Short Cuts, Volume 2

Short Cuts, Volume 2Creator: Usamaru Furuya
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781591160694
Released: August 2003
Original release: 1999

Originally serialized in Young Sunday, Short Cuts was Usamaru Furuya’s first manga created for a major, mainstream publication. It was also his first manga to be completely released in English. His debut work, Palepoli, was serialized in the alternative manga magazine Garo and has only partially been made available in English. (Select excerpts from Palepoli are available in Japan Edge: The Insider’s Guide to Japanese Pop Subculture and Secret Comics Japan: Underground Comics Now.) Short Cuts began its serialization in 1996, two years after Furuya made his manga debut. The second collected volume of Short Cuts was initially published in Japan in 1999. The English-language edition of the volume was released by Viz Media in 2003. This was after Pulp, the magazine in which Short Cuts was being serialized in English, was canceled. I very much enjoyed the first volume of Short Cuts and so am happy that both volumes, though sadly now out of print, were released.

Short Cuts is a darkly comedic and vaguely surreal gag manga and satire. Each cut—there are exactly one hundred of them in the second volume—is a short manga only a page or two in length. As in the first volume, there are some recurring jokes, characters, and setups, but even the related cuts can generally be read on their own. Any sort of overarching plot is nearly nonexistent. Kogals and the kogal subculture, which were particularly prominent in Japan while Short Cuts was initially being serialized, remain the most common topics in the manga. However, there are plenty of other subjects that Furuya uses for his material, often the stranger the better. He draws inspiration from Japanese pop culture and celebrities, other manga creators (frequently mimicking their individual styles in the process), and even history and contemporary politics.

In the afterword to the series, Furuya mentions that Short Cuts was initially intended to be “light, pop, and sexy” but as the series progressed it became a bit stranger until “old people and weirdos stood out.” I’m pretty sure Furuya includes himself when he is talking about weirdos. Increasingly, the gags in Short Cuts refer to the trials and tribulations of manga artists and illustrators. Furuya has several personal avatars in Short Cuts who either break the fourth wall to interact with the cuts or are the stars of their very own. With the second volume the humor in Short Cuts has become even more self-aware. Furuya is not afraid to make fun of himself or his manga. Another recurring character is a kogal named Mai. (The frequency of her appearances actually becomes a joke in and of itself.) She’s a delightfully peculiar young woman with an even odder family. In some ways, Mai and Furuya together are representative of the series as a whole and the relationship between creation and creator. The ending of Short Cuts—if a series without much of a plot can be said to have an “ending”—is actually rather touching because of this.

Short Cuts is a very strange manga, which is probably one of the major reasons that I like it so well. I enjoy Furuya’s chameleon-like artwork in the series as well as his absurd, dark, and surreal humor, all of which can admittedly be rather raunchy and vulgar from time to time. Many but certainly not all of the gags in Short Cuts rely on the reader having at least passing familiarity with Japanese culture and society, but there are plenty of notes from the translator included for those who might need a bit of extra help. Overall, I think I slightly preferred the first volume of Short Cuts over the second, though I can’t seem to identify exactly why that is. I was still consistently amused by Short Cuts, Volume 2 and Furuya can still make me laugh out loud. Short Cuts remains one of my favorite gag manga, but its peculiar sense of humor and sharp social commentary definitely won’t be to everyone’s taste.

Short Cuts, Volume 1

Creator: Usamaru Furuya
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781591160311
Released: August 2002
Original release: 1998

Short Cuts was Usamaru Furuya’s first manga to be published by a major magazine, Young Sunday, having previously debuted with his groundbreaking work Palepoli in the underground manga monthly Garo in 1994. Short Cuts also has the honor of being the first of Furuya’s works to be made available in English in its entirety as only excerpts of Palepoli have been translated in Japan Edge and Secret Comics Japan. Viz Media published the first volume of Short Cuts in 2002 under the now defunct Pulp imprint. The manga was originally released in Japan in 1998. In addition to the manga, Viz’s edition of the first volume of Short Cuts also includes an excellent interview of Furuya conducted in 2000 by one of the editor’s he worked with at Garo, Chikao Shiratori, titled “An Interview with Super-Conscious Manga Artist Usamaru Furuya.”

Short Cuts is a series of short manga, each only a page or two long, called “cuts.” For the most part the cuts are unrelated, although there are a few recurring characters and scenarios as well as running jokes. Occasionally a set of cuts join to form a brief story, but these are generally the exception to the rule. Typically even the related cuts each have their own punchline and can be taken separately. The most common, but certainly not the only, subjects focused on in Short Cuts are kogals, defined at the beginning of the manga as Japanese high-school girls with attitude, and those who obsess and lust over them. Kogal is a fashion statement and a subculture that was prominent in Japan in the 1990s. The phenomenon reached the height of its popularity around the same time that Furuya was creating Short Cuts.

Even though Short Cuts is more commercial than Furuya’s previous work, his alternative manga sensibilities are still readily apparent. Absurdity abounds. Short Cuts has a lighter feel to it overall than what I have read of Palepoli, but the humor is still fairly dark. Every once in a while it can come across as a little cruel as Furuya makes heavy use of stereotypes in the manga. However, while he may make fun of kogals, he also makes fun of those who fetishize them, and even pokes fun at himself and other mangaka and media personalities. Quite often, the various groups in Short Cuts get to make digs at each other, too, so I think it all works out. Another aspect of Short Cuts that reflects its alternative origins is Furuya’s artwork, which is constantly changing to suit the gags. Furuya displays an impressive range of art styles, sometimes using several within a single cut. His kogals, however, are always quite lovely.

I am glad that I waited until the Usamaru Furuya Manga Moveable Feast to finally get around to reading Short Cuts; I benefited from having read a lot of manga and don’t think I would have been able to appreciate Short Cuts as much without that experience. The reason for this is that Furuya doesn’t limit himself to kogals, he also parodies and references other manga and Japanese pop culture. Much, but not all, of the humor is culturally dependent, and so at least a basic understanding of Japanese society is useful. There are plenty of translation notes to help the reader along, though. Personally, I found Short Cuts to be consistently funny and frequently hilarious. It can be vulgar and crass at times, but it can also be quite clever and smart. It’s not just that Short Cuts is terribly amusing, Furuya is also making legitimate social commentary through satire and black humor.

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.”