Reviewby Carlo Santos, Dec 4th 2007
Kakeru is an ordinary 15-year-old boy looking forward to a week off from school. However, his leisure time is rudely interrupted when the astral projection of a cute girl shows up in his room! It turns out that this girl and her friends are psychics, and they need Kakeru's help to escape an organization that's out to capture them. The group travels to Yokohama in search of another powerful psychic ally, but when Kakeru gets separated from them, he finds himself face to face with a deadly enemy sent out by the organization. Can Kakeru escape death with his own guts and skill? Or will he unlock the psychic powers hidden within him?
There is a flashy bullet-time sequence, early on in Psycho Busters, that perfectly illustrates the "No, BOOM" principle: our young hero finds himself in grave danger, screams "No!" (or something to that extent), and then something goes BOOM. And to be honest, one could read the rest of this volume just hunting for clichés and laughing at them: the evil organization on a quest for control and domination, the gruff rebel who reluctantly joins the good side, the lineup of increasingly difficult foes who are courteous enough to fight one by one. That's right, welcome to another retelling of "Young Person With Special Powers Must Save the World." Which is not to say that it's overtly bad: the action scenes carry the right level of excitement and intensity, the characters and their powers are likeable enough, and (unlike other stories of its kind) the plot is simple enough to follow and isn't made confusing for the sake of confusion. It's just that, with plenty of similarly themed action-adventures out there, it's hard to find room for yet another one.
This opening volume should get credit for at least one thing, though, and that's jumping quickly into the action and maintaining the momentum all the way through. Through four full chapters, there's always the sense that Kakeru and his friends are on the run, whether in a literal sense or simply fighting for survival. Every now and then the story does stop to catch its breath (drop off an injured friend; stop to talk with the runaway rebel), creating a rhythm that alternates between battle and recuperation. With this forward-moving pace, it's easy to see how one could get into the flow of the story even if the material isn't terribly original. Kakeru's battles in the second half against a couple of psychic foes are also cleverly thought out: instead of just falling back on the "No, BOOM" trick, he actually figures out how to beat them with his own intellect (even if, say, Maya's power is ridiculously easy to guess). Clearly, Kakeru doesn't have any hang of his powers just yet, so there's actually some variety and excitement in seeing how he'll solve each situation without using special abilities.
Although the story is quick to establish its strengths as a psychic-battle adventure comic, there are also the usual weaknesses that make this only an average reading experience. As mentioned before, the overall plot structure is transparently obvious: chosen kid must learn to harness his secret powers, while avoiding the clutches of evil people in dark suits (literally), and oh, there's going to be some fighting along the way. If the story should happen to develop more complexities along the way, that'd be nice, but right now all the signs in Volume 1 are pointing right down Predictability Road. It doesn't help that Kakeru has already entered the "fighting powerful opponents one by one" phase. Not only that, but he and his friends are decidedly shallow characters—we get maybe 15 pages of exposition showing Kakeru as your average girl-obsessed gamer kid, and even less explaining anything about the other psychics that he meets. If anything, they're probably best described as combinations of powers and stereotypes: qigong user + quiet and mysterious, pyrokinetic + gruff and rebellious, and so on. If we're going to care more about these characters and their fate, it's essential that they be developed further as the story progresses.
The uneven artwork is another strike against this story: some of the action scenes are slick and full of energy, but then some very basic character poses look like they were drawn by a trainee manga-ka for practice. The worst offender: a couple of panels where Kakeru is walking the streets of Yokohama alone. Was that even referenced against his original character design? Speaking of which, the characters run the usual gamut of cool-looking special-powered kids: spiky hair, intense eyes, contemporary fashions. (The first two chapters also contain some obligatory fanservice to keep male readers interested.) These characters may be nice to look at, especially the wacky foes that Kakeru meets, but there's nothing particularly innovative going on here. To see where the art does excel, just look at the action scenes, where speedlines, special effects, dynamic angles, and big splashy panels combine to form a genuine blockbuster experience. The layout might get a bit cluttered at times, but the ordering of panels and dialogue always leads the reader in the right direction, adding to the forward momentum. The regular use of urban backgrounds (even if photo-traced) also helps to establish a sense of place, reminding us that these adventures are taking place right here in the modern world.
Action-adventure stories are not exactly known for stellar dialogue, and this one is no exception. Most of the characters' lines in these opening chapters are laughably cut-and-paste: "You are going to save the world," "We need your help more than ever," "It's a battle to the death ... between psychics." It's not exactly something the translation can fix, because if that's what they said, then that's what they said. At least the writing is simple enough to not be vague and confusing, but really, this is the kind of stuff that could be reduced by half and still have the story make sense. Outside of the speech bubbles, sound effects are also a big deal, especially when they spread over an entire page to punctuate a particularly thrilling moment. Although the Japanese characters are left intact and every single sound effect is translated, some of the translations get lost in the artwork during a big moment (there's a huge DON right in the foreground, and off to the side you find this sissy little "boom"). The modern Japanese setting and occasional use of paranormal terminology also calls for a brief cultural glossary in the back of the book.
Can Psycho Busters be enjoyed? Certainly, as long as you're willing to switch off the B.S. detector and accept that this story is going to plow through a lot of psychic-superpower-adventure formula. The action scenes are good, exciting fun, and Kakeru never beats an opponent the same way twice, so at least there's some variety there. The ongoing chase and quick pacing also make it easy to get hooked after just a few pages. However, fans of the genre who know this stuff will have already seen everything there is to see: young protagonists with special abilities, evil organizations out to get them, characters of questionable moral compass, hidden powers that only come out when our hero is in grave danger. It's an application of the formula that's clearly good enough to sell, but lacks any ingenuity or spark to push it to a higher level. Here's my psychic prediction: readers will give it a try because the plot feels familiar, but most will give up on it after realizing that it's just like all the other ones.
Overall : C
Story : C
Art : C+
+ Slickly choreographed action scenes and steady pacing keep the story moving forward.
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