters may very well struggle with for the rest of their lives. I much prefer this approach since realistically matters of the heart and mind are not so easily mended. I think Genkaku Picasso becomes a stronger, better series with the inclusion of these more complicated and nuanced narratives.

From the very beginning one of Genkaku Picasso‘s strengths has been its artwork, something that continues to be a highlight in the second volume. Furuya uses a variety of art styles in the series. Picasso enters the drawings he creates of other people’s hearts. They are filled with beautiful, surreal, and even disturbing imagery, allowing Furuya to creatively illustrate and explore the characters’ internal states of mind. But probably the greatest reason that I find the second volume of Genkaku Picasso to be more effective than the first is that the problems that Picasso must help to try to solve happen to be more relevant to me personally. For me, many of the stories in the first volume were little far-fetched while those in the second volume are a bit more realistic and universal. Most of them focus on love, romance, gender, or sexuality which are themes that I have a particular interest in. I could personally identify with the characters in Genkaku Picasso, Volume 2 in ways that I previously couldn’t. I did enjoy the first volume of Genkaku Picasso, but I was able to appreciate the second volume even more.

Death Note, Volume 11: Kindred Spirit

Author: Tsugumi Ohba
Illustrator: Takeshi Obata

U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421511788
Released: May 2007
Original release: 2006

Kindred Spirit is the eleventh and penultimate volume in the immensely popular and successful manga series Death Note, written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. Death Note has developed into quite a franchise with multiple anime adaptations, games, live-action films, novels, and merchandising in addition to the original manga series. Kindred Spirit was first released in Japan in 2006. The English-language edition from Viz Media was initially published a year later in 2007, but it is also included in the sixth and final omnibus edition of the series, released in 2011. For the most part I have been enjoying the Death Note manga (I haven’t pursued the series in any of its other incarnations), so it was about time I got around to reading Kindred Spirit.

As Light comes closer to bringing the world under his control as the god-like Kira, Near draws closer to exposing Light and his schemes. Near is already convinced that Light is Kira and that he is also posing as L, who is leading the Japanese task force responsible for investigating Kira. All Near now needs is some actual proof that ties Light, Kira, and L together. Light is well aware of Near’s efforts to capture him and that he must be more careful than ever executing his plans. Because of Near’s inquiries, several members of the task force are once again beginning to suspect Light and his motives. Because of this Light is currently unable to directly act as Kira, but he is still a skillful manipulator; there are others he can maneuver into carry out his will. Even so, there will always be some things that are outside of his control.

While some of the previous volumes of Death Note had a nice balance between action and the more cerebral aspects of the series, Kindred Spirit is almost all plotting, planning, and analysis on the characters’ parts. As a result, Kindred Spirit is very text heavy. The internal dialogues overwhelm what little external action is going on. Obata seems to be running out of ways to make the tremendous amounts of thinking that occurs in Death Note visually interesting. The most engaging and dynamic sequence in Kindred Spirits is an all too brief eight pages that has absolutely no narration or dialogue at all. Frankly, it was a welcome break. Despite the fact that the series is quickly approaching its conclusion, the preponderance of text makes it feel sluggish and not much actually happens in this volume. Still, there is some important setup for Death Note‘s finale.

Both Near and Light put complicated plans into motion in Kindred Spirit, each trying to out-think and out-maneuver the other. What was once a battle between right and wrong, and to some extent good and evil, has now simply become a battle of wits and even more so a battle of pride. Unfortunately, I found those particular battles to be much less compelling. Light seems to have lost sight of his original intent and purpose of making the world a better place, granted in ethically complicated and questionable ways. His conflict with Near in Kindred Spirit has become a game rather than a moral calling. I personally found that to be a disappointing development, but it does go to show how out of touch with reality Light has become that he can be distracted like this. I am very curious to see how things will play out in the final volume of Death Note, Finis.

Hikaru no Go, Volume 1: Descent of the Go Master

Author: Yumi Hotta
Illustrator: Takeshi Obata

U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781591162223
Released: May 2004
Original release: 1998
Awards: Shogakukan Manga Award, Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize

Hikaru no Go, written by Yumi Hotta and illustrated by Takeshi Obata (who is also the artist for the very popular manga series Death Note), is one of the first manga series that I made a point to collect in its entirety. I had first borrowed Hikaru no Go from my local library, but less than half of the series was available there. But I was so impressed by what I had read, I went and bought myself a complete set of Hikaru no Go, all twenty-three volumes. I was pleased when Hikaru no Go was selected for the December 2012 Manga Moveable Feast because it is a series that I’m quite fond of. I’m not the only one, either. Hikaru no Go received a Shogakukan Manga Award in 2000 and was later awarded an Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize in 2003. Hikaru no Go, Volume 1: Descent of the Go Master was originally released in Japan in 1998. Viz Media first serialized the manga in issues thirteen through sixteen of Shonen Jump before publishing the collected volume in 2004.

