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Review: Genkaku Picasso

Hikari only has one friend–Chiaki. Otherwise his classmates only stop ignoring him long enough to give him the nickname Picasso–because he draws constantly–before going back to forgetting about him. But when Hikari and Chiaki are in a horrific accident, Chiaki’s dying wish is for Hikari to live. And he does, but that life comes with a price: he must use his drawing ability to help his classmates or he will rot and die permanently. Luckily Chiaki came back as an angel-like being to help him out!

Genkaku Picasso, vol. 1-3
Usamaru Furuya
Age Rating: OT/Older Teen/16+
VIZ Media
Vol. 1: November 2010, ISBN 978-1-4215-3675-0, 256 pages, $9.99
Vol. 2: February 2011, ISBN 978-1-4215-3754-2, 296 pages, $9.99
Vol. 3: May 2011, ISBN 978-1-4215-3920-1, 320 pages, $9.99

As you can tell from the plot summary, Genkaku Picasso is a series that needs to have strong art. Luckily Furuya is more than capable of producing that. His amazing eye for detail means that the pictures Hikari draws are magnificent works of abstract art. Some of the best images in all three books are the ones that Hikari plucks from his classmates’ minds and then puts down on paper. They are look like they were done in pencil, rough edges and all, without the cleanliness of pen and ink. That is a nice touch which helps distinguish them from the main body of art. When Furuya draws Hikari’s real world–rather than the fantastical ones he sees–the art is more manga standard, though even there Furuya doesn’t make things too cartoonish. His sight gags, especially when Picasso is nervous or flustered (which he often is), are funny and contrast nicely with the precision of the art in Hikari’s sketchbook.

In the beginning of book three Furuya says, “The kids that appear in Picasso are my alter egos. I passed through adolescence with similar worries, so I feel like drawing this story was therapeutic for me.” Furuya clearly knows how teens think and what kinds of things trouble them. He keeps things from being too serious in the beginning by starting with lighter concerns and then working up to more problematic ones. That’s not to belittle any of the characters’ struggles, though. They are all dealing with real problems faced by real teens, whether smaller–disagreements with parents, extreme shyness, desire for a boyfriend or girlfriend–or larger–gender identity disorder, trama from childhood, etc. Despite the fantasy elements of the story, these problems are handled sensitively and realistically, and Furuya is even able to add touches of humor which make his characters more than just stereotypes.

The series is only three volumes long, but they are thick volumes and the longer page count gives Furuya plenty of time to build his characters into three-dimensional people. I was especially pleased (and somewhat amazed, frankly) to find that Genkaku Picasso featured a realistically portrayed transgender character. Yosuke/Jeanne’s issue is handled with frankness and kindness and if the resolution of her chapter is rather optimistic, that can be forgiven. As for Hikari, he can be a troublesome main character–grumpy, reluctant to deal with other people, a bit of a pervert–but as the characters around him open up, they learn to accept him for who he is. Furuya wraps Genkaku Picasso up by looking at what problems are troubling Hikari, giving readers a satisfying ending for the series.

There are some major problems mentioned within the book–such as animal neglect and a father who uses his daughter as a model for a book of fetish photographs (she remains fully clothed, so it doesn’t quite reach the level of pornography)–which aren’t solved or even focused on beyond their relation to the other issues the characters are working through. In those cases, it is as if the teens themselves can’t see the larger problems because they are blinded by the small struggles they are facing. It’s a realistic touch which teen readers will probably even if some adult readers might be taken aback. The series earns its 16+ rating through some very mild nudity (mostly in an artistic sense) and slight touches of language and violence and some all-too-teen discussion (or rather desire for) of sex. But there is nothing that should keep this series from being added to teen collections in public libraries and high schools.

This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © VIZ Media LLC.

Snow Wildsmith About Snow Wildsmith

Snow Wildsmith is a writer and former teen librarian. She has served on several committees for the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She reviews graphic novels for Booklist, ICv2's Guide, No Flying No Tights, and Good Comics for Kids and also writes booktalks and creates recommended reading lists for Ebsco's NoveList database. Currently she is working on her first books, a nonfiction series for teens.

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