Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Rinka is an ordinary high school girl struggling with poverty and a deadbeat dad until the night she sees glowing fish swimming through the sky. One swims into her, and the next morning she awakes to find that she has developed the power to slip through things – the floor, her clothes, you name. As it turns out, she's not the only person to encounter the fish and gain extra-sensory powers, and a boy named Azuma convinces her to use her skills to help him fight off the unsavory people who want to use their newfound skills to take over the city. Rinka's not sure she's up for being a hero of justice...but sometimes doing what you aren't sure you want to is better than watching the world burn.
Vertical's decision to publish Hajime Segawa's Tokyo ESP in two-volume omnibuses turns out to have been a very good idea. Not only does it mean that this is a nice, thick book, it also ensures that we get not just the basic beginnings of the story, where Rinka is still torn about using her new powers as a semi-superhero, but also the more decisive, intense volume two, where things really kick off. Not that the first half of this book is slow by any means, but it does lack the intensity of the second half, and impatient readers might have missed out on it entirely had the two not been combined.
Even without considering the actual story, this is a great looking book. Vertical has included the color pages that begin both original volumes one and two, not only making it easy to see where one ends and the other begins (assuming you get compulsive about that like I do), but also using really nice, thick, and slightly slick paper for even the black and white pages. It feels like a high quality volume and the printing is some of the clearest I've seen in recent memory. The $15.95 cover price does not feel excessive, especially since it's below other manga companies' double-volume omnibuses and is for a higher quality book.
The story itself is also quite good, albeit rote in some places. The primary protagonist is Rinka, a high school student with unusually pale skin and hair. Her mom vanished overseas (presumably deliberately), and she lives her her currently deadbeat dad, who was once a decorated policeman. We don't know exactly what caused that change in his circumstances yet, although it seems reasonable to assume the mother's leaving had something to do with it. Rinka tries to make the best of things, working hard to help support her father and making an effort to keep relatively upbeat, but a wrench is thrown into her life when, the night after meeting a strange boy while glowing fish swam through the sky, she wakes up with a new power: the ability to slip through anything. Naturally she discovers this by falling out of her clothes and through the floor of her apartment, landing in her underwear in her neighbor's dining room. Freaked out, she learns from the boy, whose name is Azuma, that the fish have given her this power. He, too, has one – teleportation, and he wants Rinka to help him take down the bad guys who have gifts like pyrokinesis, invisibility, and shielding. Of course, other good guys exist as well, like the mysterious flying penguin, but she's the one he wants to help him.
While there are some clear shounen affectations present here, like the oddness of Rinka keeping her underwear and bra when she falls out of her uniform and Azuma's goofy personality hiding a dark and tragic past, the story works to build an urban fantasy that largely works. Not every power is unique (we later meet a second teleporter), and the way that Rinka refuses to work with Azuma is seen as being a question of what she thinks she wants versus what she really wants. She does, deep down, want to work with him to save people, because that's how she remembers her father in better days – a hero and savior. But her life is so topsy-turvy with the advent of her powers and her struggle to keep food on her table (and her dad out of the bar) that she can't reconcile her wants with her reality. While she does come to an accord within herself, it takes her most of volume one to get there. That can make the plot progression feel slow, but I think that it also gives Rinka a feeling of being a grounded character with an inner life. This also becomes true of Azuma as the book goes on, and by the second half we can see all three of our main characters (a little girl named Murasaki, who takes care of the penguin, joins the cast) as actual people rather than stereotypes. They all have their trope moments and factors, but they largely feel like characters we can get behind and become attached to. (Rinka's father is still the weakest of the good guys in this respect.)
Segawa's art can get a little odd looking in terms of leg length and male faces – there's a flatness around the guys' eyes that we don't see in the girls, which is strange – but there's a good sense of movement during action scenes, and he has a deft touch with showing powers in use. In fact, that's mostly where we see screen tones – to show the effects of the characters' ESP on the world around them. (It's especially good with the teleporters.) Wounds don't vanish after a couple of panels; in fact when Rinka breaks someone's nose, she keeps a bandage on it for most of the omnibus to show how long it takes to heal. The translation is very smooth and readable, with the only real issue being the nickname “white girl” for Rinka. I was unsure if the nickname referred to her being pale with white hair (albino, perhaps?) or a reference to the fact that her mother was not Japanese. It works in either case, and any confusion is probably due to American news media as of this writing, but it did give me pause.
Tokyo ESP is in a position to be a very interesting series in the long run. With the characters developing, a method for losing the powers established, and clearly a lot more going on with Azuma than he wants to let Rinka and Murasaki know about, this is both a good read and has the potential to continue to be one. With its beautiful edition to bolster it, Tokyo ESP is at least worth giving at try even if shounen urban fantasy isn't your genre...plus it has that flying penguin.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A-
+ Nice looking book, characters who grow over the course of the volume and show evidence of continuing to do so. Reads easily in both art and translation.
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