Usamaru Furuya Manga Moveable Feast: Roundup Three

© Usamaru Furuya

We’re nearing the end of the Usamaru Furuya Manga Moveable Feast, so here’s the third roundup to help you catch up with what’s been going on these last couple of day!

I posted two reviews here at Experiments in Manga. One for the first volume of Short Cuts, which I thought was hilarious, and one for the first volume of Genkaku Picasso. Personally, I find Genkaku Picasso, Volume 1 to be one of Furuya’s weaker manga, but it’s still intriguing and the next two volumes in the series do improve.

At A Case Suitable for Treatment (now a part of the Manga Bookshelf network), Sean Gaffney reviews both volumes of Short Cuts, his first exposure to Usamaru Furuya’s work:

It takes on a lot of funny subjects, especially the kogal movement in Japan, but it’s never mean about them. You get the feeling that Furuya likes these girls, and is rooting for them. And we do as well.

Lori Henderson of Manga Xanadu returns to the Feast, this time with a review of Genkaku Picasso, Volume 1, having first read a preview in Shonen Jump, but only now reading the entire volume:

What makes Genkaku Picasso work so well are its characters. Furuya has created a quirky lead with a cast of characters to match. Hikari Hamura, aka Picasso, so named for a spelling error and his love of drawing, is a fun yet endearing lead.

Kristin Bomba, writing for Comic Attack, takes a look at Furuya’s No Longer Human, Volume 2:

Furuya has a wonderful ability to illustrate the human condition, in particular the darker parts of it, making No Longer Human an excellent read.  I can’t say it’s for everyone […] but if you want a good story that is so fantastical it feels absolutely real, a story of one person’s struggle to do more than exist, then be sure to check this series out.

Melinda Beasi and Michelle Smith also discuss No Longer Human as part of a regular feature at Manga Bookshelf, “Off the Shelf”. They have a marvelous conversation addressing Furuya’s artistry and the women in Yozo’s life among other topics:

Disaster is clearly just around the corner, in the same sure way as you’d expect in, say, a Dickens novel. Yoshino is doomed just as it seems Oba is truly doomed, and nobody’s even trying to hide it. Furuya makes the most of this, too.

And there we have it…for now! Tomorrow is the final day of the Feast and there will be one last wrap up post before it’s done. Please let me know of any Feast content that I might have missed so that I can include it in the archive. Please enjoy the rest of the Feast!

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.

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.

Usamaru Furuya Manga Moveable Feast: Roundup Two

© Usamaru Furuya

We’re about halfway through the Usamaru Furuya Manga Moveable Feast, so it’s time for the second roundup!

Here at Experiments in Manga I posted a review for Secret Comics Japan, a manga anthology that includes excerpts from Furuya’s debut manga Palepoli. The review is for the volume as a whole, but I do briefly mention Palepoli in it. The last Wednesday of every month I run a manga giveaway. In order to coordinate with the Feast, January’s giveaway is for Genkaku Picasso, Volume 1. All you have to do to enter is tell me how you were introduced to Usamaru Furuya and his work. My giveaways are always open world-wide, so I hope you’ll enter! I also made a (shocking!) confession: I volunteered to host the Usamaru Furuya Manga Moveable Feast before I had even read any of his manga.

Jim Hemmingfield was kind enough to contribute a guest post for the Feast at Experiments in Manga. (This is a first for the site, so I was particularly excited about it.) Jim provides a terrific overview of Furuya’s manga, including works that have yet to be licensed in English. Furuya is one of Jim’s favorite mangaka. It’s a long post, but worth reading. To quote briefly the end of the article:

Usamaru Furuya is a unique and visionary artist; probably one of the finest artists you will find working in comics today and I hope this feast helps to spread the word.

