Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Novel 1 - Murder in the Flower of Death
Kyousuke Kamiya might be ridiculously strong and skilled at brawling, but he's no murderer. Unfortunately that's not what the cops think when twelve street thugs turn up dead in an abandoned warehouse, and he's arrested, convicted, and sent to Purgatorium Remedial Academy, a special, isolated school for juvenile murderers. Now Kyousuke is thrown in with genuine killers in a school that not only condones corporal punishment, it encourages it, and he's stuck trying to find a way to get through the next three years alive and physically intact. Three girls stand out as possible allies – but that's only if they aren't as dangerous as they appear to be.
Psycome is not a novel for the faint of heart. Featuring a hero framed for the brutal murders of twelve people and set in a school/penitentiary, there are plenty of moments of physical violence and references to rape. If you can handle these things as being the background to a somewhat humorous story, then it's actually a pretty good book – and as an added bonus it isn't set in a game world and it doesn't feature any supernatural phenomenon. It's brutal, but it's also a pointed parody of a lot of harem genre elements, and that alone renders it worth checking out.
The story follows fifteen-year-old Kyousuke Kamiya, a boy who has a reputation for being a strong fighter. He honed these skills after his sister Ayaka started getting bullied in school, and while they certainly did help to protect her, they also made him a sought-after opponent. This reputation backfires on him in a spectacular way when twelve guys he was fighting with turn up dead – and the cops arrest him and have him convicted in record time. Before Kyousuke quite knows what's happening, he's a student at Purgatorium Remedial Academy, a hybrid school/prison that caters to young murderers.
This is really the first mark of parody that author Mizuki Mizushiro gives us. Specialized schools, generally of the high-class variety, are a staple of anime and manga at this point, and the idea of a filthy, graffiti-riddled school for teen murderers complete with lunch specials with names like “Daily Garbage Special” is a firm dig at that trope. The students at Purgatorium are just as eccentric as anyone at Ouran High School or in the Special A class – their eccentricities just happen to be how they prefer to kill people. This opens the door for Mizushiro to create characters who are either extremes of the usual types we see or just flat-out satires: Maina, for example, is the usual dojikko, or adorable clumsy girl…but when she trips and falls she accidentally executes perfect martial arts moves that kill those she lands on, and her cooking is so bad that it actually is a murder weapon. Other characters, like Renko, are the extreme version of their types – she's a yandere who puts Yuno Gasai (of Future Diary) to shame. This tactic works less well with some of the male characters, such as the necrophiliac Shinji, who enjoys killing and then raping his victims (and makes an attempt on Maina), or the physically handicapped Usami who idolizes American serial killers – the idea that his physical deformities (he's described as hunchbacked) are manifestations of his deranged desires is a bit too Victorian. Also walking a fine line is the teacher, Kurumiya, a mix of several character tropes at once: she's got the appearance of an elementary school student, is physically aroused by violence, and has a hair-trigger temper. In some cases this works for the story; in others it just becomes uncomfortably excessive, particularly in descriptions of her attacks on students. The most egregious scene in the entire book actually involves her and her punishment of Eiri, the requisite tsundere character. Kurumiya's weapon of choice is a large pipe, and while she's “disciplining” Eiri, she threatens to rape her with it in front of the class.
When the book veers into such territory, it feels at odds with its other aspects. The title, a portmanteau of “psycho” and “comedy,” although apparently it stands for “Psycho Love Comedy,” would imply equal measures of both, and that isn't quite the case. This unbalanced content does make this a more difficult read than it might otherwise have been, although it may be that those who have a greater fondness for the old stand-by jokes about breast size than I do will find it more entertaining. These sections are definitely at odds with the other humor in the book, as they are played straight rather than being used as a form of satire. The discussions between buxom Renko and flat-chested Eiri could have been pulled from any other shounen comedy, and while Kyousuke's semi-frequent erections do make this a bit more mature than the norm, they really don't add much to the overall book. It feels as if Mizushiro is much more comfortable lampooning genre tropes or writing straight violent action than playing around with sex comedy.
That said, things do get much more interesting as the novel moves towards its close. Two fairly big plot twists are revealed that make a second volume much more appealing and set Kyousuke up as more than just a fish out of water protagonist, while a brief chapter at the book's end makes us reconsider his younger sister. (And reveals another yandere parody? Or perhaps a goudere? Both seem possible.) It would be overstating things to say that the ending primes the series to veer off into a different direction than it starts in, but it does shake things up in an interesting way. This is helped by Yen On's very smooth translation, which is one of their better ones in terms of reading easily in its word choices and sentence structures. The book also has a few more pictures than the average light novel, and if Namanie's art is a tad on the generic side, it's also still very appealing.
Psycome is clearly still getting its feet under it, but if you don't mind the occasional gruesome description and the implied (and explicit) violence, it works as both a harem comedy parody and a brutal school story. It stands to improve plot-wise in the next volume, so this is going to be worth keeping an eye on.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : B
+ Some very good parody of genre tropes, story picks up after the plot twists are revealed, Kyousuke's easy to get behind as a protagonist
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