By Usamaru Furuya. Released in Japan by Ohta Shuppan, serialized in the magazine Manga Erotics F. Released in North America by Vertical.
It really has to be said, this is not the sort of manga that I would have bought and read were I not a huge Furuya fan. It's based off of a play by the performance group Tokyo Grand Guignol, and certainly there are many images throughout the manga I would qualify as exactly that - gore so lovingly depicted that it almost transcends and becomes art. But of course it *is* a Furuya title, which means that I get even more out of it - fantastic drawings, and a plot that had more depth than I was expecting.
I'll be honest, I was thinking that the manga would start slow and build up to a horror-filled climax. Which is why I was particularly startled by the first chapter, which drops you into a very disturbing club meeting where the club has been discovered and the trespassers must be dealt with. It's matter of fact about its nudity and violence (just as it is later on with its sexual content), and shows you exactly what we're dealing with when it comes to the club's leader, the neo-fascist Zera.
This is not exactly a realistic setting. Murders, rapes and abductions are carried out and no one in the outside world seems to notice or care. Vertical noted it as being a modern-day Lord of the Flies, but in this case the outside world IS just a short walk away - it's just no one notices or cares. To girls from another school passing by, the kids are creepy, but that's about it. Even the deaths of the club members, one by one, are done an an over the top, histrionic way. This is probably why I found the most disturbing image in the manga to be one of the more realistic - the violation of Tamiya's sister, halfway through the book.
The boys themselves are all various degrees of creepy - some are more noble than others, and find their inner consciences, but let's remember that they all were involved with butchering a woman in the first chapter. That said, I liked the plotting and counter-plotting, here literally represented by a game of chess, as well as Zera's constant paranoia about who will end up betraying him - I was actually surprised at who the real villain actually was, mostly as Zera's paranoia was so overdone I assumed that he was incorrect and that no one was betraying him at all. And all that said, some of the boys, particularly Tamiya and Dentaku, have some fantastic scenes where they man up and realize that they have to stop Zera.
Throughout all this, I feel I should note, the boys have also built a giant robot that runs on lychee fruit. It sounds completely ridiculous, but if you take this world as being as unrealistic as it is, Lychee starts to fit right in. His own plotline with Kanon, a girl who looks as if she stepped off the page of Furuya's 4-koma manga Short Cuts, is absolutely fantastic, and helped me to finish the book. While watching the Light Club slowly have their numbers ebb away in grotesque fashion can be fun to read about, Lychee and Kanon's plot is quiet, sweet, and gives a balance that helps the other scenes have more impact when they do arrive.
I had read another review of this title, which noted that the ending was heavy handed and moralizing. I'm not sure I agree, and even if it was I'm pretty sure that was the point. Here, in the middle of a group of young boys who glory in killing, rape and mutilation, is their creation being taught that it is wrong. The club sends Lychee out to find a pretty girl for them to moon over, and he keeps getting it wrong until one of them inputs new data into him - it has Lychee think "I am human". From then on, Lychee's destiny is set. In the end, Lychee proves more human than the megalomaniac Zera, who even dies thinking about his own ridiculous standards of beauty. As for Lychee, he may have killed, but he knows that it is wrong and requests forgiveness.
Honestly, I could go on for a while. We barely get into the actual background of the boys, something that I believe Furuya is now doing in an online 'prequel' running in Japan. I'm actually glad it was such a short flashback here, as I think it would have distracted from the overall thrust of the story, which has a breathless pace. Make no mistake about it, this is a book filled with sadism, horrific violence and sexual situations, and depraved behavior. But it has a human heart in its Frankenstein-esque robot, and what I'll take from it is not the scenes of people being cut open and smashed to bits, but Kanon singing a hymn and playing the organ surrounded by their corpses, and then simply walking away. More manga as thought-provoking as this, please.