one of the more interesting end cards so far, for obvious reasons
A little word of warning before I proceed: this post is actually NOT about Mawaru Penguindrum, talking about either its latest episode or some other related subject worthy of lengthy discussion. I just chose this image after watching the seventh episode because it was just, well, interesting. Out of all the shojo manga artists whose drawings I’ve seen (that is to say, I haven’t seen all that many), Lily Hoshino’s art, in my view, has a little unique something in it that separates it from the others, though basically her drawings aren’t that distanced from standard shoujo manga fare. And I’ve also liked seeing the end title illustrations she’d provided for every episode of Penguindrum, where they are rendered spontaneously and are nicely done, at that. As for the series itself, I’m still very much interested in how it is going, especially after seeing where the plot took its story in the latest stint. It’s also nice to see those musical sequences make a return here; they’d given the ep some fresh touches of levity here and there that kept the whole affair lively and rich throughout despite the strange developments. That said, I’ll probably resume blogging the series by episode 9 at the earliest (because of some tasty rumors I’ve heard about it), but much of that still remains to be seen. We’ll see how the next few weeks go.
well then, the main event
Genkaku Picasso (Furuya Usamaru, Jump SQ)
The afterword that came in the third and final volume of this series pretty much encapsulates what I felt when I first caught a glimpse of this manga some time in the past. I had actually picked it up then, but lost interest due to some reason or another, only for me to rediscover and blow through it recently. Anyway, I can’t be the only one surprised at how this manga came about: I never could have imagined in a million years that Furuya Usamaru, of all people, would draw a manga for a mainstream (I hate to use this term, but whatever) shonen publication, much less that of Shueisha’s monthly Jump SQ (Weekly Jump’s counterpart). The chances of something like this happening, to my mind, were as minuscule as the chances of Shintaro Kago drawing manga for Comic Margaret, or of Maruo Suehiro drawing manga for Manga Time Kirara (or Cirara, however it’s spelled). But contrary to expectations, my eyes didn’t fool me, and it happened that the innovative artist who drew as groundbreaking a manga as Palepoli went to work on a magazine fans would normally associate with more commonplace affairs.
This isn’t the first time something like this had surprised me, however. Fortunately for me, they still had the gall to show anime where I live–despite the airwaves slowly becoming less and less receptive to animation in the last decade or so–which afforded me the chance to revisit some series which I ordinarily wouldn’t have given the time of day at present. Series which I’ve loved as a kid, like Yu Yu Hakusho and Rurouni Kenshin are still being aired today, and I’ve kept pace with them hoping to find new things I might have missed in the early years of my watching anime. There was much interesting work in YYH, for example, coming from the likes of Tetsuya Nishio during the early stages of his career, but it was an episode by one of the more famous directors in latter-day anime that surprised me due to its quality. Akiyuki Shinbo had seemingly sharpened his teeth on this show, and one of his episodes stood out to me because of how different it was (and because it was the only one of his I saw). Partnered up with him as the episode animation director was Atsushi Wakabayashi (Shinbo was storyboarder/director), who in more recent times had made a name for himself by working on the stand-out episodes of Pierrot’s Naruto together with godlike animator Norio Matsumoto and other great animator talents.
The episode was about the protagonist, Yusuke, fighting some evil doctor in a large hospital. What most caught my eye about it was the impressive way the episode captured a feeling of tense claustrophobia by manipulating the lights and colors, plus by constantly shifting the angles and perspectives by which scenes are presented in unexpected configurations, making for a freshly stylized flow and look. In the episode were bits, pieces, and trace elements of what made Shinbo‘s present style appealing to fans and for people who like to see artful animation. Personally, I don’t have much affection for his work since I feel it’s too saturated and lightweight–most likely because his unique style gets passed through multiple people in the course of a TV series–but I liked what I saw here in his Yu Yu ep precisely because it was done all in his own, albeit still fledgling, approach. I guess one of the weaknesses (or is it?) of “auteur” anime directors in the same vein as Shinbo is that their styles do not lend themselves well to outside control, watering them down unnecessarily when passed around. It’s when they are controlling every element they possibly can that their productions become great.
