Genkaku Picasso, Vol. 1-3
written by Usamaru Furuya
Hikaru Hamura, nicknamed “Picasso,” must draw or die. This introverted aspiring artist has only one friend, his pretty classmate Chiaki, and one terrible day a tragic twist of fate takes her away from him—or so he thinks. A tiny Chiaki sporting brand-new angel wings emerges from Picasso’s pocket and tells him that he too would have died had she not cut a deal that saved his life. There’s one small catch, though: If he doesn’t dedicate this new life to helping others, he will rot away and Death will claim him for good.
What’s a misanthrope to do? Fortunately, he has more than just Chiaki to assist him in discharging his new duty. Picasso has acquired the ability to draw the content of other people’s hearts and enter the resultant picture in order to help them fix their problems. Soon he finds himself getting to know his classmates intimately—whether he wants to or not! Some are angry with their parents, others are desperately in love, still others must find a way to let go. Over the course of three deliciously oversized volumes, it’s Picasso to the rescue for them all. And in the end, he might even find a way to save himself.
Usamaru Furuya has been a name to reckon with in the Japanese manga world for the better part of two decades. Debuting in 1994 in the alternative manga magazine Garo, this art-school graduate and one-time aspiring sculptor has had a distinguished career drawing smart, surreal manga. Genkaku Picasso, commissioned for publication in the monthly shounen magazine Jump Square, is his most mainstream and accessible work yet, and an excellent place for the discriminating comics reader to become infatuated with Furuya. The postmodern visual play is on offer as ever, but so are the classic Jump themes of sincerity, courage, and friendship.
In total, Picasso draws 11 pictures of people’s hearts, including in the final instance his own. All of the stories revolving around these images are powerful, but arguably the most memorable both appear about halfway through the series run in the second volume. In one story, a boy struggles in secret with gender identity, and Picasso is able to help this boy become a girl with the blessing of his classmates. In another, a girl hides in the fantasy world of her favorite giant robot anime in order to sublimate her own self-hatred. Picasso helps her—and the boy who would be her boyfriend—to connect with others in a healthy way.
It is no coincidence that Picasso bears such a striking resemblance to Furuya himself, and the manga artist readily admits that the character is partially autobiographical. The sensitivity with which he depicts Picasso’s professed desire to be left alone and even deeper need to win social acceptance with his peers is pitch-perfect—and it distinguishes Genkaku Picasso from some of Furuya’s other works. Sly surrealism only goes so far when there is no heart to back it up, and in this manga that is all about the human heart, there is heart aplenty. Highly recommended.