Picked up the debut entry of Katsu Aki’s Psychic Academy (Tokyopop) on impulse when I was shopping a couple of months ago at Peoria’s Metropolis Comics. I’d come into the shop as an out-of-town browser, so I was looking for books that I hadn’t seen in my usual runs. Academy was on the New Releases wall, and for some reason (perhaps it was the wine colored background on the cover; perhaps it was goofy looking rabbit peering over the shoulders of the series’ cloaked hero) it leaped out at me. Despite my misgivings on the subject matter (Just what we all need, huh? Another comic series about super youth at a training school!), I bought the book. Just had to learn the story behind that bunny rabbit. . .
Aki’s series centers around Ai Shiomi, a new student to Psychic Academy, who has transferred to the ultra-exclusive school after a blood donation revealed he had an “aura.” In Academy‘s near future world, a growing number of youths have started developing psychic abilities – which are characterized by a personal aura that’s attuned to earth, air, water or some other thematic element. With most psychic youth, this ability manifests itself early in childhood, but Ai’s aura has only become discernible in adolescence. He comes to school, consequently, profoundly unaccustomed to the idea of having powers – while his new peers have had years to grow into them.
To make matters even more discomforting for our hero, his celebrity brother Zero teaches at the academy and is lauded throughout the land as the Vanquisher of the Dark Overlord. (We aren’t given any details in the first volume on what this vanquishing might’ve entailed, but we know it was something heroic.) Zero has the habit of effusively hugging his younger brother whenever he sees him, an act that’s guaranteed to embarrass the adolescent Ai.
Most of the first volume concerns itself with Ai’s entry into the new school – a world that he still doesn’t believe he deserves to inhabit. (“Here you are trying to deal with the pressure of the Aura World. . .and you’re the new kid at a new school,” brother Zero notes at one point.) Becoming part of the Academy student body definitely puts you in a different class: “You will be one of the elite,” Ai’s father says when the boy expresses his qualms about changing schools. In a way, Ai isn’t much different from the welfare-class hero of The O.C. once he’s been transplanted to moneyed Orange County. (Bet we never see Ai in a muscle tee, though.) Unlike the student body at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youth, being on the class rolls at Psychic Academy is a mark of status – doubtless because of that vanquishing business.
And also unlike the mutant kids of the Marvel Universe, Aki’s teen characters are much more flagrantly hormonal. (Tokyopop rates the book Age 13+, incidentally.) Poor Ai is regularly portrayed as overwhelmed by the ultra-buxom coeds at the school: good girl Orina and bodacious tough girl Mew. (“It’s hard to breathe, she’s gotten so sexy,” he thinks about Orina at one point.) Aki frequently renders both teengirls in teasingly provocative positions – taking a bath, getting dressed, et al – and has three separate scenes in volume one where one of their fulsome breasts is accidentally fondled. (In one memorable instance, they even make a “squish” sound.) Small wonder that Ai’s foreign roommate Telda is shown experiencing a nosebleed at the thought of Mew. “Attention from her would be the sweetest torture indeed,” he awkwardly states. Is the writer/artist playing with his characters’ teenaged horniness, working to be titillating or trying to have it both ways? Can’t quite tell on the basis of just one volume, though I have my suspicions.
And that goofy looking rabbit, well, he turns out to be a mysteriously fantastic creature. The only inhabitant in the school’s rabbit hutch to resemble a pink-cheeked stuffed animal, he latches onto Ai first time he sees the kid – “You’re the uncut gem, you are!” he states telepathically – and demands to be called Master Boo. A comic mentor, Boo’s words are written by translater/adapters Jan Scott Frazier & Nathan Johnson in unrefined slanglish. It’s unclear from the first book if the bun’ll prove a positive or negative influence: in this volume, he encourages Ai to leave school grounds without permission, where the boy runs into an older Slitherin-y psychic named Tanja. Still, Johnson plainly has a good time doing Boo’s dialog.
As for the art: well, upthrust boobs aside, Aki tends to make his teen characters appear younger than their age – naive young hero Ai, in particular – a familiar look to those who think that all manga art looks alike. Angst-ridden Ai is rendered with so many teardrops on his head, it’s a wonder he’s able to keep his hair dry. Aki’s compositions are pretty clear-cut, though the moments when characters display their psychic powers are a bit confusing, in part because the nature of these powers is intentionally kept murky. (At one point, our hero attends a lecture on auras that thoroughly confuses the freshman psychic.) And though we know eventually that agents of the Dark Overlord will come into the picture, the few brief moments of combat in the first book are primarily designed to show Ai’s developing abilities. A skirmish between our hero and Mew (bedecked in a gym outfit that’s pure – to use a Dirk Deppeyism – pervert suit) is the high point here: packed with plenty of posturing and swirling auras. Hanged if I know precisely what’s going in this fracas (it seems to involve Ai mainly learning how to dodge Mew’s cast auras), but it sure looks dynamic.
My sense is that Aki has more interest in his teen leads’ character dynamics than he is their big psychic battles. He gets lots of squirmy mileage out of his protagonist’s embarrassed reactions to Zero’s shows of affection, for instance, and we wind up learning more about how each boy and girl feels about each other than we do their auras. For many teen readers, I’m betting that’s the bigger draw of Psychic Academy, anyway. That and the sight of Mew in her gym suit. . .