Genkaku Picasso Volume 3

By Usamaru Furuya. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Jump Square. Released in North America by Viz.

Things start off as normal in this final volume of Genkaku Picasso, with his skills being used to get a shut-in to return to school and reconcile with his “Studying over everything!” mother. After that, though, we head into a number of chapters that show us that we’re headed to an endgame, mostly as for the first time we see him return to someone he’s helped before – in this case, his friend Sugiura, who’s a bit of a playboy struggling for his feelings for Akane, who not only is completely different from his usual type, but is also in love with Picasso.

We start to get things brought up that we’ve wondered about before, namely how people deal with Picasso seeming to know their innermost secrets, as well as how Chiaki interacts with the real world. The answer given is somewhat ambiguous, and if you want everything to make perfect sense then you might have a bit of trouble. Certainly Sugiura does, as he confronts Picasso after resolving his issues with Akane. Picasso attempts to explain what he does, opening up to someone other than Chiaki for the first time… and is soundly rebuffed.

And so we head into the final arc, where, as suspected, Picasso has to head inside his own heart, and deal with his own major unresolved issue – Chiaki. This is juxtaposed nicely with the rest of the main cast, all of whom Picasso helped in some way. We’re not quite sure how anymore – the text certainly implies that Picasso and Chiaki leaping into the drawings to solve their psychoses happened, but it also shows the other side of Picasso’s conversation with Sugiura, where we see Picasso holidng up a folded piece of paper he says is Chiaki, and showing a broken watch he insists is his skin rotting. Which is real, and which is hallucinated? Well, both.

The scene where Picasso emerges from his own eye to see the scene of the helicopter accident – and Chiaki’s corpse – is drawn for maximum effect, and manages to be creepy and moving at the same time (a common theme and stregnth in Furuya’s work). His friends are gathered to try to help him, but they can’t get into his head the way he got into theirs, so in the end it’s up to Chiaki to remind Picasso that she’s dead – and that’s what he refuses to accept. I was highly amused to see her finally accomplish this by getting him so angry that he abandons her in a huff – she certainly knows what makes him tick.

Again, in the final scene we have a bit of a disconnect regarding whether all this happened or not – Chiaki’s note that she put in his pocket before the crash is revealed, but it shows her wearing wings – is it a confession, or a goodbye? Or both? Still, it leads to a nice finale, with the majority of the cast sitting by the riverside playing and discussing their futures while Picasso draws. Chiaki may be dead, but Picasso has opened up and found friends. Hey, in the end, it did end up being sort of Jump-esque, didn’t it?

I think in the end this is a series that works on an artistic and emotional levels, but has a tendency to fall apart when you think about it too much. Luckily, I can happily read manga without thinking, and as such I found Genkaku Picasso to be a lot of fun, with a very satisfying resolution that did exactly what I expected, but did it quite well.

Genkaku Picasso Volume 2

By Usamaru Furuya. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Jump Square. Released in North America by Viz.

The second volume of Genkaku Picasso has some of the same weaknesses as the first, though it’s making an effort to fix them a little. The plot itself and its solutions still feel a bit too easy at times, and we sometimes veer into the world of After School Special here. On the other hand, Picasso himself is far more likeable in this volume. He’s still not particularly inspiring, and he’s still introverted and whiny, but he’s come to mostly accept the situations he’s in by the end of this volume, is slowly gaining friends, and we even see him having fun.

The art continues to be a strength, at least in the inner world sequences, where we see the issue that the guest star of the chapter is fighting against. My favorite was the Joan of Arc shot, with some very nice medieval knights. Speaking of art, Picasso is all about that, and it’s nice to see him focusing on ants and human musculature, finding them fascinating because of their artistic qualities.

There’s a few really obvious parodies and pastiches here. Chapters 2 and 3 are clearly a takeoff on giant robot shows in general and Evangelion and Gundam Wing in particular. The distinction between 2-D and 3-D characters is one that Japanese otaku can identify with easily, so seeing it from the opposite perspective as a BL obsession shouldn’t be too off-putting. (This assumes that Jump Square still has a mostly male readership, of course.) Likewise, the last chapter is mostly poking at Walt Disney’s Disneyland, with a bit of Tezuka in there as well. Of course, it uses them to take a look at the idol process, which can be far more difficult than it first appears.

