Review

by Carlo Santos, Mar 3rd 2013

Psyren

GN 8

Synopsis:
Psyren GN 8
High school student Ageha Yoshina is on a time-traveling quest to save the Earth from destruction—but his latest mission might be his last. Once again Ageha has been transported to the post-apocalyptic world of Psyren, and the enemy he faced last time has upgraded his abilities. With his powers completely tapped out, Ageha and his allies face certain death ... until unlikely reinforcements step in. A blast from Ageha's past (and the Earth's future) has arrived just in time to explain what happened on the fateful "Global Rebirthday." Apparently, Ageha's desperate attempts to change the future have had some success after all, and the world of Psyren isn't quite as bleak as it seemed on the surface. With powerful friends on his side, Ageha may finally have a chance of defeating the evil organization W.I.S.E. and breaking its stranglehold on the planet!
Review:

Psyren is a real iceberg of a series. It looks like one thing on the surface, but nine-tenths of the story lurks beneath, waiting to be discovered. With Volume 8, the discovery is almost complete, as major connections are finally drawn between characters and timelines that seemed to have no relation. The orphans of Elmore Wood who were destined to battle against W.I.S.E.? Their importance lies well beyond just that plot point. The rogue psionists who came out of nowhere a couple of volumes ago? Their purpose runs deeper than just being target practice for Ageha and the gang. Clearly, Toshiaki Iwashiro had it all planned well in advance, and for readers patient enough to stick with the series' ups and downs, the payoff has come at last.

Patience is definitely required for the first couple of chapters, which grind their way through the typical action-adventure nonsense where heroes and villains scream about how powerful they are, and the good guys repeatedly escape the brink of death. After a while, it even becomes difficult to keep track of who's fighting each other—the constant switching between different characters and locations will do that. But out of this chaotic two-front war comes one good thing: a team of unexpected fighters swooping in to save the day.

In one way, it's a predictable twist—yes, of course Ageha gets a last-minute rescue, because the lead character must fight on. But exactly who shows up is the surprise that will throw readers for a loop, and the resulting slugfest is one of the most thrilling yet in a series already crammed with great action scenes. That's really all it takes to succeed: what was once a humdrum psychic-powered battle is now a psychic-powered battle with fresh characters and powers, injecting the series with new life.

But it wouldn't be Psyren if it were only about coming up with new abilities and getting stronger. The intricate plot, with its many characters and a time-travel element, has always given the series an edge over similar titles—and now comes the big, jaw-dropping turning point where Ageha's new allies reveal what's really going on. The second half of the book is almost all dialogue and exposition ("Here's what you missed during the apocalypse!"), yet it's as exciting as any of the major battles. Flashback scenes help to keep things from turning into a wall of text, but when the story itself is this good—dozens of pieces fall into place, and everything just starts to click—no one's going to mind a little extra reading. And then comes the icing on top: the last chapter ends on a cliffhanger that suggests yet another major mystery is about to be solved.

With the plot coming together so well, one almost forgets that the series also excels artistically. Even during long stretches of dialogue in the second half, when it might have been tempting to slack off, the art still packs plenty of detail in flashback mode. After all, what would the apocalypse be without grand cosmic events and entire cities in ruins? There also are just as many artistic highlights in Ageha's battle against W.I.S.E., especially once the newcomers show up. This is where Iwashiro flexes his creative muscle, coming up with new ways to visually portray the psionic mastery of time, space, and the elements. Wide angles and intense close-ups, exaggerated perspective, and attacks taking up almost an entire page give each fight scene a larger-than-life quality. However, this "bigger and badder" approach can also backfire: the sheer complexity of some combat moves leads to confusion over what's going on and who's involved. The bland, rocky landscapes don't help either. Character designs are another weak point, with predictable templates that include the boy hero, funnily dressed sidekicks, and fanservice-oriented female characters. (A couple of crude comments about their chest size confirms it.)

For any action series with a lot of fantastical elements, there's always the danger that the dialogue is going to turn into a mess of made-up jargon—especially with major exposition going on. Thankfully, the writing (and resulting translation) in this volume avoids that pitfall; instead the top priority is to clearly describe what happened in the years since the apocalypse. In some ways it's like reading a mid-market sci-fi novel, but with great illustrations and an intricate storyline connected to the whole thing. Meanwhile, the battle dialogue in the early chapters is far simpler, with the usual range of taunts and boasts about one's fighting ability. It's also during these fight scenes that sound effects play a major role—unfortunately, the replacement of all Japanese text with English sound effects sometimes looks oddly conspicuous, drawing more attention to the lettering than to the artwork itself.

There have been times when Psyren seemed brilliant, putting together a complex world complete with time travel and apocalyptic themes. There have also been times when Psyren seemed hopeless, bogged down by battle-manga clichés and crowded with too many characters and subplots. With Volume 8, however, any doubts about the series are dashed away: these pages contain the answers to almost everything, with a number of plot-shifting revelations and proof that every character and storyline is there for a reason. Okay, so it still deals out a fair amount of clichéd, energy-blasting battles—but the polished artwork makes them fun to read through, at least. Plus, with another major development on the horizon, it looks like Psyren has finally established itself as a solid, well-plotted action series and not just a lazy imitator.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B

+ Major plot revelations and highly polished artwork prove that the series stands above other action-adventure franchises.
Still lapses into genre clichés with confusing, run-of-the-mill battle scenes in the first half.

Story & Art:Toshiaki Iwashiro

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Psyren (manga)

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Psyren (GN 8)

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