From the stack: Genkaku Picasso vol. 1

Between my fondness for Usumaru Furuya’s “Palepoli” strips in Viz’s Secret Comics Japan and my abiding love of episodic “psychic helper” manga, Genkaku Picasso (also from Viz) seemed likely to be a slam dunk. It’s not.

It’s about a high-school student who suffers a near-death experience and resumes life with the ability to see traumatic auras around his classmates, then capture their distress on his sketch pad. If he wants to continue to fend off premature death, he has to help these shrouded people with their issues. He’s the self-isolating type, so this isn’t a natural set of responsibilities for him, but at least he’s got the nagging, tiny ghost of a dead friend to prod him into doing the right thing.

There aren’t many surprises in the various adolescent traumas that our hero must confront, so the book’s interest is reliant on Furuya’s ability to layer compelling weirdness onto things like eating disorders, over-identification with pop idols, and daddy issues. There are some intermittent flourishes, some dollops of lurking nastiness, but the kids are on the dull side, and their woes need more verve than Furuya seems inclined to provide.

In fact, I sometimes found myself wondering if Furuya hadn’t determined on creating a satire without having any particularly novel observations on his subject other than “these are things that routinely happen in these stores.” The chapters sort of ramble through a set number of pages, not in an idiosyncratic, arrhythmic way, but in a “I have 20 pages of story to fill 50 pages of magazine” manner. I invariably lost interest before each tale’s conclusion, and I ended up concluding that, with Furuya, less may be more. He seems at his strongest when he’s being concise.

Part of the book’s problem might be that the protagonist, Hikari “Picasso” Hamura, isn’t especially pleasant company. He’s crabby when engaged, which can be a fun quality in a fictional character, and I wanted to like the fact that he doesn’t yearn for his classmates’ approval like so many of his shônen peers. But Hamura needs to be dragged into things too much, and he carps too much about how difficult his lot is. Beyond being annoying, it doesn’t read as organic. It feels more like a vamp, and a routine one at that.

The apparent time-killing gives me occasion to actively look for things that annoy me, even though I find Genkaku Picasso to be drawn very well. By volume’s end, I was improbably put out with Hamura’s pouty, blush-bruised lips. I know that the lips should barely have registered, that I had been given time to fixate on something minor and off-putting while so little was actually happening, and that it was less about the lips themselves than the fact that I’d had so little else to fill in the gaps of a rather lazy satire of a familiar formula.

I’m still looking forward to Furuya’s Lychee Light Club, due out from Vertical in April. It promises a much higher degree of adolescent perversion without any filter necessitated by placement in a shônen magazine while still being able to twist shonen conventions into knots. Maybe it was overly optimistic to expect that from Genkaku Picasso?

5 Responses to From the stack: Genkaku Picasso vol. 1

  1. […] Ayako (Comics-and-More) Shannon Fay on Azumanga Daioh (omnibus edition) (Kuriousity) David Welsh on vol. 1 of Genkaku Picasso (The Manga Curmdgeon) Julie Opipari on vol. 23 of Kekkaishi (Manga Maniac Cafe) Anna on vols. 5/6 […]

  2. JRB says:

    I actually kinda liked Genkaku Picasso; it allowed Furuya to exercise his taste for weirdness without going so far as some of his more distasteful stuff. The individual stories could certainly have been stronger, but I appreciate Furuya mainly for his art anyway.

    “I’m still looking forward to Furuya’s Lychee Light Club, due out from Vertical in April. It promises a much higher degree of adolescent perversion without any filter necessitated by placement in a shônen magazine while still being able to twist shonen conventions into knots.”

    Well, if you’re looking for “adolescent perversion”, Lychee Light Club is an excellent place to start. Gratuitous murder, eroticized dismemberment, dripping gore, mutilation and disfigurement and people burned alive, plus creepy underage gay sex and small girls sexually assaulted with plumbing supplies. It’s definitely out to shock. Though I didn’t notice much by way of shonen conventions, either played straight or parodied. I am a bit unhappy that Vertical seems committed to revamping the cover; the Japanese cover showcases the cast, which consists (except for the one girl and the robot) of single-distinguishing-trait pretty boys in gakuran, and I found it helpful in keeping everybody straight.

  3. Jade Harris says:

    There’s really nothing you’ve said about this book that I don’t agree with, but I liked it.

    The little angel girl, Chica or whatever, surprised me with as much depth as I thought she had. She didn’t seem like she was just another manic pixie dream girl or doormat, she had some odd qualities and interests that I thought actually set her up for substantial confrontation with Pouty McGlasses. You can already start to see her getting really sick of his attitude towards the end of the volume.

    Still, I couldn’t see reading this for more than two or three volumes if Lips and/or plot doesn’t develop at all. He managed to pull some genuine laughs, but you’re right, he is really that abrasive.

    • davidpwelsh says:

      I think it’s only three volumes total, but that’s probably still more than enough to test my patience. But you’re right, I do hope somebody lets me know if pixie dream girl lays down the smack. I’d buy a copy of that.

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