Psycome: Murderer in the Flower of Death

By Mizuki Mizushiro and Namanie. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen On.

Achieving the balance between supposedly new and exciting things and using the popular cliches that everyone knows will sell well can be quite difficult. Once you get the basic premise out of the way, you can feel free to roll out the typical gags and characters. The teacher who’s in her mid-20s but looks about 10 years old; the clumsy crying girl; the classic tsundere (combine with the cool beauty for extra points!), and the eccentric ditz. Throw in a hero who manages to rise above the typical harem lead sightly, but still let him crash into large breasts on a regular basis and have a sister with an unhealthy obsession with him. All this can be added, and is fine – but only if you get the premise that draws people in. With Psycome, the author seems to have found their premise, as all this takes place in a school/prison devoted to “rehabilitating” murderers. Which most of the above ‘types’ actually are.

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Psycome is short for “Psycho Love Comedy”, and they ain’t kidding. Our hero is Kyousuke, who grew to be strong to protect his little sister from being bullied. A bit too strong, in fact, as one day said bullies are all found dead in a warehouse, leading him to be the obvious suspect. He’s sent to the aforementioned prison, where he meets his classmates, also composed of murderers and psychopaths, and their teacher with a hair-trigger temper and no school rules to hold her back. Much of the beginning of the book is devoted to comedy revolving around the premise, with “typical” high school romantic comedy situations made ridiculous by the setting and people doing it. The violence is over the top, but mostly seems to be inflicted on only one person, and you suspect that the majority of the plot of this 6-volume series will be devoted to our hero finding out why he’s been falsely imprisoned and what kind of place this is anyway.

So imagine my surprise when all that’s revealed by the end of the first book. The second half is still amusing, but gets far more serious. The teacher takes her eyes off her usual abuse target to send Eiri (the aforementioned tsundere who tries to be cool) to the infirmary, and we learn that Kyousuke may not be the only one who’s only here on a technicality. Through a series of fights, we also see that Kyousuke has an endurance that’s truly inhuman, which is of course what got him noticed in the first place. And then there’s Renko, the girl in the gas mask on the cover, whose bizarre, over the top genki personality takes a far darker turn when the mask comes off. The fight between her and Kyousuke at the climax is brutal, and the highlight of the book, particularly the resolution being the opposite of what you’d typically expect in this situation.

So yes, another book I expected not to enjoy but did. It’s not perfect – I am very weary with the loli teacher/parent concept, and the fact that Kurumiya appears to be a straight ripoff of Komoe-sensei from Index only evil did not help matters. I’m also not happy we appear to have more brother/sister incest shoehorned in, though at least it’s seemingly one-sided. And then there’s Maina, whose baby-talk way of speaking is grating and irritating, but I’m pretty sure that was deliberate and meant to be the same in Japanese, so I’ll give it a pass. In the meantime, it’s a fairly typical light novel recommendation: if you can deal with the typical romantic comedy cliches, and don’t mind lots of big chested vs flat chested talk, Psycome is an intriguing series, and I look forward to seeing where it goes next.

Masamune-kun’s Revenge, Vol. 1

By Hazuki Takeoka and Tiv. Released in Japan by Ichijinsha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Comic Rex. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

The arrogant, haughty girl who owns the campus and can destroy your entire life with just a well-placed word. It’s a common sight in fiction for young adults, both here and in Japan, and it’s no surprise that Masamune-kun’s Revenge uses it as a starting point. Makabe Masamune was deeply wounded in elementary school by his crush, Adagaki Aki. Now starting high school, he’s lost the weight she mocked him for, cultivated a ‘handsome male lead’ personality, and is ready to win her heart only to crush it once and for all. Then he will finally have his… well, revenge, as the title implies. This premise sounds almost like one of the fanfics you read by 19-year-old men writing when they dislike the tsundere harem girl, but if handled well could be interesting. In the first volume, the authors handle it pretty well.

