Tuesday, June 27, 2006


I've recently read two manga by Usamaru Furuya, whose collection Garden I reviewed here. One, Plastic Girl, is one of the excellent manga I mentioned a few days ago, and I still intend to write about it eventually. Right now, though, I want to write about the other one, which I just finished, while the impression is still fresh in my mind. This is Suicide Club.

Suicide Club (Jissatsu Saakuru) is ostensibly an adaptation of the strange and enigmatic film of the same name, but it diverges from the film so much that it should be considered an independent work. After a brief prologue, it begins the same way as the film does: over fifty high school girls enter a subway station together and, smiling and holding hands, leap in front of a speeding train to their deaths (though the over-the-top (literally!) gore of the scene in the film is considerably toned down in the manga). But from that point on the manga discards virtually all the characters and events of the film, substituting a completely new story centered around Sayo, who took part in the mass suicide but somehow survived uninjured, and her friend Kyouko, neither of whom exist in the film. (I may not have these names right; the manga uses no furigana, even for characters' names.)

Furuya also utterly changes the meaning of the film (in so far as this can be determined). One of the things making the film both creepy and enigmatic is that the suicides are apparently motiveless: there's no indication that the victims were particularly unhappy. In the manga this isn't true. All the victims are unhappy; several injure themselves, as does the sole survivor, who is also a part-time prostitute. At first it seems as if Furuya is treating the problem of suicide from a sociological perspective. But later Furuya introduces non-realistic elements reminiscent of so-called "J-horror" (e.g. The Ring, One Missed Call).

We also learn more about the relationship between Sayo and Kyouko as the book proceeds. They had been close friends as children, but the coming of adolescence damaged their relationship: at a time when Sayo was particularly troubled, Kyouko was preoccupied with her first love affair, and this betrayal -- as both girls come to see it -- begins the chain of events leading to Sayo's joining in the mass suicide.

Suicide Club is not only much better than most manga that have been published in the U.S., it's also better than most English-language alternative comics. But considered on its own, I have to say that it's only partially successful. Basically, the story is a combination of three aspects: the sociological and J-horror aspects I mentioned above, and the story of the two girls' relationship. But these elements never quite jell together. Instead, they interfere with each other: it is the personal story that is most moving, but the other two aspects take up space that would have been better devoted to developing that aspect. Moreover, taken on their own the J-horror elements have a rote feel to them.

The art is restrained and doesn't call attention to itself: Furuya eschews flashy storytelling here, as he does the experimentation found in his early works Palepoli and Short Cuts. Nevertheless, his art is assured. He knows how to convey his characters' emotions without the exaggerated stylizations of most manga, a talent most American artists seem to lack.

Suicide Club contains some images of underage nudity which would make licensing dodgy, as with Garden. But it would have little chance of being licensed in the current market anyway. Only a trickle of "alternative manga" manage to get published in the U.S. And the ones that are published are mainly naturalistic stories similar to American alternative comics; Suicide Club would probably be rejected as too sensational. (It's a real shame that Viz, which published Short Cuts, stopped publishing alt-manga.) Fortunately, Suicide Club's Japanese is pretty easy to read, despite the lack of furigana.

Suicide Club is published by Wantsuumagajinsha, and its ISBN is 4-901579-09-6. It's 168 pages long, a little shorter than the average tankoubon (paperback manga collection); but it costs 1140 yen, which is pretty expensive. As partial compensation for this, it's in a larger format than most manga tankoubon, though smaller than most American GNs.

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