Column: Global Ghoul: Genkaku Picasso, Vol. 1

By Dale Carothers

Furuya, Usamaru, writing and art. Genkaku Picasso, Vol. 1. VIZ Media http://viz.com/ (November 2010). USD $9.99. ISBN-13: 978-1-4215-3675-0.

Genkaku Picasso is about a young man who wants to be left alone so he can draw.  The other kids in the classroom are nothing but annoyances. All Hikari Hamura really needs are his 2B pencil and his sketchbook. Hikari is the very picture of the teen tortured artist. Self-absorbed, brilliant, socially inept, and the subject of constant speculation by his classmates.

Everyone calls him “Picasso”, because he draws constantly and because he misspelled his own name on his uwabaki: the slippers Japanese students wear. Instead of writing “Hikari,” he mistakenly writes “Hikaso.” Because the characters for RI and SO are similar and easy to confuse, and because “Hikaso” rhymes with “Picasso”, the name sticks. It’s an odd little device to make the title of the book work, but it’s a character device, as well. It shows how clueless Hikari is, even in reference to himself.

Hikari hates being called “Picasso”, not because it gives the other kids a name to call him, but because, due to his geekish specificity, he would rather be compared to Leonardo da Vinci. This little convention comes up again a few pages later, when he doesn’t have the sense to be insulted when he’s compared to diminutive French artist Toulouse-Lautrec, because Hikari respects Toulouse-Lautrec.

Furuya draws Hikari in a subtly sinister manner. Hikari’s hair frames his face with thin, black locks reminiscent of thorns. His chin is pointed and his eyelashes are long, giving him more the look of the mean girl who tortures the protagonist, rather than the protagonist himself.

The rest of Furuya’s characters are rendered in a similarly sharp-but-simple style and, unlike many other manga artists, he’s got enough faces in his repertoire to make it easy to differentiate between the characters.

One day, after school, Hikari and Chiaki – his only friend, are sitting on the riverbank. He draws and she reads, while they discuss the artist’s imperative to see what lies in a person’s heart. Hikari dismisses the notion as foolishness, but Chiaki drives the point home by shoving her fingers into the breast pocket of Hikari’s school uniform and declaring that she’s just given him the “inside of my heart”. As the sun sets, they pack up and start heading home.

They never make it. A helicopter crashes into the riverbank, killing Chiaki, but leaving Hikari with only minor injuries. Days later, Hikari reaches into his breast pocket and pulls out a doll-sized Chiaki angel. She tells him that she saved him by praying to the gods, but that now he has to help people. Hikari refuses, but Chiaki shows him the rotting flesh on his arm and tells him that, if he doesn’t help people, he’ll continue to rot and eventually die.

This is a little bit of a twist on the standard story. Usually, the hero who cheats death is damned to a life of helping ghosts cross over, but Hikari has been tasked to help the living.

Hikari finds his first job when he sees a black aura around Sugiura. He pulls out his sketchbook, sketching frantically until he reveals the truth in Sugiura’s heart. Furuya leaves Hikari’s sketches un-inked, separating them from the rest of the book graphically and, once Hikari discovers that he can dive into the sketch worlds, separating the real world from the world inside.

Once inside the sketch world, Hikari and Chiaki interpret the images – in Sugiura’s case, a wall of money, a giant man clutching a bag and a ragged bird  – to see if they can repair Sugiura’s psychological damage.

Furuya has the most fun in Sketch World. He gives us a Daliesque world of horrors, decorated by our childhood disappointments and peopled by those we’ve lost, by those that we idolise, by those that we hate.

I won’t reveal each individual story. I’d rather that you discover that yourself. Instead, I’ll focus on Hikari’s personal journey, because it seems that it’s the point of the story.

By the end of the first arc, Hikari discovers the redemptive power of his art. Now it means something, but if he stops using it to help people, he’ll die. I think anyone involved in the arts can relate to this notion. We dream of success, but it comes hard, so we try to quit, but quitting equals death for that part of your life, the part that gave your life meaning. So, we keep going. Keep hoping.

At the beginning of the second arc, Furuya shows us how quickly we forget. How quickly we fall back into old habits. Hikari is self-absorbed again, drawing only for himself. It’s only when Chiaki shows him the newly-rotted flesh on his arm that he agrees to help others again. This is Furuya at his most clever. It gives him a chance to give Hikari some realistic depth. Hikari is only spurred out of his self-indulgent torpor by a direct threat to his own life. It makes him stupid, but it also makes him human. Hikari is like a character in a story because he learns a valuable lesson, but he’s real because he forgets.

But Hikari’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. The people that he’s helped gather around him. His connections to the world grow stronger. This confuses Hikari and he resists, but not too much because he’s beginning to sense the power of these connections. Maybe they will help him, as Chiaki suggests at the beginning of the story, to be able to see the unseen – the truth in people’s hearts and his destiny to become the great artist he strives to be.

The first time I read Genkaku Picasso, it felt thin and I dismissed it. But, after reading it again for this review, it took on more depth. I’d gone looking for plot and didn’t find it because I was looking at Genkaku Picasso in the wrong way. Its arcs don’t rely so much on events but on Hikari as a person.  Its trappings are horror, but a horror that lives inside us.

Rating 7 out of 10.