By Usamaru Furuya. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Jump Square. Released in North America by Viz.
I've long been a fan of Furuya's other series that Viz released here long ago, Short Cuts. This was a 4-koma gag series about ko-gals that was released back in the late 1990s in Shogakukan's seinen magazine Young Sunday. Its weird, disturbing, and vibrant sense of humor greatly appealed to me, and you could see the talent of the artist just oozing off the page. Unfortunately, it's been harder to find him since then. 51 Ways To Save Her was licensed by CMX, but they folded before it could come out. Likewise, his adaptation of No Longer Human is also proving difficult to license. And Palepoli, his breakout series, was only partially translated in the Secret Comics Japan book.
So I'm very happy to see Genkaku Picasso out over here. It's one of his more sedate works, but even normal Furuya is still really disturbing and weird. It ran in Shueisha's Jump Square, which is their rebranded Monthly Shonen Jump, offering places for both Jump titles that wanted a more visible place (Rosario to Vampire, D.Gray-Man) and series like this, oddballs that aren't really appropriate for Shonen Jump itself. Genkaku, by the way, means hallucination, which fits very well with the story of a sullen and introverted Japanese boy who has to use his artistic abilities to help people.
The cover shows Picasso biting his thumbnail, something that's almost become a shorthand for the repressed and bullied Japanese male teen. I've seen similar in GTO and other shonen series, and honestly in another shonen series he'd probably be the problem to be solved, with our heroes trying to stop him from whatever foul plot he has to get noticed/get revenge/etc. But no, this kid is the star, and it's his job to help people overcome their demons and deepest fears, with the help of his magical sketchbook and his deceased friend Chiaki, who has returned as a mini-Angel who lives in his pocket.
I say 'magical sketchbook', but this is not a case of 'I am giving you these awesome tools', and indeed there's a possibility that all of the supernatural elements in this are not real. I doubt that's the case, but no one but Picasso can see Chiaki, and when he 'falls into' his sketchbook he merely passes out in the real world. It's a plausible deniability that helps to raise tension while keeping things in the real world. (We see Chiaki put something in Picasso's pocket just before the accident that kills her, and she notes it's 'the inside of her heart'. If it was some sort of love letter or confession, all of this could be a hallucinatory rationalization on Picasso's part.)
Furuya's art has a certain style that's not very much like anyone else. In Short Cuts, he would occasionally use a page or two to draw incredibly bizarre, surreal landscapes. That carries over here, as the sketches of people's hearts that Picasso draws are very surreal, to put it kindly. Many of them are meant to be disturbing, and it's always a treat seeing the main characters interact with this weird art.
On the downside, Picasso himself can be a very uninspiring hero. He's a repressed, introverted Japanese boy, almost the exact opposite of your typical Jump hero, and though this experience is clearly designed to draw him out and help him win friends, his constant whining can grate on you. Likewise, many of the situations he's trying to solve fall into the Psych 101 category (Chiaki is even seen reading psychology books at the start, as if this wasn't obvious enough), and since each trauma has to be resolved in about 50 pages, the solutions can seem very pat. Oh yes, and Akane's affection (and reason for it) is very creepy, but it's FURUYA. Creepy is what he DOES.
Nevertheless I will definitely be getting more of this. Any manga that can have me theorizing about the reality or fantasy of it, and trying to work out its mechanics, has won me over. And there's always a chance of more gloriously broken art in the future. And at only 3 volumes, this is easily something to collect to show off that not all Jump series are about ninjas and pirates. Recommended.