As for Kenshin, I was surprised by how my opinion of it hasn’t changed after all these years. I still find it immensely watchable, even though the visual elements–mostly the animation–did get admittedly dated, as is usually the case with older TV anime. But aside from that, what surprised me the most about that show was somehow catching two episodes which featured no less than Yasuhiro Aoki as the animation director (for both eps). I read that he started out as an animator, but I had not actually seen any of his work in that department until both Kenshin eps. The two episodes were early in the series, and he probably did not have anything to do with it anymore afterward, but it’s nice to see his drawings take center stage and get an idea as to what his work was like in those times. His work as animation director jumps out at you while watching the episodes, since they look absolutely different from the eps that came before and after. The characters in his eps had more detail infused into them, and they looked more attractive and pleasant than the original character designs, with their more sensual-looking eyes and rounder edges (especially visible in the faces). Even the clothes had a lot more folds, creases and shadows than usual. Though the animation was nothing to write home about, the drawings were great enough to make up for the gap and to maintain the interest throughout.
Watching the OP for that show also hit me with the curious info that Hideki Hamasu had apparently contributed the animation character designs for the series, which I wasn’t expecting in the least. Hamasu came to provide the animation designs and direct the animation in Satoshi Kon’s debut feature Perfect Blue in 1998, and eventually grew into one of the pillars of the director’s subsequent films. This one seems like a curious job, at least to me.
Anyway, enough about anime for once. I find myself going into tangents more often lately, for which I must apologize. Getting back to the point, it was a nice surprise seeing Furuya’s name plastered onto the pages of this manga for SQ, though I admit feeling a bit of apprehension when I first saw it. What was the guy thinking, going to a magazine like that? I can only assume that he’d had to significantly tone down the outrageously bizarre style he’d used for his past work so his manga can have more commercial appeal, and it gave me an ominous feeling. It’s only natural to believe that a combination like Furuya x Jump doesn’t sound very good, even on paper. The higher-ups of the magazine must have also been crazy, or must have had possessed balls of titanium, to even approach him to do work for them. Even Furuya himself was shocked when an editor from SQ knocked on his door.
Well, I have to say I wasn’t at all disappointed with the end results. Furuya‘s strange artistic sensibility was still there, but as expected, it wasn’t as outspoken and off-putting as was usual–though the guy hasn’t been exactly returning to the same exact style he’d used in his debut work to begin with. The surrealistic bent of his art was still present in generous volumes, and he’d wisely made room for it within the story he’d created. It’s heartening to see that the editors of the magazine just let the man do whatever he wanted in his manga: they allowed him to let his imagination rip quite freely here, but still they were careful enough to rein him in just enough for the readers not to be alienated too much.
Genkaku Picasso tells the story of a high-school student (nicknamed Picasso) particularly talented in painting who’s also weird and isn’t too friendly. One day he and his only friend at school (named Chiaki) went about their usual after-school activity, laying about on the riverside, when a tragic accident occurs and changes their lives forever. The event bestows Picasso with the ability to see into people’s hearts and discover individual traumas that surround them, and with the help of his now-dead friend, he begins helping face their problems through the power of his art. It doesn’t sound that original at first glance, but it is a pretty endearing story, and is pretty well-told for its short length (3 volumes). The manga itself runs in the same spirit as in the collaborative effort between Furuya and the writer Otsuichi (GOTH), Chronicles of a Clueless Age, and maybe Furuya’s own Happiness (though I haven’t read enough of it to be sure), in terms of the restrained feeling of the drawings and the subject matter tackled. Furuya mentions in Genkaku Picasso’s afterword that he liked to draw manga about teenagers and their issues, so Picasso could be counted as the latest example of his work following this storytelling thread. Though, of course, there’s also his recent Litchi Hikari Club, which I’ve been aching to read, which based on what I’ve heard seems like a wholly different beast altogether.
