by Usamaru Furuya; adapted by John Werry
published by Viz; $9.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Hikari Hamura is a high school senior who was given the nickname Picasso because of his amazing drawing talent. He recently survived a horrible accident that killed his best and only friend, Chiaki Yamamoto. It turns out that Hikari was allowed to live because of Chiaki’s prayers on his behalf, but there’s a catch. If Hikari wants to continue living, he has to occasionally help his classmates, something he is loathe to do. If he refuses, then his body will begin to rot away. Chiaki has returned as a pocket-sized guardian angel to assist Hikari.
Genkaku Picasso is a feel-good series with a dark humor streak. Hikari is a borderline misanthrope who wants nothing more than to be left alone so he can focus on his drawings. He’s forced into helping people, and usually his reward is having his classmates think of him as a pervert. He finds playing the Good Samaritan more trouble than it’s worth.
Hikari has a unique method of helping people that isn’t doing him any favors. When Hikari sees someone he’s meant to help, they are surrounded by a dark aura, and an uncontrollable urge to draw overtakes him. He then produces a metaphorical picture of what’s in their heart. The problem comes in having to decipher the drawing so he can then correct the problem. That usually means following the person around and gathering information about them. You can see how people might get the wrong impression.
Furuya can only pull off this manga because of his own incredible artistic abilities. Hikari’s sketches of people’s hearts are gorgeous. You normally don’t see this level of abstract art in a manga. At least half of those sketches could have hung on museum walls.
Naturally, the rest of Genkaku Picasso is well drawn, too. Part of what gives this series its dark comedy feel is Furuya’s heavy use of black and dark grey. There isn’t a lot of white on the page. It gives the series a feel that perfectly reflects Hikari’s sour attitude. That dark, but not black, comedy tone is very hard to pull off outside of film, but Furuya is able to do it masterly here.
One word of warning. This is meant to be a light, feel-good read, which means that problems get solved very quickly in the series. Some might find the way that childhood traumas and broken relationships are healed in a few pages a bit off-putting. However, we are talking about a series where Hikaru can simply look at you and then create a sketch that portrays your innermost secrets. If you’re willing to buy into the one, you should have no problem accepting the other, too.
Genkaku Picasso is a perfect summer read. It’s only three volumes long and very episodic in nature. You can read a couple chapters, put it down, and then pick it up again a few days later without missing a beat. It has a nice blend of human drama and humor to keep you interested. Best of all, it has a very satisfying conclusion, so you can easily move on to the next summer book. (The publisher provided review copies.)