Short Cuts, Vols. 1 & 2

By Usamaru Furuya. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Young Sunday. Released in North America by Viz.

Short Cuts was my first exposure to this month’s MMF topic, Usamaru Furuya. I picked it up because the girls in it looked cute and the manga itself looked funny. Both turned out to be correct, yet there ended up being much more, something that made me want to seek out more work from this talented artist whose point of view seemed a little different than everyone else’s.

Genkaku Picasso has its comedic moments, but it really has to be said: Short Cuts is easily the most light-hearted and comedic title that North America has ever released from Furuya. The reason for this might have something to do with the manga’s chosen topic: kogals. The phenomenon is now over, but at the time that Short Cuts was serialized, kogals were at the height of their popularity. The fashion-conscious, uniform-altering girl who didn’t care about Japanese standards and wanted to do her own thing… provided it was the thing the others were doing. Short Cuts also refers to the format: it’s basically a 4-koma style without being limited to 4 panels. Most of the pages are one-page gag panels, with a few exceptions for serious stories or ‘arty’ bits.

Speaking of those arty bits, another reason that Furuya’s art really stood out for me are those times when he would jokingly ‘get possessed’ and draw these huge two-page surreal spreads… which also made it into the magazine, which says something about the trust the editors had in him. His art tends to fit the gag during most of the book – cute girls have cute faces, while older folks or non kogals tend to look much more realistic and frumpy. (One comic even has Mai lampshade this, finding a magazine of her dumpy parents as fashion models years ago.) The two-page art panels give an impression of someone who is given creative freedom in his series, but it’s STILL NOT ENOUGH – he must create even more bizarre and outre things.

There is no continuity in this series as such, though a couple of characters recur. The most obvious one is Mai-chan, who is Furuya’s default kogal. She’s more of an ‘everyday girl’ than the other kogals depicted here, and probably closest to the reader identification figure. Well, that is, when she’s not being conscripted into the JSDF or breaking the fourth wall to rebel against the author himself. Mai is a great example of the fun side of Short Cuts. At the same time, Furuya is not afraid to do the occasional serious strip either – Cut 54 here, where a man desperate for money sells his wife and daughter as ‘conveniences’ is both appalling and somewhat sad.

The strips appeared in the seinen magazine geared towards early 20-somethings Young Sunday, which, like all other magazines in Japan with ‘Young’ in their title, has a certain amount of adult content. Short Cuts is no different, and I would definitely classify it for mature readers. Be it the computers that have to be given blowjobs in order to boot up, or the Little Lolita Storage Safe, or the girl who loses her virginity at the beach after using her father as a swimsuit (it makes sense in context… well, no, it really doesn’t), Short Cuts is not something you should let impressionable children read, at least not without long talks about sexuality in Japan.

Short Cuts even gets an ending os sorts, as Furuya shows himself as a dying old man, finally passing away and being taken to heaven by Mai-chan and the rest of the Short Cuts cast. This is, I think, the main reason why Short Cuts succeeds. 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. In a world where they constantly have to battle parents, perverts, and each other, you take the little victories where you can. Short Cuts is a string of those little victories, showing Kogals at a time when they were on top of the world. It’s also a fantastic example of Usamaru Furuya’s art. Both volumes are out of print, I believe, but should be fairly easy to track down.

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  1. One of the things I like about Short Cuts is that it can be so lighthearted while at the same time the humor can be fairly dark. I also love the range of art styles that Furuya uses in the series.

    Thank you for your review!

  2. It’s kinda funny that your impression of Furuya’s attitude towards kogals is positive, because most reviews I’ve read in the past seemed to think Short Cuts was pretty mean-spirited towards kogals.

    I personally see Furuya as being fascinated by them rather than liking or disliking them, although I believe in one of the interviews printed in these volumes, Furuya mentions that he was assigned by his editor to draw anything he wanted, as long as it featured kogals. So that’s why in some ways he just uses them as characters to joke about a variety of random things.

    Many of Furuya’s later stuff is more conventional manga, although he’s still an excellent artist. Honestly, I wish he did more satires like this because his stylistic versatility and black sense of humour really plays well for a broad audience. In Short Cuts, he’s kinda like a Japanese MAD magazine artist.


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