Over at Manga Xanadu, Lori Henderson reviews the first two volumes of No Longer Human. Lori didn’t originally plan to read the series, but found it to be a manga worthy of recommendation:

I wasn’t going to read No Longer Human. I’m one of those people who hears “literary classic”, and my brain shuts down. I’ve never been big on the drama and tragedy that usually permeates these kinds of books, but I’m making an effort to “expand my horizons”, so I decided to at least give the first volume a chance. What I found was a compelling human drama that didn’t feel like homework at all.

Linda of Animemiz’s Scribblings takes time to reflect on having a limited exposure to Usamaru Furuya and his works. Linda briefly looks at Lychee Light Club and Sion Sono’s film Love Exposure, in which Furuya plays the role of the leader of the Zero Church cult. In the post, Linda makes the following comment, which I couldn’t agree with more:

If there were any live action movies adaption that would reflect the vision from my limited exposure to Furuya works, then Shion Sono should be the right candidate.

At Completely Futile, Adam Stephanides reviews the first two volumes of Furuya’s The Children’s Crusade which just recently finished serialization in Japan. It hasn’t been licensed in English yet, but I sincerely hope that it will be!

The characters’ lively, expressive faces as drawn by Furuya contribute substantially to the characterizations. And the art in general is excellent, both in visual storytelling and page design, and is frequently cinematic in scope and detail. Furuya isn’t particularly well known for his action scenes, but the ones here are dynamic.

The Feast is well under way and there have been some wonderful contributions. If you can’t wait for the next roundup, be sure to keep an eye on the archive page—I update it as soon as I learn about a new article or review. And if I’ve missed something, please let me know!

Guest Post: An Examination and Appreciation of the Works of Usamaru Furuya

As the host of the Usamaru Furuya Manga Moveable Feast, I am delighted to welcome Jim Hemmingfield to Experiments in Manga as a guest writer. I am absolutely thrilled that Jim agreed to contribute to the Feast!

Jim Hemmingfield is a manga fan who lives in London. He’s been collecting manga since the early 90s and is mainly interested in the more alternative artists. He would like to blog more but hardly has any time. Occasionally he posts to the Same Hat Tumblr. You can also find him on Twitter @jimhemmingfield.

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A page from Palepoli

Out of all the manga-ka to see the light of day in the US, Usamaru Furuya is certainly the most idiosyncratic; or, at least, the most versatile in his idiosyncrasies. He also seems to be one of the more successful of the alt-manga crowd in the US due to a recent resurgence of titles being released. It would, however, be an injustice to simply tag Furuya as an alt-manga artist. Instead, Usamaru Furuya is a unique creator, as happy to work in the mainstream as he is in the underground. It’s fairly common for manga-ka to produce works for different demographics (Shonen, Shojo, Seinen etc.) but I’m not sure that many have pushed the boundaries like Furuya; and, if they have, they haven’t made it to our shores. I’d go so far as to say, without learning Japanese (or possibly French?) you would be hard pressed to find such a versatile and individual manga-ka as Furuya. The only travesty is that we still haven’t had a chance to witness some of his finest moments.

A bit of background on Furuya is necessary to understand how he managed to achieve this standing. In the book Manga (published by Taschen, edited by Julius Wiedemann and Masanao Amano) there is a DVD which includes an interview with Furuya, detailing both his background and career. Whilst at Elementary School and Junior High, Furuya enjoyed drawing manga and began to submit illustrations to magazines. Unlike so many manga-ka’s stories who begin cartooning early and never stop, Furuya’s interest in manga dwindled throughout High School and College. Furuya states at this stage became less interested in manga and had little exposure to it.

Instead, he developed an interest in fine arts and theatre. He majored in oil painting at College and began to act in theatre at the same time. From here he became interested in dance, taking his inspiration from Saburo Teshigawara. His interests at this point, he says, were using his body to express. He also became interested in mono-ka, an art movement that I can find no information about online, which Furuya says is similar to the Italian Arte Povera. This is a type of 3D art, such as installations, and that was the type of art Furuya was most interested in creating around that time.

