Story: Usamaru Furuya
Art: Usamaru Furuya
Translation/Adaptation: Bryn Weikman
What They Say
For the sooty industrial town’s lads there’s only one point of light: the Light Club, a secret brotherhood they’ve organized in an abandoned factory. They’re on the verge of booting up their crowning achievement, a “thinking machine” fueled by lychee fruits.
At the same time, the middle schoolers’ cooties-fearing solidarity is devolving into a downright National Socialist muck of murderous paranoia, perverse aestheticism, and (not always) suppressed homosexuality. Cult favorite Usamaru Furuya’s most flawlessly realized work to date, here is Lord of the Flies for our new century–a text, however, that will never be assigned in schools.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
The short of the matter is that Vertical Inc. has done it again and released a manga that is a must read! Keeping with their trend of unique, different, and amazing manga; their release of Usamaru Furuya’s Lychee Light Club is top notch.
The front and back cover of the manga is instantly catchy. It’s one of those covers that really make you stop and take a closer look. They are instantly intriguing and beautiful to look at; two adjectives that describe the contents perfectly. The text and translation are also signs of a truly professional company. While reading, I didn’t notice any typos or awkwardness in the flow of text. One interesting aspect of the manga that Vertical kept in tact, is the German text littered throughout the book. According to the disclaimer in the back of the book, the German speech carries over from the Japanese version including the ‘alienating effect’ which was quite effective. By alienating effect, it means that there is no translation of what the German text means (for those of us who don’t speak German) and we, the reader, are only left with the ominous feeling the text delivers. I don’t know how most people interpret German speech but, when the artwork is dark and Gothic, obvious evil deeds are afoot, and there is a cult mentality presented; I can’t help but read the German and hear the voices of Hitler and all those horrific Nazi generals from old WWII Holocaust videos they used to make us watch in high school. An amazing effect that presents the appropriate mood and a wise decision not to provide translations (although translations are available on Vertical’s website).
The story of Lychee Light Club is about a group of 13 – 14 year old boys who operate within the Light Club under the dictatorship of Zera. The boys have constructed a robot, named Lychee after it’s energy source Lychee Fruits (the symbol of eternal beauty), whose purpose is to kidnap a beautiful young woman. After many failed attempts, Lychee is programmed with a simple concept, “I am Human” and successfully kidnaps Kanon of whom Zera vows to worship and treasure. The main bulk of the story, and arguably the most important part, revolves around Lychee and Kanon. As this is the foundation of the story, it becomes equal parts Frankenstein, Beauty and the Beast, and Pinocchio to fascinating effect. The remainder of the story involves Zera’s true motives and the interaction of the other boys with plots of betrayal as the backbone.
This book is tragic in the most traditional sense. While reading it, I got a very strong Shakespearean vibe in that the events within happen very quickly (lest we forget that Romeo & Juliet only occurred over the span of a couple days) and in an extreme fashion. The use of extremes and a quick pace are what elevates the story to masterful proportions. It is immediately engrossing and fascinating while the reader is simultaneously repulsed and offset.
The artwork here amplifies the plot tenfold. The artwork has a very Gothic feel to it, a mix of “The Cure goth” and traditional goth, that is quite realistic in it’s depictions. The first chapter of the book represents all the spectrums the art has to offer before the story begins to unfold. Backgrounds seemingly traced from a photograph, the human form treated with respect and not made to the usual deformed standards, and horrific gore that really jumps out at the reader without seeming too over the top.
That’s the question though, isn’t it? Is Lychee Light Club over the top? Yes, a thousand times yes. But it never becomes exploitative or ridiculous, it maintains a feeling of realism and I found it very easy to suspend disbelief at the most over the top scenes. Lychee Light Club is based off of a play performed by the Tokyo Grand Guignol and the manga maintains that theatrical feel to it. I could read this book over and over again and feel transported to a theater as I watch this tragedy unfold. That isn’t to say there aren’t a few things other reader might have a hard time with. One aspect is the extreme homosexuality littered throughout the book. There are a few scenes that are quite graphic and maybe more than the average reader may want to see, but it is never for not! The homosexuality in the book serves a purpose and while it may be crude and vulgar it is never pointless and without thought. That being said, therein lies the other issues with the story that some might not get past. While the fact that the boys in this book are all 13 – 14 years of age makes the events within that much more shocking and poignant, it also presents the basic biological question found in the sexuality…they’re 13 and 14 years old! It would’ve served the story better is they were 15 or 16 as believability would have been increased. The only other issue readers might find is the level of horrific violence. No details are spared as people are mutilated, gutted, and burned. Those with a weak constitution will probably be reviled but Furuya again demonstrates that he isn’t some sort of hack and that he knows what he is doing. The violence is integral in placing the gravity of the events of the story deep within the reader’s consciousness. It isn’t for simple shock, it isn’t just to gross you out, it really makes things that more real, that more tragic, and that more heartfelt as certain plot points evolve.
Overall the book is fantastic! The story is thoroughly engrossing, shocking, tragic, and theatrical is the greatest sense; the artwork is beautiful and the work of a true artist; but the core of the story remains powerful and meaningful…the true testament to it’s greatness.
Lychee Light Club really is the first great manga of 2011. Depending upon how discerning a reader you are the few points I made earlier may inhibit your enjoyment but never lessens the quality of the book. After reading Furuya’s other work released this year, Genkaku Picasso, there is no doubt in my mind that he is a truly great talent who all serious manga fans should be watching out for. But the complete contrast between Picasso and Lychee lies in the respective series’ target audience. If the heights of this book are what happens when Furuya aims at an adult audience and completely forgoes any cross over ability….count me first in line when Vertical releases No Longer Human this Fall! The best line I can think to summarize this book is spoken by Zera during the final act as all chaos has been let lose and the world begin to crash all around, “What a Grand Guignol!”
Age Rating: 18+
Released By: Vertical Inc.
Release Date: 4/26/2011