Furuya worked his personal artistic style and preference into the story of Genkaku through the various striking images the protagonist draws in the course of his mission of helping people with their problems. Of course, the basic look of the manga is unmistakably Furuya, but it’s in these graphic images that we see his full sensibility at work. Infused with meaning and significance, the drawings the main character sketches into his sketchbook are all delightfully surreal and insistently imaginative, all in keeping with the manga artist’s own easily identifiable approach. They’re a step above the normal quality of the surrounding drawings and are rendered more emphatically. More than likely these parts were the ones on which Furuya invested much of his effort, though that is not to say the other scenes are not pleasing or even ugly. It’s just that these scenes had more focus and strength, as was demanded by the structure of the story.
The story is chopped up into a bunch of episodes focusing on different characters (though one character had two chapters about him) and their various emotional issues, much like the format of Chronicles. One thing I admire Furuya for is undoubtedly his stylistic preoccupations, but in Genkaku I also quite liked the directions he went to in portraying teenage drama, even if they don’t really seem to be that effective to me when looked at in detail. He was daring enough in choosing his subject matter–things which I don’t think are that common in magazines like SQ, like the chapter with the gender-confused student–but the little details don’t really evoke a real emotional response to me, personally. You could sense the imagination at work in the bigger picture, but the little things making up that picture don’t particularly coexist and flow with one another well. The episodes are always resolved so conveniently, and end too pat and neat that it becomes a little too predictable. I kind of wish the guy had made things a little more difficult for the protagonist; it also doesn’t help that some of the chapters also seem to tread already walked-on ground. Maybe all this is merely because I’m growing older. I find that it’s in the narrative department where Furuya had to focus on achieving that right appeal to reach out to the magazine’s target audience, which is understandable of course, but it leaves someone like me wanting more. At least it doesn’t appear that the man had to over-extend himself in selling his work to kids so much that he’d let his own inclinations as an artist suffer in exchange.
But still, I was impressed with how he ended the story. Predictably enough, the last few chapters turn the focus onto the protagonist, where he himself must deal with his own problems hinted at quite clearly in the first chapter of the manga. I liked how Furuya tied all of the loose threads together, leaving nothing to the imagination, ending the manga in a sweet (almost too sweet) manner. To me there’s nothing wrong with leaving out details or not tying up loose ends when ending a story, but there’s also nothing wrong with completely resolving everything, either. The latter method gives a totally different kind of satisfaction altogether, where you feel as if the characters had all done everything they were supposed to do, and were all ready to move on to newer things. Though, there’s the issue of predictability and incredible ease in Picasso’s ending, but for a fairly short read, it’s satisfying enough (the manga was supposed to end in 2 volumes, but since Furuya didn’t see himself as being able to end everything in that time, the editors allowed him to extend it to one more).
After all this, I have to say I’d gotten some more respect for Jump (well, it’s SQ, but whatever). At least one editor there was brazen enough to knock on Furuya Usamaru’s door and ask him to do a manga for them, despite having the full knowledge of what he has been doing ever since he debuted in 1994 over a place like Garo, no less. It was a risky experiment, but they made it work in the end, which should have been a win-win situation for everybody. I also have to admit that seeing Furuya do work on Jump was a bit of a refreshing sight, and it was also nice to witness what his plan of action was when he was asked to switch from one target audience to another, although sometimes they felt a little strained.
I don’t know how popular Picasso ended up in the magazine, but I strongly feel that this is the best chance for an anime to be made out of a Furuya manga, mostly in part due to the commercial appeal it must have attained. In all likelihood, his other past manga in the same spirit as Palepoli or Short Cuts or Plastic Girl wouldn’t see the light of day when it comes to animation–understandably so, considering the style and format of these manga, no one in anime would probably even touch those now–and it’s in Genkaku that a good combination of both the artist’s weird style and widespread allure was achieved. The entire material is probably enough to fill a good single-cour TV series or perhaps a set of OVAs. The problem of finding people who are willing enough to get something like this produced is also now considerably lessened (though it could still pose a good challenge). That said, I wouldn’t mind seeing this ported off into animation, and seeing what more stuff could be added into the original material and the new directions it could go, provided the people behind the anime have visions strong enough to do all of those things.