These interests continued after College. Furuya would continue to perform experimental dances which would incorporate less and less movement, to the point that they could hardly be described as dance. He would also display 1 or 2 3D pieces per year in galleries. As creating these pieces took such a long time, Furuya began to take on additional work, doing illustrations for text books, such as drawings of insects and plant photosynthesis. When he started doing this Furuya’s love of drawing was reignited. He believes that when he went to college drawing is what he really wanted to do but he was distracted by the new ways of expression he discovered and was possibly influenced by peers and tutors to pursue them leading him away from illustration. Whatever the cause, if not for the uncommon path Furuya travelled, his manga would probably not be as unique and interesting as they are.

Furuya was 24 when he began producing his first manga, Palepoli, which was serialised in the seminal underground manga anthology Garo. Palepoli was my second exposure to Furuya’s work, in the sadly now out of print Secret Comics Japan (published in 2000 by Viz). Palepoli is a Yonkoma style manga, generally a gag strip, always consisting of four panels. Furuya started with this format as he was only starting out and was nervous about creating a longer narrative. He says that he also tried to take the fundamentals of art to create a manga and that he would take an entire day to draw one frame, meaning each page would take four days to complete. Unlike traditional Yonkoma, which consist of four horizontal panels that read top to bottom, Furuya had Palepoli set out like a four panel grid. Furuya’s art background, coupled with the amount of time he spent on each page, meant that, although some strips would ape traditional manga styles, most of the strips had a unique, highly detailed and stylised look. The gags, although funny, dealt with a variety of dark, disturbing and occasionally grotesque subject matter. Also, some of the formalism on display, such as the trick drawings which look like one thing close up but another from further away, makes for some breathtaking artistry. I’m surprised one of these strips didn’t make it into Secret Comics Japan. A lot of Palepoli has a very unique Japanese-ness to it but the surreal-ness and artistry of the work overall makes me think it would be accepted and appreciated by both mature manga readers and the art comix crowd. Out of all of Furuya’s unpublished works Palepoli is the one I would like to see the most. I’m lucky enough to own a Japanese copy which, although I don’t understand, gives me tremendous enjoyment to look through but the idea of owning a fully translated copy would really make my day.

Another of Furuya’s earlier experimental pieces was Plastic Girl, which is also high on my list of Furuya titles I would love to see licensed. Plastic Girl is unlike any other manga I’ve seen and, like Palepoli, would go down well with the alternative, art comix crowd. Unlike most manga, Plastic Girl is a full colour book, published in a large size and clocking in at a slender 46 pages. Again, Furuya employs his art background to craft an amazingly beautiful book, using a variety of different styles and utilising different materials for each section including painting on wood, cloth and canvas. The book has 23 different chapters, each spread over two pages and Furuya employs different styles for most (occasionally some are repeated). My personal favourite is one that is painted to look like 2 stained glass windows. All of it is gorgeous and, from what I can gather, the narrative is symbolic, surreal and occasionally disturbing, like many of Furuya’s works. (There is a review from someone who can read Japanese at Completely Futile). Unfortunately, though the imagery is fairly tame for the most part, I can see this being a hard sell in the west as it differs so much from the general perception of manga. I definitely can’t see it being picked up by any of the major manga publishers.

