Reviewby Lissa Pattillo,
Hikari Hamura is a young man with big dreams for himself and his abilities as an artist, even at the jeers of his classmates. His only real friend and supporter is classmate Chiaki Yamamoto whose interest lies in the psychological. One of their daily visits to a nearby river ends in tragedy when an out of control helicopter kills them both, and yet Chiaki's final prayers were heard, and the two are granted a second chance at life. Hikari now needs to help those around him or else his body will rot and decay back to its state when he was killed. Chiaki on the other hand has been revived as a small angel-winged figure to help her friend on their new quest to unravel the greatest mysteries of all – the teenage mind. Now able to see dark auras of those in need of intervention, Hikari's drawings manifest the inner-self of his 'patients' and it's up to him and Chiaki to decipher them before they're too far-gone to be saved.
Those who've read Usamaru Furuya's other series may find Genkaku Picasso a strangely subdued work in comparison. Those new to his work will find this a perfect baby-step towards being prepared for the more disturbing subject matter of his other stories. Whichever role is yours, the artist's notorious penchant for the weird remains and here it blends with a shonen-styled layout and ingenious creative presentation, which offers up some fun results, even if it's mired in some frustratingly limited storytelling.
Usamaru Furuya wastes no time diving headlong into the story. A few short pages of establishing Hikari's place on the social ladder of high school are prelude to a literally explosive early-climax that kills Hikari's friend, Chiaki, and leaves him to mourn while being a miracle survivor of the accident – so to speak. Turns out Chiaki was merely hiding in Hikari's pocket for the right moment and she explains the prayers she spoke in her final moments that allowed Hikari his second chance at life. Now the boy's drawing up an assortment of strange and confusing pieces of artwork that offer glimpses into the minds of those around them.
Our 'Picasso' here, Hikari Hamura, is an oddly lovable main character – snarky, opinionated and rather egotistical, Hikari is entertaining in nearly every panel, whether he's flipping out over another strange drawing or his subsequent decisions in how to handle them. It's great that while fairly introverted, he's still forward with his interactions with others, even if it makes him look as crazy as people think he is. While his theories about others' inner workings don't always hit the nail on the head, his inevitable realization of what's truly going on in their minds is astute while still being grounded in common sense. All the while his reasoning for helping others remains tied to his survival instinct so it doesn't feel like a believably self-interested individual is suddenly overwhelmed by a selfless need to help others.
Hikari's skepticism contrasts well with the enthusiasm of Chiaki, his once only-friend now fairy-sized sidekick. She's a great compliment to him and the pair's differing reactions to the situations they find themselves in are amusing, plus ultimately aiding in the result. Her interest in psychology likely played a role in the power Hikari was granted as well. Interestingly the story never stops to dwell or flounder on her death which she accepts without complaint. Chiaki's cheery conviction towards everything is a little odd considering the two were just blown up, even amidst all the other weirdness this series offers up.
What Usamaru takes no shortcuts with however is the art within art . Each of Hikari's drawings is presented in a detailed, pencil-sketch style that well represents what would be on his sketchbook pages after the bouts of artistic-visions. Even when Hikari and Chiaki enter into the dream-states, the locales are still rendered in the same style including the characters themselves now traversing the often bizarre landscapes. It creates a great contrast between the 'mind world' and the real world which makes it not only easy to differentiate the occurrences but also compliments the artistic-focus of the story. Seeing Hikari cry out for his 2B pencil is a nice touch too.
As for the rest of the art, the designs of the lead males do suffer from an extreme case of androgyn-itis which in these instances go past having simply effeminate qualities and into the realm of being easily mistaken for girls. Inconsistencies in the anatomy also creates repeated instances of tiny-hands, big-head syndrome as well. It's all pittance in the grand scheme of things however, Usamaru's artwork teeming with eccentric characters and unique imagery that's overflowing with creativity. Extra fun is had with the art on the chapter covers which combines photographs and art to Hikari's inconvenience. Viz Media's design work on the book's outside covers is also really well done, showing an attention to detail that compliments the atmosphere of the story itself and the original presentation.
There's an episodic handling to the story's themselves that works well to frame each chapter while simultaneously strangling them. The volume suffers from much of the same predictability that other similarly constructed series have. You can count on Hikari and Chiaki's entry into a drawing with the same full-page spread as much as you can count on a magical girl transformation sequence mid-through an episode, and then of course followed by the subsequent 'win'. At least the story offers up lots of potential for future stories simply working through students of the school alone. Where better to explore the inner workings of confused and unbalanced individuals? Overlapping factors carry on chapter to chapter which builds up a repertoire of characters so it's not just Hikari and Chiaki meeting new characters doomed to short-term obscurity.
In his first foray into the role of a psychologist-Picasso, Hikari meets with the first of his new to-be friends, Suigaru. Deep-rooted Father issues paint a landscape of loneliness and greed that Hikari needs to decipher to stop Suigaru from hurting others or himself. Eventually Suigaru becomes a helper of sorts to Hikari in future escapades. A fellow student and model named Akane also latches onto Hikari as an admirer and subconscious devotee after Hikari aids her as well. Other excursions following include an S&M bondage tree and Goth-rocker mimicry gone too far with characters who seem aware enough of Hikari's involvement to prove potentially relevant later on. Every story is delivered with a healthy dose of theorizing, a sharp sense of humor and a dash of suspense. Interpretations of the analytic artwork can sometimes feel like a bit of a stretch, such as the purpose of a bunny with chunks missing out of it, but it simply proves that this art like any other is always subjective to its viewer.
Genkaku Picasso at its best is a creative, sharp-witted expose of the human mind, however obscure, and it's played out with finesse through a teenage boy given a second chance to make use of his artistic talents. The concept unique and its vessel amusing, volume one may be too formulaic for its own good but still serves up a no less attention-grabbing assortment of anomalies and gags within its paneled walls.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ A unique plot-concept with an endearingly snippy lead character and very strong artistic presentation; approaches teenage angst in a way that actually manages to feel refreshing
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