~by Usamaru Furuya
After a seven year drought, Genkaku Picasso became the first in a (very small) flood of new titles by Usamaru Furuya to be translated into English. The first volume of Genkaku Picasso was released in Japan in 2009; the entire series was originally serialized in the manga magazine Jump SQ between 2008 and 2010. The English edition of Genkaku Picasso started publication in 2010. Once again, it was Viz Media that brought Furuya's work to English-reading audiences, having previously published Short Cuts and excerpts from his debut manga, Palepoli. I've had Genkaku Picasso sitting on my shelf for quite some time, but it's only now for the Usamaru Furuya Manga Moveable Feast that I've finally gotten around to reading it. Furuya is well known for his work in underground and alternative manga, but Genkaku Picasso is one of his more mainstream series.
Hikari Hamura, nicknamed Picasso by his classmates (much to his frustration), would much prefer that everyone would just leave him alone to his drawing. However, after a strange accident leaves him with the even stranger ability to visualize the contents of another person's heart, Picasso must learn to use his artistic talents to help others or else he'll rot away. Drawing what he sees, he can dive into the artwork and their subconscious. The problem is that the visions aren't particularly straightforward. That and Picasso doesn't really feel like reaching out to others and is much more comfortable keeping to himself. It's not easy, and there tends to be quite a few misunderstandings, but Picasso doesn't seem to have much of a choice. He might not want to, but he has to get to know his classmates better even if he does find them and the prospect terribly annoying.
One of the things that impresses me the most about Furuya's work as whole is that he deliberately creates a particular aesthetic to fit an individual manga and story. In the case of Genkaku Picasso, Furuya primarily uses two different art styles. The first, representing reality, is a more mainstream, slightly stylized manga style which utilizes screentone and such. The other is based on the approach of pencil sketches and includes hand shading techniques and crosshatching. Used for Picasso's artwork and the characters' subconsciouses, it is also a reflection of Furuya's own fine arts background. I find it interesting that the more realistic style is used to capture the unreal in Genkaku Picasso while the comic style is used to show the ordinary. Granted, even Picasso's "ordinary" is slightly off-balance and surreal, which the artwork helps to show.
I wouldn't exactly say that I was disappointed with the first volume of Genkaku Picasso, but I didn't find it nearly as captivating or compelling as the other works of his that I have read. I really like the premise of the series, but after one volume I haven't been convinced by the manga itself, yet. I feel like it wants to be deep and profound, but the first volume somehow comes across as superficial, even when Picasso is delving into the supposed darkness of other people's hearts. The problems are resolved too quickly and easily. Still, there are plenty of elements in Genkaku Picasso that I enjoy. Although there hasn't been much real development yet, I do like the characters. Picasso and his classmates Sugiura and Akane make an amusing trio (quartet if you count Chiaki). Genkaku Picasso also has a quirky sense of humor that shows up frequently. Picasso's social awkwardness (mostly self-imposed) and bluntness is delightfully endearing. So while I may not have been overwhelmed by the first volume of Genkaku Picasso, it does intrigue me and I do want to continue on with the series.