Comparison is one of the great powers of the human mind. We categorize and store information throughout our lives, and then at every step necessary, recall and compare, oftentimes synthesizing new information and opinions. It is hard to review Usamaru Furuya’s Lychee Light Club for the simple fact that there is very little that I have ever read that would allow me to compare, analyze, and then synthesize an opinion of the work. When the mind cannot find the most immediate comparisons, it digs harder and deeper, looking for the things it has experienced before to connect the dots. It is in the shadows of Lychee Light Club and its distinctive beginning that make it such a strange, visceral experience.
Lychee Light Club is, if I describe it in general terms, is a Lord of the Flies with an added bonus of homemade robots programmed to find beautiful girls to worship. The characters of Lychee Light Club are all adolescent, prepubescent boys, who are unsustainably obsessed with beauty and androgyny. Lychee, the robot, is probably the most human of the entire cast. There is internal conflict over who controls the Light Club, conflict between members that turns gruesome very quickly. The entire story culminates in an end-all gore fest with a surprise twist.
Open the cover of Lychee Light Club and you will see a curtain, emblazoned with a black star – the symbol of Zera, the main character of Lychee Light Club, and also, the distinct symbol of theatre. The first words of Lychee Light Club are a welcoming, of sorts, into the third show of the Tokyo Grand Guignol, emphasizing the theatricality of the contents of the book and all the horrors within. As the curtains are drawn, we are thrust into a world where every scene is displayed as if on stage. Each of the adolescent youth of Lychee Light Club appears with his stage makeup on – blush covered lips, eyeliner, and actions that border the absurd. Like other one-set gore theatre, Furuya has taken special care to create an environment where the worst possible can happen given the materials at hand. The setting of an abandoned factory is also a powerful aesthetic choice – does the local reflect the ideological decay of Zera and his manic cohort, or the decay of a society in which this power system can flourish?
Furuya takes special care to emphasize the stage presence of specific characters – Zera, the lead sociopath, is often crowned in downward facing light at the beginning of the book, and as the manga goes on, he becomes increasingly shrouded by darkness, as if the critical or divine eye has turned away its favor. His interactions with other characters are very much centered on self-generated rituals that make much of the book a series of staged interactions. The other characters in the book are placed in conspicuously, and a certain exaggerated body language combined with other things I’ve previously mentioned make Lychee Light Club feel more about the theatrics of violent paranoia than about violent paranoia itself.
The art of Lychee Light Club is often theatre-like as well: Furuya illustrates his characters with a sort of immaculacy that borders on the inappropriate. Even the most gruesome and gory pieces, especially in the end of the book, are illustrated with a sort of loving care that has a very distancing effect on the reader.
Critically, I can say that Usamaru Furuya’s Lychee Light Club is possibly one of the most ambitious works in Vertical Inc.’s catalog. It isn’t right for every reader (I might venture to say “most readers” even), but for the people it is right for, it is the exact type of right. I found the book unsettling, repulsive, and fascinating, which I think is the ultimate sign of its success as a literary work. I wouldn’t recommend Lychee Light Club to my grandmother, but it is certainly a work that anyone interested comics as more than just capes and superpowers should read.