There’s some intriguing ‘extras’ at the end, consisting of a few pages of 4-koma gag strips (which are more traditional 4-koma than Furuya’s edgy Short Cuts), including some funny character bits and possibly the most explicit bit of the whole volume (though it’s ‘censored’). There’s also an ‘advice column’, where Jump readers apparently wrote in with some issues which Picasso and Chiaki then answer in character. As you’d expect, Chiaki’s advice tends to be more useful, and she even kicks Picasso out and brings in the other two girls for the last, female-oriented question. Some nice fourth-wall breaking here involving Chiaki’s presence as well.

This is not really top of the line Furuya. For that, check out Short Cuts or wait for Lychee Light Club this April. But if it was a way to get his stuff out to a wider audience, it works pretty well. The series ends with the next volume, and there are some implications that he may have to finally deal with both his own personal foibles but also Chiaki’s death. I’ll be interested to see how this is wrapped up.

Genkaku Picasso Volume 1

By Usamaru Furuya. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Jump Square. Released in North America by Viz.

I’ve long been a fan of Furuya’s other series that Viz released here long ago, Short Cuts. This was a 4-koma gag series about ko-gals that was released back in the late 1990s in Shogakukan’s seinen magazine Young Sunday. Its weird, disturbing, and vibrant sense of humor greatly appealed to me, and you could see the talent of the artist just oozing off the page. Unfortunately, it’s been harder to find him since then. 51 Ways To Save Her was licensed by CMX, but they folded before it could come out. Likewise, his adaptation of No Longer Human is also proving difficult to license. And Palepoli, his breakout series, was only partially translated in the Secret Comics Japan book.

So I’m very happy to see Genkaku Picasso out over here. It’s one of his more sedate works, but even normal Furuya is still really disturbing and weird. It ran in Shueisha’s Jump Square, which is their rebranded Monthly Shonen Jump, offering places for both Jump titles that wanted a more visible place (Rosario to Vampire, D.Gray-Man) and series like this, oddballs that aren’t really appropriate for Shonen Jump itself. Genkaku, by the way, means hallucination, which fits very well with the story of a sullen and introverted Japanese boy who has to use his artistic abilities to help people.

The cover shows Picasso biting his thumbnail, something that’s almost become a shorthand for the repressed and bullied Japanese male teen. I’ve seen similar in GTO and other shonen series, and honestly in another shonen series he’d probably be the problem to be solved, with our heroes trying to stop him from whatever foul plot he has to get noticed/get revenge/etc. But no, this kid is the star, and it’s his job to help people overcome their demons and deepest fears, with the help of his magical sketchbook and his deceased friend Chiaki, who has returned as a mini-Angel who lives in his pocket.

I say ‘magical sketchbook’, but this is not a case of ‘I am giving you these awesome tools’, and indeed there’s a possibility that all of the supernatural elements in this are not real. I doubt that’s the case, but no one but Picasso can see Chiaki, and when he ‘falls into’ his sketchbook he merely passes out in the real world. It’s a plausible deniability that helps to raise tension while keeping things in the real world. (We see Chiaki put something in Picasso’s pocket just before the accident that kills her, and she notes it’s ‘the inside of her heart’. If it was some sort of love letter or confession, all of this could be a hallucinatory rationalization on Picasso’s part.)

Furuya’s art has a certain style that’s not very much like anyone else. In Short Cuts, he would occasionally use a page or two to draw incredibly bizarre, surreal landscapes. That carries over here, as the sketches of people’s hearts that Picasso draws are very surreal, to put it kindly. Many of them are meant to be disturbing, and it’s always a treat seeing the main characters interact with this weird art.

On the downside, Picasso himself can be a very uninspiring hero. He’s a repressed, introverted Japanese boy, almost the exact opposite of your typical Jump hero, and though this experience is clearly designed to draw him out and help him win friends, his constant whining can grate on you. Likewise, many of the situations he’s trying to solve fall into the Psych 101 category (Chiaki is even seen reading psychology books at the start, as if this wasn’t obvious enough), and since each trauma has to be resolved in about 50 pages, the solutions can seem very pat. Oh yes, and Akane’s affection (and reason for it) is very creepy, but it’s FURUYA. Creepy is what he DOES.

Nevertheless I will definitely be getting more of this. Any manga that can have me theorizing about the reality or fantasy of it, and trying to work out its mechanics, has won me over. And there’s always a chance of more gloriously broken art in the future. And at only 3 volumes, this is easily something to collect to show off that not all Jump series are about ninjas and pirates. Recommended.