by Carl Kimlinger, Oct 26th 2008

Psycho Busters

Novel 1

Psycho Busters Novel 1
The word typical doesn't even begin to describe how unremarkable Kakeru is. At fourteen he's near the bottom of his class in grades, he's a fairly miserable athlete, and in his spare time he makes figurines based off of fantasies about the kind of life he wishes he could lead. His sisters are smarter and stronger than he and aren't shy about lording the fact over him, and his mother for some reason insists on feeding him onions when she knows he can't stand those smelly things. When his family heads for Hawaii for a week of fun and sun, he stays behind for a little quality time by himself. But peace isn't what the cosmos have in mind for poor Kakeru. Four powerful psychics have broken out of a nearby research facility, and when one of them—Ayano, a beautiful girl his own age—pleads for his help, Kakeru can't resist the allure of the life less ordinary. That is until less-ordinary becomes extraordinarily dangerous as a series of mysterious armed strangers and lethal, unstable psychics begin their pursuit of the foursome, mistaking Kakeru for one of their number. Or are they mistaken?

Yuya Aoki makes explicit his target audience for Psycho Busters (the novel) when he discusses, in the afterword, his intent to create a gateway novel to introduce young readers to the wide world of prose fiction. His intent was to create something easy and fun to read, as close to manga as possible, dropping, in his own words, “the idea of creating a difficult and complicated work.”

While opinions will vary on whether he succeeded in creating something fun to read, no one can claim that he failed in the latter two. Psycho Busters isn't difficult or complicated by any stretch of the imagination. It wears its intent as fantasy wish-fulfillment for teenagers on its sleeve, features characters of the simplest types, and is structured as a straightforward adventure where the hero gets into and out of various scrapes while trying to protect his friends. And the manga-like quality of the story is inescapable, visible in everything from the fantastic sci-fi premise to the serial fight structure of its climax.

Aoki does exploit the advantages of the written word enough to justify his choice to write Psycho Busters as a novel. Kakeru's continuous internal monologue takes his pathetic loser role and creates something darned near believable out of it. His leg quivering cowardice and false bravado during crises ring surprisingly true, and the whirlwind of confusion, disaffection, vain hope, and occasional lust that runs through his head is a fair enough approximation of what adolescence feels like. Aoki also takes advantage of Kakeru's subjective viewpoint to create a playful sense of ambiguity around the psychic powers that he may or may not have.

Unfortunately that's as far as Aoki's skills go. The entire book is written in a direct-address style that recalls some of the clumsier translations of The Brothers Grimm and gets dangerously close to being condescending in its simplicity. Whether it's a choice on Aoki's part or an artifact of the translation, rarely does his skill as a writer overpower its off-putting effects. Not once does he shake the sense that he is putting into prose something that would be better suited to the fast-paced, visceral medium of manga, a sense that is nowhere so obvious as during the truncated, sometimes confused psychic action. The psychics themselves aren't given enough development to even be called stereotypes, and the scene in which one villain has a climactic change of heart rings so hollow that it hurts just to read it.

It is easy to read, light in tone, rich in adventure and is peppered with properly outlandish illustrations by Aoki's GetBackers collaborator Rando Ayamine, so younger readers not cowed by discussions of prescience and psychokinesis should be diverted, if not enthralled. However there's a world of young-adult fiction that outclasses Psycho Busters in both content and craft, books that don't require acclimation to an awkward style or a tolerance for weak characterizations to enjoy. Though, for what it's worth, you'd be hard pressed to find another that is willing to intimate that Jesus Christ was a psychic.

Production Info:
Overall : C
Story : C
Art : B-

+ Believable lead; Kakeru's ambiguous “psychic” abilities are a nice touch.
Badly neglected supporting characters; poor lead-up to action sequences; artlessly simplistic writing style.

Story: Yuya Aoki
Art: Akinari Nao

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