~by Usamaru Furuya
Short Cuts was Usamaru Furuya's first manga to be published by a major magazine, Young Sunday, having previously debuted with his groundbreaking work Palepoli in the underground manga monthly Garo in 1994. Short Cuts also has the honor of being the first of Furuya's works to be made available in English in its entirety as only excerpts of Palepoli have been translated in Japan Edge and Secret Comics Japan. Viz Media published the first volume of Short Cuts in 2002 under the now defunct Pulp imprint. The manga was originally released in Japan in 1998. In addition to the manga, Viz's edition of the first volume of Short Cuts also includes an excellent interview of Furuya conducted in 2000 by one of the editor's he worked with at Garo, Chikao Shiratori, titled "An Interview with Super-Conscious Manga Artist Usamaru Furuya."
Short Cuts is a series of short manga, each only a page or two long, called "cuts." For the most part the cuts are unrelated, although there are a few recurring characters and scenarios as well as running jokes. Occasionally a set of cuts join to form a brief story, but these are generally the exception to the rule. Typically even the related cuts each have their own punchline and can be taken separately. The most common, but certainly not the only, subjects focused on in Short Cuts are kogals, defined at the beginning of the manga as Japanese high-school girls with attitude, and those who obsess and lust over them. Kogal is a fashion statement and a subculture that was prominent in Japan in the 1990s. The phenomenon reached the height of its popularity around the same time that Furuya was creating Short Cuts.
Even though Short Cuts is more commercial than Furuya's previous work, his alternative manga sensibilities are still readily apparent. Absurdity abounds. Short Cuts has a lighter feel to it overall than what I have read of Palepoli, but the humor is still fairly dark. Every once in a while it can come across as a little cruel as Furuya makes heavy use of stereotypes in the manga. However, while he may make fun of kogals, he also makes fun of those who fetishize them, and even pokes fun at himself and other mangaka and media personalities. Quite often, the various groups in Short Cuts get to make digs at each other, too, so I think it all works out. Another aspect of Short Cuts that reflects its alternative origins is Furuya's artwork, which is constantly changing to suit the gags. Furuya displays an impressive range of art styles, sometimes using several within a single cut. His kogals, however, are always quite lovely.
I am glad that I waited until the Usamaru Furuya Manga Moveable Feast to finally get around to reading Short Cuts; I benefited from having read a lot of manga and don't think I would have been able to appreciate Short Cuts as much without that experience. The reason for this is that Furuya doesn't limit himself to kogals, he also parodies and references other manga and Japanese pop culture. Much, but not all, of the humor is culturally dependent, and so at least a basic understanding of Japanese society is useful. There are plenty of translation notes to help the reader along, though. Personally, I found Short Cuts to be consistently funny and frequently hilarious. It can be vulgar and crass at times, but it can also be quite clever and smart. It's not just that Short Cuts is terribly amusing, Furuya is also making legitimate social commentary through satire and black humor.