Originally serialized in Young Sunday, Short Cuts was Usamaru Furuya’s first manga created for a major, mainstream publication. It was also his first manga to be completely released in English. His debut work, Palepoli, was serialized in the alternative manga magazine Garo and has only partially been made available in English. (Select excerpts from Palepoli are available in Japan Edge: The Insider’s Guide to Japanese Pop Subculture and Secret Comics Japan: Underground Comics Now.) Short Cuts began its serialization in 1996, two years after Furuya made his manga debut. The second collected volume of Short Cuts was initially published in Japan in 1999. The English-language edition of the volume was released by Viz Media in 2003. This was after Pulp, the magazine in which Short Cuts was being serialized in English, was canceled. I very much enjoyed the first volume of Short Cuts and so am happy that both volumes, though sadly now out of print, were released.
Short Cuts is a darkly comedic and vaguely surreal gag manga and satire. Each cut–there are exactly one hundred of them in the second volume–is a short manga only a page or two in length. As in the first volume, there are some recurring jokes, characters, and setups, but even the related cuts can generally be read on their own. Any sort of overarching plot is nearly nonexistent. Kogals and the kogal subculture, which were particularly prominent in Japan while Short Cuts was initially being serialized, remain the most common topics in the manga. However, there are plenty of other subjects that Furuya uses for his material, often the stranger the better. He draws inspiration from Japanese pop culture and celebrities, other manga creators (frequently mimicking their individual styles in the process), and even history and contemporary politics.
In the afterword to the series, Furuya mentions that Short Cuts was initially intended to be “light, pop, and sexy” but as the series progressed it became a bit stranger until “old people and weirdos stood out.” I’m pretty sure Furuya includes himself when he is talking about weirdos. Increasingly, the gags in Short Cuts refer to the trials and tribulations of manga artists and illustrators. Furuya has several personal avatars in Short Cuts who either break the fourth wall to interact with the cuts or are the stars of their very own. With the second volume the humor in Short Cuts has become even more self-aware. Furuya is not afraid to make fun of himself or his manga. Another recurring character is a kogal named Mai. (The frequency of her appearances actually becomes a joke in and of itself.) She’s a delightfully peculiar young woman with an even odder family. In some ways, Mai and Furuya together are representative of the series as a whole and the relationship between creation and creator. The ending of Short Cuts–if a series without much of a plot can be said to have an “ending”–is actually rather touching because of this.
Short Cuts is a very strange manga, which is probably one of the major reasons that I like it so well. I enjoy Furuya’s chameleon-like artwork in the series as well as his absurd, dark, and surreal humor, all of which can admittedly be rather raunchy and vulgar from time to time. Many but certainly not all of the gags in Short Cuts rely on the reader having at least passing familiarity with Japanese culture and society, but there are plenty of notes from the translator included for those who might need a bit of extra help. Overall, I think I slightly preferred the first volume of Short Cuts over the second, though I can’t seem to identify exactly why that is. I was still consistently amused by Short Cuts, Volume 2 and Furuya can still make me laugh out loud. Short Cuts remains one of my favorite gag manga, but its peculiar sense of humor and sharp social commentary definitely won’t be to everyone’s taste.