From their secret base in the belly of a sprawling, pollution-spewing industrial park, the boys of the Lychee Light Club work to fulfill their fourteen-year-old megalomaniac leader’s glorious vision of eternal youth, devoting themselves to the construction of a mechanical masterpiece and gleefully dispatching anyone unfortunate enough to stumble into their lair. But when their invention’s independence outstrips their control and betrayal from within sows the seeds of discord, their carefully laid plans begin to unravel and the Light Club spirals toward self-destruction.
Combine Lord of the Flies, A Clockwork Orange, Frankenstein, Beauty and the Beast, Cromartie High School, a touch of both New and Old Testaments, a dash of occult Nazi-style, a pair of unfortunate Roman emperors, and a bodhisattva, and you might have something close to the underlying framework of this exceedingly gory, bizarre, darkly funny manga. Loosely adapted from a stage play by Norimizu Ameya’s Tokyo Grand Guignol theatre troupe as seen by the author when he was a junior in high school, Lychee Light Club faithfully follows in the Grand Guignol tradition of salacious horror dripping with graphic violence, sex, psychological drama, black comedy, and camp.
Beautiful, brilliant Zera feels nothing but disgust for those who’ve allowed themselves to abandon youthful perfection for the tawdry decrepitude of adulthood—a state to which he vows never to descend, if he can help it. But, of course, he can’t, even if he does have an ingenious fruit-fueled, beauty-recognizing robot doing his bidding. It’s that clueless naiveté—as the characters push forward with their doomed mission to immortalize their adolescence, ignorant of the raging hormones already wresting control of their minds and bodies—that supplies much of the story’s conflict and humor and gives it a hint of depth beneath its blood-soaked surface.
Undone by nature and circumstance as much as by one another, each of the club’s nine quirky, semi-sociopathic members is sympathetic in his own way. The technology geek, the perky narcissist, the big brother, the clever clown: in the absence of charismatic Zera’s influence, they all might have turned out no worse than your average all-boys-school teen rebelling against authority, getting into fights, and struggling with the confusion, excitement, and embarrassment of sexual awakening. Even imperfectly prescient Zera is so clearly delusional that it’s hard to completely hate him for the evil he both commits and inspires. As they compete for approbation, tinker with their creation, get stupid in the presence of infinitely more level-headed pretty girls, and brainstorm gruesome ways to eliminate threats, the boys remain so disarmingly juvenile that it’s easy to forget they’re morphing into adults…until they remind us.
Furuya’s detailed, ink-heavy art is stylized and tightly controlled; pretty when he wants it to be, and ugly when he doesn’t. The grim industrial backdrop of Keikoh Town permeates the atmosphere. The repetitive expressions and dramatically-lashed eyes and dark lips give the impression of practiced poses and too-perfect stage makeup. In fact, there’s a level of intentional theatricality to everything: panel-framing, plot, character, dialogue. Throw in the direct references to the Grand Guignol, and the result is a deliberate artificiality that boosts the silly dead-pan humor (such as Zera’s pompous “La-La-Lychee” song or angelically patient prisoner Number One’s spontaneous Robot dance as she communes with her mechanical “prince”) and offers the appreciative reader some emotional distance from the often-disturbing content (grisly death, oral sex, child abuse, grislier death, etc.).
A grotesque tale of twisted obsession, a lesson in hubris, and a brush with the absurd, Lychee Light Club may be an exaggerated metaphor for puberty and the folly of denying it, but the book’s target audience is decidedly adult. With its mostly teen protagonists actively engaged in shockingly graphic violence, nudity, and sexual situations (the mildly strong language seems a moot point), this will not be for everyone. But those willing to see it through may find the horrifying, stomach-turning journey surprisingly funny and thought-provoking, if still undeniably unsettling.
Having already spawned an as-yet-unlicensed prequel, a rock band, and a currently-streaming series of animated chibi shorts, the manga is also returning to its theatrical roots with a stage adaptation of its own.
Lychee Light Club
by Usamaru Furuya
Publisher Age Rating: 18+