While scavenging through his grandfather’s attic, Hikaru Shindo comes across an old go board which he hopes he can sell for some extra cash. Instead, he finds that he must share his consciousness with the ghost attached to the board, Fujiwara-no-Sai, a go master from the Heian period. Although Sai died long ago, his spirit lingers on due to his great love for the game. Even in death he strives to play the Divine Move. But for some reason, he’s stuck with Hikaru, a sixth-grader with absolutely no interest in go. But Hikaru isn’t a bad kid. With the right kind of encouragement—namely Sai agreeing to help him out with his history classwork—Hikaru is happy to allow Sai the opportunity to observe and even play a few games of go. And Hikaru can’t help but be impressed by the intensity of the players he sees, some who are even younger than he is. A spark has been lit in Hikaru. He started paying attention to go for Sai’s sake, but now a small part of him wants to play for his own.

Hikaru no Go has a great, engaging story, but it’s Obata’s artwork that really brings everything together. At it’s very core, Hikaru no Go is a manga about a boardgame. Now, I personally love games, but I still wouldn’t necessarily think that they would make a compelling subject for a manga series. Hikaru no Go shows that they can. Obata’s artwork captures the excitement and drama surrounding go and its players with effective and cinematic panels and page layouts. The character designs are memorable and distinctive without resorting to caricature; even the individuals in groups and crowds each have their own look. Obata also adds some nice touches to Hikaru’s design, often incorporating the number five (pronounced “go” in Japanese) into his clothing choices. And I love Sai’s design, too. He can go from elegant to adorable at a moments notice.

One of the greatest things about Hikaru no Go is that it requires absolutely not prior knowledge of go to enjoy the series. To be completely honest, almost everything I do know about go I initially learned from reading Hikaru no Go. The series even inspired me to give the game a try. Hikaru himself is a complete beginner at the start of the manga. But Hikaru no Go also reveals the “tenacious perseverance and hard work” that is required of players who are serious and passionate about go. The series is even supervised by Yukari Umezawa, a professional go player holding the rank of go-dan at the time of the publication of Descent of the Go Master. As Hikaru learns more about the game, so do the readers, but the technicalities and rules of go never overshadow the story and characters of Hikaru no Go. The series really is a lot of fun; even having read it before I still enjoy it immensely.

Genkaku Picasso, Volume 1

Creator: Usamaru Furuya
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421536750
Released: November 2010
Original release: 2009

After a seven year drought, Genkaku Picasso became the first in a (very small) flood of new titles by Usamaru Furuya to be translated into English. The first volume of Genkaku Picasso was released in Japan in 2009; the entire series was originally serialized in the manga magazine Jump SQ between 2008 and 2010. The English edition of Genkaku Picasso started publication in 2010. Once again, it was Viz Media that brought Furuya’s work to English-reading audiences, having previously published Short Cuts and excerpts from his debut manga, Palepoli. I’ve had Genkaku Picasso sitting on my shelf for quite some time, but it’s only now for the Usamaru Furuya Manga Moveable Feast that I’ve finally gotten around to reading it. Furuya is well known for his work in underground and alternative manga, but Genkaku Picasso is one of his more mainstream series.

Hikari Hamura, nicknamed Picasso by his classmates (much to his frustration), would much prefer that everyone would just leave him alone to his drawing. However, after a strange accident leaves him with the even stranger ability to visualize the contents of another person’s heart, Picasso must learn to use his artistic talents to help others or else he’ll rot away. Drawing what he sees, he can dive into the artwork and their subconscious. The problem is that the visions aren’t particularly straightforward. That and Picasso doesn’t really feel like reaching out to others and is much more comfortable keeping to himself. It’s not easy, and there tends to be quite a few misunderstandings, but Picasso doesn’t seem to have much of a choice. He might not want to, but he has to get to know his classmates better even if he does find them and the prospect terribly annoying.