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First of all, the narrative seems to be fairly self-aware at how ridiculous and petty Masamune is for carrying his grudge on an 8-year-old for so long. Every smooth move he makes is balanced out by his inner stress about how he looked and how he handled it, just to make it clear that no, he’s really just like you, the reader, honest. Secondly, as the second half of the book shows, he’s hardly the only one who’s devoted his life to messing with Aki. Yoshino is probably the best character in the book, a supposedly meek and put upon followers of Aki’s who in reality is happily manipulating her behind the scenes (and may come from a family of said manipulators). And, of course, he’s beginning to genuinely fall for Aki – if this were JUST about the revenge, there would be no point in reading it. It’s a romance.

As for Aki, I like her. More than I expect I’m supposed to. It’s fairly clear as the volume goes on that much of her arrogance is just as much of an affectation as Masamune’s cool persona. The annoying nicknames are completely lame, but I have to admit, the scavenger hunt she led him on to reject him made me laugh out loud at the payoff. That was well-played. Really, most of the things people hate about her seem to be simple social ineptitude, as she’s shown to have no idea how real life works, being very much a coddled rich girl. I expect in the next few volumes Masamune is going to want to dial back his revenge, and likely external forces will try to stop him. Because honestly, these two would make a pretty good couple if they both stopped putting on an act.

I’m not certain if this is a plain old revenge fantasy or a subversion of same yet, but I hope it’s the latter, as I would find a simple ‘break the haughty’ plot to be far too tedious. But based on the first volume, I think that the authors could pull off something nice. There was also less fanservice than I’d expect from a title like this, that foot fetish cover aside. Fans of guy-oriented romantic comedy might give this a try.

Everyone’s Getting Married, Vol. 1

By Izumi Miyazono. Released in Japan as “Totsuzen Desu Ga, Ashita Kekkon Shimasu” by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in the magazine Petit Comic. Released in North America by Viz.

The ruke of thumb, be it in a shoujo comic set in school or a josei comic set in the workplace or really in any other piece of fiction ever, is that happy people are boring. Conflict is what drives a story, and anybody who insists that they know exactly what they’re going to get out of life is likely due for cruel disappointment. Of course, the goal after this is to make sure that the main characters read like real people and that you aren’t constantly slapping your forehead. We’ve seen quite a few Petit Comic titles over in North America over the last few years, and while I’ve enjoyed them to a greater or lesser degree, there has been quite a bit of forehead slapping. Everyone’s Getting Married, though, seems to be made of sterner stuff.

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Our heroine, Asuka, is a highly successful businesswoman, but what she really longs to do is settle down, get married, and be a housewife. The narrative points out several times that this is because of her own home upbringing and a definite choice she wants to make, rather than anything like “women shouldn’t be working” or other tropes you’d expect to see at this point. The guy who breaks up with her at the start of the book says she’s looking for “anyone who’d put a ring on her finger”, but we see over the course of the volume that’s not true – she has standards, and most guys fail to live up to them. The trouble is, this is modern Japan, and most guys she meets aren’t looking for a wife to stay at home and keep house.

Enter our hero, Ryu. He’s a highly successful newscaster with a reputation as a playboy, but he’s actually just the sort of man that Asuka is looking for. There’s just one problem, of course – he is absolutely not looking for marriage, for both professional reasons (as a handsome face who gets female viewers, ratings would drop if he was “unavailable”) and personal reasons (a hinted bad relationship with a married woman before the book begins). However, aside from that, he’s basically exactly what Asuka is loking for. And it’s mutual, as he’s quite attracted to Asuka as well, but both of them are holding themselves back due to their insistence on marriage/no marriage respectively.

The characters in this book are what makes it. We see Asuka’s friend begin to date Ryu’s roommate in here as well, and there relationship proceeds far smoother, even though Asuka’s friend has said, much like Ryu, she’s not looking for anything permanent. But, because she’s also open to compromise and not locked into stubbornness, things can move forward in surprising ways. This is a title you read to see how the hero and heroine can compromise their principles in order to gain the happiness that’s right in front of their nose – after which, no doubt, the story will end, because the conflict is over. Definitely awaiting the next volume.