“Emi-chan” from Garden

Palepoli and Plastic Girl are probably Furuya’s most artistic and experimental books, but that’s not to say his other works aren’t also worth exploring. There are several unlicensed works that look like they would be far more interesting than the majority of manga licensed in the US. His short story collection Garden, which contains several stories of differing length, collected from alternative publications Comic Cue and Manga Erotics, is possibly more conventional in terms of the art and layout overall, although Furuya continues to switch up his style for each story. He also continues to explore the darker side of the human psyche as well as inserting comical stories and ones that look as though they are more fantasy orientated. The last story in particular, although I have only seen it in its original Japanese, plumbs some of the darkest depths of Furuya’s mind. It makes for a disturbing read (even without being able to understand the dialogue) but the shaky line Furuya uses fits the mood perfectly. The story is so extreme that in the original tankobon the pages are sealed together. The reader has the choice as to whether or not they wish to cut open the pages in order to read it. It is broke up into several sections so if it gets to extreme you do not need to continue. I’m unsure if this was Furuya’s choice or the publishers but it is an interesting choice. I have actually seen this in one other book, King Terry’s Heta-Uma Dictionary, although the sealed pages are no more shocking than the rest of the book (i.e. not really shocking at all) unlike the work in Garden. All in all, there are at least three stories in Garden that make it un-publishable in English which is a real travesty. A review of Garden can also be found at Completely Futile.

After Garden (and another short story collection called Wsamarus 2001 that I have no information on) Furuya began to work on slightly longer form narratives and began to work for more varied magazines. Saying this, Short Cuts, one of Furuya’s series that has been published in English (out of print but fairly cheap to get hold of) was serialized in Young Sunday not long after Palepoli and around the same time the stories in Garden were appearing in much more underground/niche publications. In the DVD interview, Furuya gives his reasons for working for a variety of publishers. He states that he wants to create a wide variety of works and that each one is dependent on certain rules and regulations. In other words, Furuya likes the restrictions that will be placed on him by some publishers, allowing him to create something within those set boundaries. This is why he is happy to work for a broad spectrum of magazines. Two of his more recent works, Genkaku Picasso and Lychee Light Club were published in Jump SQ (part of Shuiesha’s Jump line of Shonen magazines) and Manga Erotics F respectively, two distinctly different publications (both titles are available in English from Viz and Vertical), showing Furuya is still happy to take his work to wherever it is best suited.

Out of all of Furuya’s works I believe his longest is called Pi. At nine volumes long it could still be seen as a fairly short series in comparison to many manga. Pi was published in Shogakukan’s Big Comic Spirits, a fairly popular Seinen anthology. I know little about this title except that it revolves around a man obsessed with finding the perfect breasts. Along with Genkaku Picasso (I’m not a big Shonen reader), this is the Furuya title that appeals the least but, artistically, it is up to Furuya’s high artist standard.

Along with the titles mentioned earlier, the Furuya works I would most like to see are his darker ones like the recently released Lychee Light Club (published in US by Vertical). This is Furuya’s adaption of the Tokyo Grand Guignol play so it combines two of Furuya’s interests. In style and content it is similar to another one of my favourite manga artists Suehiro Maruo. Furuya has acknowledged by dedicating the book to Maruo as well as the TGG troupe leader Norimizu Ameya. I would say that Furuya incorporates more black humour in Lychee Light Club than I have seen in Maruo’s work. Still it is treads fairly dark territory and has several gory moments. Furuya is currently working on a prequel to Lychee Light Club which he is serialising online.

Trick drawing from Palepoli

Another title I would be eager to read, that does not seem to mine the darker side of Furuya’s psyche, is The Music of Marie. This title is described as a fantasy epic that revolves around a world where men are watched over by a mechanical goddess in the sky called Marie who brings them contentment with her music. It sounds like an enchanting story that seems to evoke early Hayao Miyazaki works, especially Nausicaa. At only 2 volumes long I would see it being an ideal choice for Vertical if they wish to publish more Furuya after they have finished No Longer Human, which I would highly recommend. I have also heard many people say that Furuya’s art in The Music of Marie is arguably his best. For those of you lucky enough to be able to read French, the series has been published by Casterman.

These are only a short selection of Furuya works that deserve some more attention. There are many more fascinating titles by Usamaru Furuya, all of which I feel would easily find an audience in the west and this is without mentioning those already available, all of which are worth your time and money. As I said to begin, Usamaru Furuya is a unique and visionary artist; probably one of the finest artists you will find working in comics today and I hope this feast helps to spread the word.