Author: Usamaru Furuya
Launched in 2005, 1 volume and completed
Lychee Hikari Club is a one-volume manga whose origins can be found in a stage play that was performed at the Tokyo Grand Guignol Theatre in 1985. Usamaru Furuya takes the story and crafts a disturbing tale with a potent atmosphere given gory life by great artwork, a strong setting, ero-guro (erotic grotesque) and the excesses of yaoi all of which made me shudder and shocked me at points.
The story takes place in an industrial town covered in a haze of smog.
In an abandoned factory a group of middle-school boys created a secret base for their “Light Club.” This place was once an innocent playground led by a lad of Tamiya. Under his leadership of the gang they played simple games of marbles and hide and seek but when a new kid at school named Zera (the kid with the glove emblazoned with a star) joined the boys things took a decidedly darker turn.
Zera installed himself as the new leader of the gang, removing Tamiya in the process, and as the group matured their interests changed according to Zera’s whims. No longer were marbles and hide and seek enough, they started to learn philosophy, symbolism, eroticism, history, technology, and a form of aesthetics that favours beauty above all else. Under Zera’s leadership they endeavour to create a lychee-powered robot named… Lychee.
This AI will be programmed to abduct beautiful girls and it will be successful but the real horror will not be from the mechanical man but the boys themselves…
The story sounds silly – a lychee-powered robot? – but the kidnappings, violence, and febrile emotions are scary. It takes a gloomy and stifling world and invests it with the roiling emtoions of the gang of teenage boys which creates an even claustrophobic feeling.
The time period is uncertain. The sailor uniforms of the girls and the militaristic uniforms of the middle-school boys are timeless and, apart from the teacher who gets disembowelled, the adults are a shadowy mass of people in anonymous factory uniforms so fashion is hard to pick out. There are no phones or computers. The boys play chess instead of videogames.
The city itself is a prominent character. Whether we are in the abandoned factory that the boys have claimed for a base or not this is a ruined landscape. Nature is in short supply apart from the lychee used to power the robot. The ground is mostly concreted over and the sky is perpetually dark. Smoke stacks spew smog and in high-ceilinged buildings there are collapsing catwalks that lead into darkness. The stark black and white of the manga is effective at creating menace with shadows, industrial detritus, and pollution cluttering frames. There is a sense of miserable industrial landscape which reinforces the notion that the friendship the boys share is the most natural thing they have, a vital emotional outlet and something that Zera with his dreams of kidnpping girls and vaguely fascist ideologies has perverted.
The backstory I have given in the synopsis is shown in flashback panels scattered throughout the manga and it fleshes out the main narrative which is about innocence corrupted.
When we first join the club things are happening in media res. The boys are on the verge of killing a fellow student and a teacher is all trussed up. Body-parts will soon be removed, all the while the boys shout in German, mete out violence, and act like a group of hounds, a cult dedicated to Zera.
Events get even more disturbing and violent when Zera wants them to. He is massively charismatic with his beauty and pseudo-intellectual babble and for teens with gloomy circumstances and surroundings he shines bright like a star, promising excitement and adventure. Being in that industrial landscape, friendship is just as important but the jealousies and loves that are repressed become a prominent feature of the story because Zera plays on the desire of his fellow clubmates with mindgames to maintain his leadership of the club. It becomes clear that the boys are jockeying for position in the club and aim to win his favour by pleasing him any which way they can including sexually. The languid bodies of certain predatory boys wrap around each other, probing and exploring their passions and pushing each other emotionally with the promise of physical gratification and obedience.
As the club becomes increasingly depraved and jealousies and violence flares, the original leader, Tamiya, tries to reclaim his position after he becomes unhappy with the way Zera runs the club like a dictator and a gripping power-struggle ensues. Zera is seized with megalomania and paranoia and the various boys split into factions based on love, lust, and friendship while some innocents get caught in the middle. All those choking emotions of the boys work themselves up to a calamitous finale.
Although the boys wear the same uniforms throughout the entirety of the story they are given simple features and character traits such as Zera star-gloves, finger/thumb sucking, scars, eye-patches etc. and we come to know them but only a little bit. Apart from Tamiya, there’s no sense of them having a family or belonging anywhere which just reinforces that the club is all the emotional support they want.
Despite this knowledge, these kids take things to excessive levels and are deplorable as is fitting for a Grand Guignol production so it is pleasing to say that their creation, Litchi the robot, and the one girl they do manage to kidnap, Kanon, come across as heroes and defy them, helping to tear the club apart.
Litchi looks like the stereotypical image of Frankenstein’s monster but with Bela Lugosi-style slicked-back Dracula’s hair and a gnarly cape. Boxy instead of svelte and with patches of skin, random eyes and stitching that show they extent of how he is a patchwork of machine and flesh, he cuts an ominous figure but his AI becomes self-aware leading to the club’s already fractious unity fraying even more.
Kanon is a strikingly beautiful teenage girl with piercing intelligence and a strange moral code. She plays dead after the kidnapping and then coy and submissive, collecting information and getting to know the personalities of the characters and playing the boys off each other and being openly defiant in increasingly high-stakes games of survival. She develops feelings for Litchi and reveals herself to be a truly humane person and brave character and smarter than Zera.
Indeed, for all the talk about capturing women, it is male bodies and notions of male sexuality that are put on display and destroyed. Aside from the female teacher’s full frontal nudity at the start and the horrific aftermath of a gruesome torture we see more of the guys sensually sucking, f*cking and generally tearing each other apart in horrific acts of violence and desire (cat-nip for the girls who love yaoi). Their unblemished faces with fulsome lips, their long-limbed bodies and their caressing touches exemplify the shift from friendships to sexual desire and the homosexuality of the boys is on display in some steamy scenes made very erotic by the art shown in large panels to showcase the male body rent apart by obsession, love, and hatred.
I’m no fan of yaoi manga but I do like reading horror stories and this simple and effective tale is pretty good at nailing twisted psychologies and crafting operatic horror. The flash anime which I watched last year is pretty poor, a series of short gags per episode.
I was inspired to finish this review after news of a movie adaptation was announced a couple of weeks back on Anime News Network.
Here’s an excellent article on the casting of the film on Psycho-drama. It shows which actor is going to play which member of the club:
Images from here: