Reviewby Carlo Santos, Dec 22nd 2012
Ageha Yoshina lived an ordinary high school life ... until the day he was mysteriously transported to the apocalyptic wasteland of Psyren. Now armed with psionic abilities, Ageha plays a deadly game where he travels between the normal world and Psyren, fighting villains and monsters to clear each "level." So far, Ageha has learned that Psyren is a future version of Earth, the result of a horrific war caused by the W.I.S.E. organization. Could it be that Ageha's trips to Psyren, and the allies he has gathered around him, are all part of a greater plan to fight W.I.S.E.? Meanwhile, a more immediate threat emerges when Ageha's trainer, Kagetora, gets captured by a gang of rogue psionists. Aided by the psychic-powered children of the Elmore Wood orphanage, Ageha sets out on a rescue mission, and soon learns that deadly psychic battles can also happen right here in the present.
By now, readers have probably become accustomed to Psyren's rigid, almost video game-like formula: Ageha gets transported to the post-apocalyptic world, fights off enemies until he makes it to the next "checkpoint," returns home, then trains for a few chapters before repeating the cycle once more. So when Volume 6 takes a sudden detour and sets the next battlefield right in modern-day Tokyo, it's probably the last thing anyone would have expected—and the results are surprisingly good. The action is dynamic as ever, with a new set of heroes and villains showing off their psychic skills: telekinesis, pyrotechnics, air manipulation, and more. Indeed, who needs to hop through time and space when so much excitement can be had right at home?
However, the thrill of a big fight can't be fully enjoyed without the buildup it takes to get there. The first half of this volume is all about setting up the next few stages of the story, with some occasional time-wasting thrown in (we'll forgive that one chapter where everyone basically hangs out at the swimming pool). This is the first time we learn of psionists who use their powers for crime instead of battling in Psyren—a fact that finally makes the present-day setting useful for something other than just training. Meanwhile, other plot developments point toward the big picture: Ageha receives a surreal message hinting at why he's involved in all this Psyren business, even though the payoff on that idea won't come until much later. Although brief, that scene helps to keep the overarching plot on everyone's minds, even as the current storyline heads in a different direction.
For some, that new direction may be a disappointment—isn't Ageha supposed to be honing his abilities, then showing off how much he's improved with each successive trip to Psyren? It may be disorienting to have that familiar pattern broken up, but the alternative that happens in this volume is just as entertaining, if not more so with all the variety. Everyone already knows what Ageha and his buddies can do, so this time it's the Elmore Wood orphans who get to turn on their abilities to full blast. Thankfully, the battle rarely resorts to "scream and shoot an energy beam" tactics—each combatant has distinctly different powers, and it's when the kids use them in tandem that the series is most creative. The villains' high intelligence and warped sense of morality ("Pain is the ultimate beauty") also make them intriguing and worthy opponents, even if everyone already knows who's going to come out on top.
Naturally, the variety of psychic powers comes through most clearly in the art: fireball explosions, floating cubes of compressed air, and arcs of lightning are just some of the striking visuals seen in this volume. But even amidst this special-effects paradise, the action never gets too muddled: individual characters and their attacks always appear clearly in the foreground, so no one can ever say "I didn't understand what was going on." Because it's so easy to follow the action and get caught up in it, payoff moments—like a dramatic finishing blow, or an explosion taking up an entire page—become that much more exciting. Meanwhile, during calmer moments, unusual character designs provide another point of interest: Ageha's otherworldly visitor Nemesis Q is instantly memorable despite not having appeared for ages, while lead villain Inui steals the show in the second half with his beady eyes and bandaged attire. Even the Elmore Wood kids each have a distinctive outfit or accessory that helps them stand out. The only major complaint about the art is that it lacks any stylish flair: with mostly rectangular panels and lots of mid-level, front-facing shots, it seems afraid to push the limits and only sticks to what looks conventionally good.
The series' dialogue also sticks to the conventional—most of the script involves conversations that serve to push the plot forward, or taunts in the heat of battle. The main villain spins some intriguing lines about how pain is beautiful and suffering is educational, but everyone else is mired in the usual tough-guy talk (even the little kids somehow all sound like rowdy thirteen-year-old boys). The writing also falls into the familiar trap of having each character explain how their attack works—there's definitely something stilted about pausing in mid-battle to describe one's psionic ability. Earlier in the volume, another dialogue cliché comes up when Ageha's violent future is foretold through vague, ominous sentence fragments ... just like every other series that tries to keep the big picture obscured. The translation presents all this in a clear, straightforward manner, while sound effects are converted from Japanese into English in mostly bold block letters, which generally matches the visual style but still sticks out at times.
Even if Psyren does step into the realm of cliché, with its predictable dialogue and "textbook shonen" look, this volume does enough things right to serve as a quality example of the action genre. The shift to a present-day battle, against an entirely new enemy, proves that the series still has some surprises in store and won't stay stuck in the dimension-hopping formula forever. For some, this may be a betrayal of expectations, but isn't it more fun to experience new things? The battles are still a visual delight, flowing naturally from page to page, and this time new characters get into the action, new psychic powers come into play, and new hints about the future are dropped. After this volume, anyone who thought they had Psyren all figured out probably has some more figuring to do.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B
+ New characters take the stage in thrilling, well-choreographed battles, while the overall storyline gets a few more forward nudges as well.
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