The proliferation of manga-related art shows I mentioned before didn’t just start this year. It’s been gradually gaining momentum, and I have made a point of going to see any that happen to be on while I am in Tokyo. Which is an increasing amount of time lately. In fact, I am somewhere above the ocean at the time this post reaches the interworlds. Or maybe I’ve landed by now? I can’t keep the time differences straight. At any rate, I’ll be enjoying Tokyo at my favourite time of year for the city: Oshogatsu! The New Year’s holidays when everyone goes back to their hometowns and the city is a ghost town for a few brief, glorious days (except the tourist areas like Asakusa. Don’t go there, friends. It will be even more crowded than usual). There’s something almost magical about Kannana-dori being empty of traffic in the middle of the day.
But pretty much everything is closed, so I doubt I will be seeing any manga exhibits in the first few days I am on the ground. So let’s talk about exhibits I saw last year in the cold of winter! My frequent partner in Tokyo adventures joined me on a quick jaunt to say hello to former TCAF guest Usamaru Furuya at his show at the Vanilla Gallery, where he was just working on his latest manga in the middle of the room. A nice way to combine being at the gallery for his fans with drawing some pages to meet his deadline, I guess. We chatted and caught up for a while, and then he was kind enough to sign the first volume of the aforementioned manga, Joshikosei ni Korosaretai.
And then I read it. And I was going to start talking about it here, because it’s an intriguing little book, if only for the title alone: “I want to be killed by a high school girl.” But then I learned that the second book would be the last, so I figured I’d wait and see how the whole thing hung together before getting into it. And this is a great example of how a promising first volume does not necessarily mean a satisfying story.
The basic premise is, as you could surmise by the title, that 34-year-old Haruto Higashiyama wants to be killed by a high school girl. He has wanted this since he was in grade eleven when he realized that whenever he looked at a cute girl his age, his only desire was for her to kill him. And yes, the desire was pretty sexual. But rather than doing what kinksters have done from time immemorial and find a workaround to get off on being fake-killed by a fake high-school girl, he plans his murder out. Makes sketches, tries to make it actually happen. Through a rather winding route, he becomes a high school teacher in order to finally implement the plan that he has come up with. He will have his student 16-year-old Maho Sasaki kill him.
Maho is a seemingly regular high school girl, but of course, we learn slowly that she has a past. A not-so-great past that has done Things to her. She’s sweet and kind-hearted, though, besties with Aoi, who is clearly on the autism spectrum. Also on the scene a fair bit is her childhood friend Yukio, who is clearly nuts about her. But like so many 16-year-old boys, he doesn’t know how to tell her, so he just hovers around her and does all the things that she does in the hopes that she’ll just know. She doesn’t. The past that has done Things has made her pretty oblivious to a lot of stuff. Including her teacher being a creeper. Although to be fair to Higashiyama, he doesn’t act like a creeper for the first half of the story; he just fantasizes about Maho killing him as he carefully lays the groundwork for his plan.
And it’s a meticulous plan, the entirety of which is not revealed until book two, along with a series of other reveals. This, though, is where it kind of all fell apart for me. Up to a certain point, I was gasping with admiration at the details, the forethought, the sheer nerve of this plan and Furuya’s telling of it. But a clever plan is a balancing act, and too many coincidences all lined up can turn it into hackneyed deus ex machina. By the middle of the second book, I was rolling my eyes so hard I thought they’d fall out of my head. Too many pieces just fell too neatly into place. And they’re weird pieces. Just one in a story would strain credulity, but this many? It is too much.
Furuya’s generally a too good of a storyteller to make such clumsy missteps, so I have to wonder if it was deliberate—like he just wanted to make an extremely over-the-top horror story—or if it was simply because the series was cancelled sooner than he had planned, so he was forced to cram a lot more than he had anticipated into a lot fewer pages. If he did intend it to be so over the top, the first book is too grounded in reality for the twist into high gear to really work. It’s still a fascinating story, delightful in its weirdness, shocking in its horrors, and playful with its twists. And Furuya’s art, frozen, yet full of motion, is as brilliant as ever. The scenes of Higashiyama fantasizing about his death at Maho’s hands are horribly beautiful.
And you have to tip your hat at Furuya for probably introducing a new fetish into this world: murder at the hands of a uniformed high school girl. (Although this being the world and the internet being the internet, that fetish has probably existed since the first time a teenaged girl put on a uniform and was seen by a man. Sigh.)