by Usamaru Furuya; translated by Bryn Weikman
published by Vertical; $16.95 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
I can’t honestly say I enjoyed Lychee Light Club, but morbid curiosity keep me reading the book. The manga is a grim morality tale that mixes gory violence, sex, and madness. Up front, let me say this book is not for the faint-hearted or those of sensitive stomach. There is disembowelment, the violation of a young girl, and other forms of graphic violence. If any of this sounds off-putting, then it’s best you not pick up the book.
This manga reads like a condemnation of personality cults, such as AUM or Jonestown. The Light Club originally started out as your standard children’s club. Over the years, Zera has transformed it into a cult based on his twisted devotion to the Roman emperor Elagabalus. The members are absolutely committed to Zera, willingly sacrificing life and limb to please him. Now, all of Zera’s plans are coming to fruition. He’s ready to usher in his vision of heaven on earth. His perverse reenactment of Christ’s Last Supper leaves no doubt that he thinks of himself as a new messiah.
As seems to happen so often with these cults, at the moment of their greatest achievement, things begin to fall apart. Tamiya, a founder and the original leader of the Light Club, begins to express doubts about what they’re doing. It appears that one-by-one the members are trying to sabotage Zera. He responds by ordering suspected members executed. Soon, it becomes a bloodbath.
While the deaths of the Light Club members are certainly sad, they are victims of their own choices and delusions. The real tragedy in the manga is reserved for the innocent victims affected by the Light Club. In the end, the only legacy left by the cult is destruction and defilement. Everything they sought to accomplish and all the visions of grandeur are shown to be meaningless. Their fanaticism is so evil that it corrupts anything or one it touches.
There is also condemnation of our modern obsession with youth and beauty. Zera and his followers are scared of reaching puberty; they see adulthood as ugly. This fear is one of the motivations that drives the Light Club members. While we may not be driven to the same extremes as Zera, is our culture any less obsessed than he is? Spend thirty minutes watching any TV channel, or pick up any magazine, and you’ll see our society is a cult of youth and beauty, too. Could the Light Club be the natural conclusion to our own idolatry?
I’d like to think the gore and sex serves a purpose other than to incite prurient desires. Flannery O’Connor said her stories were intentionally violent and offensive to shock readers out of their complacency. I wonder if Furuya hasn’t adopted the same storytelling philosophy. It just happens that we are more desensitized to violence, so he has to go to further extremes to shock us. It’s telling that a slap in face no longer grabs our attention; we have to get hit by a tractor-trailer before we even register any feelings.
Perhaps the main reason I continued to read the book was the stunning art. There is no doubt that Furuya is a master artist. Everything is drawn in meticulous detail with delicate line work usually reserved for book illustrations. His dark tones and almost pure black and white compositions give the manga a dark tone. The character designs with pale white skin and jet black features make the Light Club members feel sinister.
Lychee Light Club is a relentlessly dark book. I’m not convinced that the messages in the manga are worth the graphic material you’re exposed to. If you want to see Furuya’s impressive artwork, I recommend checking out Genkaku Picasso. If you’re a fan of splatter gore films like Saw and Hostel, you might enjoy Lychee Light Club. The rest of us would do well to read something else.