Jisatsu Circle: Usamaru Furuya

Ever since Usamaru Furuya was kind enough to join us at TCAF a couple years ago, I have been trying to read more of his work. He’s always been one of those manga artists that’s on the periphery for me. I like his work when I read it, but I don’t generally go out of my way to find it. And reading Erotics f, I’ve gotten to follow his Crusade of the Innocents, which is incredible in many ways and I look forward to talking about the books collecting the serialized chapters once I actually buy and read them. Suffice it to say, though, he is one of the more interesting manga artists working today (for me at least) and I’m interested in seeing where he’s coming from.

So when I saw Jisatsu Circle at the weird bookstore that has the weird collection of manga, I grabbed it and readied myself to dig further into the weird world of Furuya. I have to say that I actually feel weird myself talking about Furuya’s work at all. He’s one of those artists that gets a lot of art attention and coming from a non-art background, I have my doubts about my abilities to communicate just what makes his work so interesting. I mean, the thing that is totally characteristic of his work for me are the mouths. So many open mouths! With very nearly the same shape! Drawn almost identically! Seriously. There is a thing going on with mouths in Furuya’s work. It is almost hypnotic. 

What actually struck me about Jisatsu Circle (other than the previously mentioned open mouths) was how unset the style is. In Short Cuts, Furuya is very focussed on his tight lines, carefully thought-out panels, and of course, perfectly formed lips and open mouths. (Seriously, I cannot get past these mouths.) Here, though, despite the fact that the same consideration is clearly given to the drawing and the writing as in any of his other works, there’s a vagueness, a kind of ambiguity to both story and art that surprises me, coming from the normally incredibly decisive-seeming Furuya.

It’s almost like he lets his guard down at times, resulting in panels with looser lines, less control, that are immediately followed by the tight Furuya of later works like Innocents. It’s incongruous and disorienting at times, and I have to wonder if this is actually because I am reading a re-print of the book from 2008, instead of the original version from 2001. He actually has an afterword at the end, explaining how he did go back and touch up some of the art for this re-print, so maybe the feeling of dissonance comes from that.

Either way, it’s a great story and well worth reading, even if you’re not obsessively focussed on his open mouths. (Seriously!) Jumping off from the movie by the same title by Sion Sono, the book starts with a group of fifty-four girls jumping together to their deaths from a train platform as the train comes into the station. (And I just know that train line is the Chuo Line, even if that is not made explicit in the text. It’s basically the suicide line. I was late for work at least once a month, usually more, because someone decided to kill themselves. Interestingly enough, after a while, the horror at the announcement of a suicide is replaced by sheer annoyance at being late for work again.)

One of these high school girls survives and that’s who Jisastu Circle points its lens at, unlike the movie (which I haven’t seen), which apparently goes in a very different, more complicated direction. As Furuya himself notes in the original afterword, you can still watch the movie after having read the manga and have a totally different experience.

So Saya, the lone survivor of the train suicide group, has a kind of survivor’s guilt. Her best friend since forever, Kyoko, tries to pull her out of it, but Saya is in a lot of ways stuck. Her father falls ill when she’s in Grade Eight, and she ends up prostituting herself in part to support the family, becoming one of the compensated daters that were a matter of national handwringing when I first moved to Japan. With the help of a very creepy teacher, Kyoko learns about the suicide club that Saya survived and tries to keep another mass suicide led by Saya from happening. It’s very much about the friendship between the two girls and how they feel that they have failed or been failed by each other. No punches are pulled, so if you have any triggers anywhere for sex or violence to the ladies, you should probably not pick this one up.

It’s interesting to read one of Furuya’s early works, just to see where he’s been and compare it with where he is now. And as far as manga go, this is definitely an interesting and thought-provoking read. But not something I need to read again, and so off it goes to Book Off with the other manga that I will not be bringing back to Canada. Which is not a slam against any of the artists. I only have so much room in my suitcase. Things that have been read and not blown me completely away have to go to Book Off. Otherwise, they would not let me on the plane, I would have so many books.


  1. I watched Suicide Club years ago and until now can still remember the chills I felt during the first scene when the girls jumped together in front of the train. The blood looked fake and it was a bit over the top, but it was still terribly frightening to me.
    I didn’t know that the movie was based on Furuya’s work.
    The only book of his that I read was the first volume of 人間失格. I think he did a decent job in capturing the feeling of alienation and the downward spiral of the main character into self destruction. I was not very interested in purchasing the next volumes, though. Might check this one out, instead.

    Have a safe trip back home. How many suitcases filled with books are you bringing back this time?

    1. I’ve never seen the movie myself, but I can totally see how that scene would be terrible to watch. It was terrible to read in manga form. It’s not actually based on Furuya’s work, though. According to the afterword, the director approached Furuya about doing a manga version and Furuya decided to do something that has the same starting point (the girls jumping in front of the train), but goes somewhere very different. So they’re connected works, but not actually using the same story.

      If you’re going to check out something by Furuya, I’d really recommend his latest work, Crusade of the Innocents. It’s incredible in a lot of ways.

      And thanks! I am safely home now with my two suitcases and carry-on nearly full of books, plus a large package of books posted to myself because of a lack of luggage space. So many books! So much happiness!

  2. When I first heard that Furuya Usamaru started a manga serialized by Jump SQ, the magazine in which Claymore and D. Grayman run under, I went “What the fuck?” considering that this was the guy whose debut work in Garo had scat, bdsm, S&M, incest, gore, and… did it have necrophilia? Well the point is that it was unusual but I guess not too much so since he tread similar territory in Chronicles of the Clueless Age along with Otsuichi. And speaking of Chronicles of the Clueless Age, I always wondered just how much Furuya actually contributed to the storymaking process (since Otsuichi is more known for being the writer) but after reading all 3 volumes of Genkaku Picasso (quite hefty volumes, all 250~300 pages in length), it seems the answer is obvious as this series felt like a nice spiritual successor to Chronicles. I don’t mean that just because the theme and contents are similar (common teenhood concerns such as first love, social pressures, worries about personal future) but also because usage of creative surrealism is present in both works.

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