Forgive me for talking about probably the most reviewed, most popular and most accessible Usamaru Furuya manga in the English. I’m sure the other participants in this month’s manga moveable feast have chatted your ear off about Genkaku Picasso, so I can only hope to give a fresh perspective as a non-shounen reader.
You see, Genkaku Picasso is the only shounen manga I’ve bothered to collect. Ever. The title of this blog is a little bit of a lie, I actually have a volume of One Piece, a volume of Ranma 1/2 and a volume of Bakuman sitting in my to-read pile, a number of Japanese Gin Tama tankobon that I inherited from someone and Cross Game, which I totally forgot I owned until I began putting the finishing touches of this post. I think I used to own some Inuyasha volumes back in the day when those cost $15 a pop, but sold them off years ago. Ranma 1/2, Bakuman and Gin Tama I got for free, but I have absolutely zero plans to read Bakuman or Gin Tama, let alone continue collecting them. Cross Game is an unfortunate victim of having other titles I’m a little bit more interested in and I haven’t bought more volumes even though I want to, eventually. One Piece and Ranma 1/2 will probably be the next shounen manga that I attempt to get into, but I’ve had those volumes for a number of months now and little desire to actually read them. If I do get into One Piece, I’ll probably buy the rest of it digitally because of its length. I’d do the same if Ranma 1/2 was available online. Thus, Genkaku Picasso is the only shounen manga I’ve bothered to a) read and b) buy the rest of the series. Too bad it’s so short.
I don’t know if I could tell you exactly why I dislike shounen manga. I’ve read a number of volumes through friends who are kind enough to let me borrow. I read a few through scanlations, once upon a time. (I don’t think any of those titles have been licensed though.) I’ve watched a number of shounen anime too, although I can’t say that too many have struck any sort of chord with me. I know the “problem/fight of the week” formula is one reason I dislike shounen manga, but Genkaku Picasso and many other manga I own use the same formula. So that’s not it.
Perhaps it’s the easy camaraderie coupled with fighting, I’ve never understood why people can be best friends so easily after being on the opposite sides of an issue. It seems a little fake to me as I’ve never found making friends to be that easy.
At least in Genkaku Picasso, the friendships Hikari (Picasso) suddenly gets are a result of him having to fix their emotional problems without them knowing. The characters he helps then feel more interested in Picasso because of the emotional impact he’s had on them. (The premise of this story is that Hikari must dive into other peoples’ hearts to help them fix deeply-ingrained emotional wounds, or else he starts rotting and dies.) You know, like a good friend who gives you a shoulder to cry on and helps you work through your problems.
But it’s not really a mystery to me why I like Genkaku Picasso over other shounen manga I’ve read. In the back of volume three, Furuya begins to talk about how Genkaku Picasso came into existence, namely how an Jump SQ editor approached him about making a series for the magazine. For an alt-manga creator like Furuya, this seems a little odd, why would he place his next series in such a popular magazine? But the editor gave him free reign to create whatever he wanted without having to worry about selling books. (Within certain parameters, I’m sure, since Jump SQ is still a magazine for young, impressionable kids.) So Genkaku Picasso is a work of love, something that Furuya wanted to write. And I could feel that as I read the series.
It’s actually surprising how one forgets that a lot of manga are kept going by sales alone. One great example of this is Please Save My Earth, which I’m currently reading. It’s very engrossing and it doesn’t smack of “this series is only continuing to sell more books,” probably because Saki Hiwatari created a more complex story than she initially realized. She admits to having planned something much shorter initially in her author notes, but also reveals that she created the idea all on her own and that she got a lot of support from her editor to take the series in whatever direction it needed to go in. Not that the story isn’t weak in certain areas, but you can see where Hiwatari really shines and builds a concrete, believable world. I love reading Please Save My Earth and I feel a bit sad when I run out of volumes to read.
A very bad example of a series that has been extended too long is Fushigi Yugi, in which the main story ends in volume 13, but continues with an after-story for another five volumes. It feels very, very, very forced in comparison to the first 13 volumes and creator Yuu Watase even states that she was asked to continue the story because of its popularity. And, wow, you can really tell that Watase is pretty much done with these characters and their story. She clearly needed a break from the popularity of Fushigi Yugi. It’s really not surprising that Watase didn’t start Fushigi Yugi: Genbu Kaiden until a full nine years after she finished the first series. Even I don’t even want to read the rest of Fushigi Yugi that much. I’m just doing it to finally finish the series that got me started on manga and move on. Maybe nine years from now, I’ll want to take a peak at Genbu Kaiden…
So perhaps it’s really the desire to sell books and become the next big shounen manga that keeps me away from it. There’s too much use of a certain formula for success and not quite enough creativity to keep me from rolling my eyes whenever I read a standard shounen manga. Not that shoujo manga doesn’t do the same thing, but shoujo tends to get the ax much sooner if it’s no good. It’s why you see so many short stories in the back of shoujo manga.
Genkaku Picasso, on the other hand, has enough creativity to attack unconventional issues and goes so far as to mock the generic shounen formula it does take. Not to forget the manga’s shounen roots, the ending will probably make you cry a single, manly tear. I couldn’t think of a better shounen title to read right now. Grab it while it’s still widely available.
For more on Usamaru Furuya and his many works, you can check out the rest of the Manga Moveable Feast at Experiments in Manga.