Quick comic comments: Formulas

December 20, 2007

While Del Rey’s X-Men collaboration with Marvel is still a ways down the road, the manga publisher’s Psycho Busters (manga by Akinara Nao, story by Yuya Aoki) accomplishes roughly the same thing. A group of teen psychics is being hunted by a mysterious organization, and they seek out an otherwise average, geeky boy to help them. The most persuasive evidence of their psychic abilities is that they see potential in Kakeru, their dork savior.

The runaways are all naturally occurring or “wild” psychics. Their pursuers seem to have been grown in captivity by their generically menacing overlords. Since this is shônen, first contact is made by the naked astral projection of the nubile telepath of the group. It’s the first example of some strangely halfhearted fan service that’s sprinkled throughout the book. On the bright side, the fan service is relatively equal opportunity. One foe is a naughty schoolgirl. Another is sexy street trash. You can tell they’re bad because both tend to do suggestive things with their tongues.

Bits of Psycho Busters are quite appealing. After a thoroughly generic opening that even Kakeru identifies as by-the-numbers manga fodder, there are some interesting battle sequences. With no apparent psychic abilities, Kakeru has to improvise to keep up with his comrades and survive the attacks of the tongue people. On the whole, though, it’s pretty forgettable stuff. The most fun to be had is finding parallels to early Uncanny X-Men stories, and that only goes so far.

*

My mental jury is still out on Kazune Kawahara’s High School Debut (Viz – Shojo Beat). On the one hand, I’m naturally averse to stories about a girl whose life seems to revolve around finding a boyfriend. (It’s just as tiresome with the genders reversed.) But the girl in this case, former jock Haruna, is just so weird.

After overdosing on shôjo manga, Haruna has decided to pursue romance with the same vigor and methodology she used to master softball. Her initial efforts are completely unsuccessful, so she seeks out a coach in the form of popular, ruthlessly blunt Yoh. It’s kind of a case of those who can’t do teaching; Yoh’s had a bunch of girlfriends, but he’s driven them all away with his excessive honesty. He reluctantly agrees to coach Haruna, provided she promises not to fall in love with him.

The obvious conclusion is that she’ll break her promise, but I hope she doesn’t. I don’t know if it’s intentional, but Kawahara seems intent on derailing her own formula. Determination aside, Haruna seems impervious to the kind of improvement Yoh offers. She even finds a dorky soul mate all on her own, to Yoh’s consternation.

This is where things get tricky. Logical conclusion demands a love match between coach and trainee, but as things stand, that would be utterly unsatisfying. The only way Yoh could emerge as a suitable alternative to Haruna’s other suitor is if the boy (an adorable goof) dies suddenly, to be honest. But I am curious as to where Kawahara is going with all this. If she takes the unexpected path, High School Debut could be a lot of fun.

(Reviews based on complimentary copies provided by the publisher.)