[Manga] Usamaru Furuya (I): The early works

Whenever I think of Usamaru Furuya [古屋兎丸] (1968 – present), I cannot help but also think of Yoshihiro Togashi [冨樫義博] (1966 – present) as though they were two peas on the same pod. When I look at their photos, I even seem to spot a certain quality of kindred spirits between the two of them. Although they are different in artistic styles and work in different genres, they both share a deeply cynical, homophobic view of human nature and they are both, in my mind, what the Japanese call kisai [鬼才], or demonic genius.

The two men were born only two years apart, but they have followed very different trajectories as manga artists. Fame came to Yoshihiro Togashi early at the age of 24 with the launch of Yu Yu Hakusho [幽☆遊☆白書] (1990); he produced his best work Level E [レベルE] (1995) between the age of 29 and 31, before slipping into mediocrity in Hunter X Hunter (1998 -) and finally to artistic inactivity since 2012.

'Ratai no Kigen' [裸体の起源] from 'Garden' (2000) - a fantasy story inspired by Hieronymus Bosch; it depicts how in a garden where mankind are born naked and go about naked, a new human being is born wearing clothes.

‘Ratai no Kigen’ [裸体の起源] from ‘Garden’ (2000) – a fantasy story inspired by Hieronymus Bosch; it depicts how in a garden where mankind are born naked and go about naked, a new human being is born wearing clothes.

The First Phase of Usamaru Furuya’s Manga Career

By contrast, Usamaru Furuya was already 29 years old when he first debuted as a manga artist in 1994. Before that, he taught art studies at high school. He is one of few manga artists like Akiko Higashimura [東村アキコ] who actually majored in oil painting at art college.

In my opinion, anything before 2005 may be thought of as the first phase of his manga career. In this decade-long phase, works of various degrees of artistic merit appeared, among them Marie no Naderu Ongaku [Marieの奏でる音楽] (2001), Pai [π(パイ)] (2002-2005) and Short Cut [ショートカッツ] (2003). This was a soul-searching phase and the extent of his growing pains as an artist was evident in his works.

'Tsuki no Sho' [月の書] from 'Garden' (2000) - on an island isolated from the world, a master alchemist and his apprentice perform the Great Work whereby they feed young women into a strange apparatus called the Philosopher's Egg in order to produce the Philosopher's Stone.

‘Tsuki no Sho’ [月の書] from ‘Garden’ (2000) – on an island isolated from the world, a master alchemist and his apprentice perform the Great Work whereby they feed young women into a strange apparatus called the Philosopher’s Egg in order to produce the Philosopher’s Stone.

There are two short stories from this phase that I would especially like to highlight, and they both come from a volume of fantasy stories called Garden (2000). The first is called Ratai no Kigen [裸体の起源] and it is very much inspired by the artistic style of Hieronymus Bosch. The story depicts how in a garden where mankind are born naked and go about naked,  a new human being is born wearing clothes. The second is called Tsuki no Sho [月の書], where on an island isolated from the world, a master alchemist and his apprentice perform the Great Work whereby they feed young women into a strange apparatus called the Philosopher’s Egg in order to produce the Philosopher’s Stone. Both of these stories are enigmatic, dream-like and thought-provoking.

Usamaru Furuya in His Second Phase and the Kingdom of Children

Lychee Light Club [ライチ☆光クラブ] (2005)

Lychee Light Club [ライチ☆光クラブ] (2005)

The second phase began when he made a breakthrough to embrace a unique, radical kind of decadent aesthetics with the launch of Lychee Light Club [ライチ☆光クラブ] (2005). This horror story takes place in a nightmarish setting that is at once nostalgic (the characters are dressed in old-fashioned school uniforms reminiscent of pre-war Japan) and futuristic. In the story, a group of eccentric and depraved pubescent boys form a secret society where they worship ideals of eternal beauty with abnormal zealotry, and are obsessed with the idea of eradicating the adult world and ugliness in general. To them, it is a sin punishable by death to grow old, or to be born ugly for that matter. They devote themselves into making a robot that can live forever, and try to educate it to understand what is beautiful. Eventually, these boys come to a gruesome and bitter end.

Innocence Shounen Juujigun [インノサン少年十字軍] (2008 - 2012)

Innocence Shounen Juujigun [インノサン少年十字軍] (2008 – 2012)

Another critical work from this phase is Innocence Shounen Juujigun [インノサン少年十字軍] (2008 – 2012). This, too, is a horror story. Set in medieval Europe, the devout and pure-hearted 12-year-old shepherd boy Étienne saw a vision of the crucified Christ and heard a heavenly command to travel to Jerusalem. He also obtained a magical trumpet in this vision, with which he began to perform miracles like defeating bandits with superhuman powers and healing the sick. He inspired a group of young boys to go on the Children’s Crusade with him. On the way to Jerusalem, Étienne was hailed in each town they passed by as the new Messiah, but he and his young companions eventually found themselves embroiled in betrayals by adults, sexual scandals, personal tragedies and more…

RELATED POST:

[Manga] Usamaru Furuya (II): His Third Phase and ‘Teiichi no Kuni’

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2 thoughts on “[Manga] Usamaru Furuya (I): The early works

  1. I’m a bit surprised you are talking about mediocrity when it comes to Togashi’s latest work- I’m not acquainted with the manga but have you watched Hunter x Hunter 2011? Togashi might have fallen in multiple hiatuses due to his back condition but HxH is the pinnacle of his storytelling and character developing craft. I started watching Yu Yu Hakusho only to drop it after a season and a half because it was including all the annoying cliche of shounen and on top of it his lgbt characters weren’t treated very kindly. None of these problems are to be seen in HxH.

    I’m looking forward to the continuation of Usamaru’s presentation though. Just the summaries are immensely interesting and I think the stories are of the kind my blogging partner loves.

  2. @ Ayame

    Yes, I know a lot of people disagree with me about Hunter x Hunter. But when I compare it to Level E, there is a clear decline in terms of ingenuity of ideas and plot. I agree that the first half of Yu Yu Hakusho is mostly shounen cliche in spite of its popularity – the second half is more interesting, but still some distance from his best work Level E.

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