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.
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.