I was telling a friend over the weekend how Vertical’s publishing efforts have reached the point where Dark Horse’s manga used to be for me. In short, they’ve produced such consistently interesting and entertaining works that I’m willing to pick up something from them by an author or a title that I might not be immediately familiar with just based on the fact that they’re publishing it. (To be fair, Dark Horse doesn’t publish much new stuff these days, but that’s the facts.) This goodwill is what led me to “Lychee Light Club” by Usamaru Furuya. Furuya has something of a small cult following over here after his series “Short Cuts” was published in Viz’s late, great anthology magazine “Pulp.” Some people swear by his twisted, surreal, schoolgirl-centric style, while I looked at “Short Cuts” and thought, “It’s not bad, but it’s no ‘Heartbroken Angels’ either.*” Still, this latest collection of his work is an enjoyably surreal phantasmagoria of adolescent fears and anxieties -- as long as you’re not easily offended and have a strong stomach.
The titular “Light Club” is a gathering of nine middle-school students who have created their own society in a run-down industrial site outside of town. When they’re not violently and/or lethally punishing interlopers for intruding on their ground, they’re building a robot to do their bidding. Once it’s finished, this lychee-fruit powered automaton’s first order is: bring them a girl!
In displaying the violence and decadence of the club’s ambitions, Furuya seems to be asking at what point do we give up the things we cling to as youths. Yes, building a giant robot to obey your every command, solving every problem through violence, and even how you relate to your friends may seem cool and fun at one point, but that won’t last. Eventually you need to realize that things won’t stay the same and that you need to change or risk losing your self, your mind and everything else.
There’s plenty of other food for thought in this volume, and it’s rendered in spectacular detail by Furuya. He’s an artist who will draw every last line if the scene calls for it, especially when it involves some of the most face-ripping, chest-bursting, and head-splodingest action this side of a Garth Ennis comic. Remember what I said about needing a strong stomach for this collection? Well, the last two chapters are pure Grand Guignol spectacle and while I admire the creativity and detail to the violence here -- your mileage may vary. While the “easily offended” tag also applies here, there are certain explicit scenes of homosexuality between some of the boys and while it makes sense within the context of the story and feeds into its themese, I realize that it’s just not going to fly with some people. (After all is said and done in the end, I figure the whole cast got better... and then went on to be good Republicans.)
There’s also the sustained feeling of unreality this series generates. After the killing in the first chapter, and the unveiling of their robot, the book ceased to exist in the real world for me. Fortunately Furuya does a very good job of detailing the personalities of the boys and depicting the growth of the robot they create, there’s still stuff to hold on to as the story itself grows increasingly more violent and surreal. So it’s REALLY not a book for everyone. I enjoyed it, but I’ve always liked twisted stuff like this. It’s not out just to shock you, but to make you think as well and that’s what makes it worthwhile. So kudos to Vertical for bringing it out here and for their notes on the German in this collection, and Furuya’s relationship to the play this was based on (no, learning that fact really didn’t surprise me in the end).
*“Heartbroken Angels” was a very funny series of 4-panel comics that showed the right way to do sex jokes and served as an inspiration for the creator of the webcomic “Sexy Losers.” “Short Cuts” had a similar multi-panel style, thus my comparison.