One of the things that impresses me the most about Furuya’s work as whole is that he deliberately creates a particular aesthetic to fit an individual manga and story. In the case of Genkaku Picasso, Furuya primarily uses two different art styles. The first, representing reality, is a more mainstream, slightly stylized manga style which utilizes screentone and such. The other is based on the approach of pencil sketches and includes hand shading techniques and crosshatching. Used for Picasso’s artwork and the characters’ subconsciouses, it is also a reflection of Furuya’s own fine arts background. I find it interesting that the more realistic style is used to capture the unreal in Genkaku Picasso while the comic style is used to show the ordinary. Granted, even Picasso’s “ordinary” is slightly off-balance and surreal, which the artwork helps to show.

I wouldn’t exactly say that I was disappointed with the first volume of Genkaku Picasso, but I didn’t find it nearly as captivating or compelling as the other works of his that I have read. I really like the premise of the series, but after one volume I haven’t been convinced by the manga itself, yet. I feel like it wants to be deep and profound, but the first volume somehow comes across as superficial, even when Picasso is delving into the supposed darkness of other people’s hearts. The problems are resolved too quickly and easily. Still, there are plenty of elements in Genkaku Picasso that I enjoy. Although there hasn’t been much real development yet, I do like the characters. Picasso and his classmates Sugiura and Akane make an amusing trio (quartet if you count Chiaki). Genkaku Picasso also has a quirky sense of humor that shows up frequently. Picasso’s social awkwardness (mostly self-imposed) and bluntness is delightfully endearing. So while I may not have been overwhelmed by the first volume of Genkaku Picasso, it does intrigue me and I do want to continue on with the series.

Death Note, Volume 10: Deletion

Author: Tsugumi Ohba
Illustrator: Takeshi Obata

U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421511559
Released: March 2007
Original release: 2006

Deletion is the tenth volume in the widely successful twelve volume manga series Death Note, written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. Death Note also has a thirteenth, companion volume in addition to anime, live-action, and prose adaptations and spin-offs. Deletion was originally published in Japan in 2006 and Viz Media released the English-language edition in 2007. Viz is also now re-releasing Death Note in two-volume omnibuses called Death Note: Black Edition (because the covers are black), so Deletion will be found in the fifth omnibus. The series has its ups and downs, but for the most part I have really enjoyed it. The story and themes are interesting and Obata’s artwork, as always, is excellent. Deletion picks up the story immediately where the previous volume, Contact, leaves off.

Just when it looks like Light, who is also acting as Kira and posing as L, has finally gotten a one-up on his adversaries Near and Mello, he quickly loses much of the ground he has gained as the two young men start grudgingly working together and sharing information. Near has determined that the new L is most likely Kira and that Kira is most likely Light. Mello shouldn’t be far behind him in reaching the same conclusions. Now, they just need the proof. Near begins by attacking the trust that the members of the Japanese taskforce investigating Kira as built amongst themselves. As they begin to suspect each other and especially Light, who is leading the taskforce, Light has fewer and fewer options left to him for escape, none of them particularly good.

Teru Mikami is probably one of the most interesting character to be introduced in Death Note, certainly in recent volumes. He is also the only characters to have his entire past revealed. To do so, Ohba and Obata resort to a flashback sequence which feels a little out of place at first but ultimately I think it works. Plus, it gives Obata a chance to show off great skill at drawing a character at different stages of maturity while still remaining recognizable. The tone of the flashback also shifts away from the surrounding narrative. It almost reads like it could be a religious text. If Kira is God, as many people want to believe, Mikami is his prophet. Mikami is undeniably intelligent, smarter than even Light expected, making his adherence to extreme moral beliefs even more terrifying and disconcerting. It is obvious that he could be a very dangerous person working on his own. The question remains whether Light will be able to control Mikami’s fanaticism or not.

After a few volumes with some very significant action sequences, Deletion is a return to the more cerebral elements of Death Note. Instead of running in with guns blazing, the men battle it out with their minds as they try to out-think and out-maneuver their opponents and sometimes even their allies in order to take control of the situation. This doesn’t mean things have become any less intense, dangerous, or deadly. Near has forced Light to take risks he would rather not and Mello is just waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike to appear. Even Mikami is proving problematic as his ideals quickly diverge from those held by Kira. Panels do become a bit text heavy through all of this as characters explain things or think things through. While some are spelled out very thoroughly, other leaps of logic are difficult to follow. Usually the characters end up being correct, but I can’t help but feel that they are making some unfounded assumptions or conveniently forgetting things as needed. Still, I am very interested in learning what happens next in the following volume the series, Kindred Spirit.