A few weeks ago, I talked about the way that Shonen Jump was changing in a review of the first five volumes of Blue Exorcist, one of the latest series from Viz Media‘s Shonen Jump line. Now that the transition to Shonen Jump Alpha has had a bit of a rocky start it has been an interesting reading experience for me (as a reader who has never read the anthology before in my life). I find myself a little out of sorts with all of the stories running in the magazine currently – they are either far ahead of where I am reading, or I gave them up after a few volumes, meaning that while I can enjoy the moment, I have to play a lot of catch up. This is not a bad thing, but I already have quite a bit of reading to do!
In the interest of beginning new things, another new Shonen Jump title has recently crossed my review stack – the first volume of Psyren. This manga focuses around a punk Ageha Yoshina who “helps people out” to the tune of 10,000 yen ($100). This generally involves kicking the crap out of some gang of losers or roughnecks. Ageha is a good guy with a Robin Hood personality, but he’s rough around the edges. After a run-in with a local stalker, Ageha hangs out with some friends and has a strange hallucination which leads him to a pay phone and a red Psyren phone card. While at first, he doesn’t think much of it, he soon discovers there is a lot more to this phone card than he initially thought. Ageha learns of the Psyren secret society and that people are willing to pay any amount of money to get their hands on the cards. But this isn’t fun and games. The first volume of Psyren shows Ageha exactly how dangerous this Psyren phone card is. Strangely, one of his friends from school, Sakurako Amamiya, also has a Psyren card, and I won’t spoil the big first twist of the volume, but it’s a whopper. Let’s be brief and say that Ageha gets to put his fighting skills to good use as he fights for his life, and the lives of a few other unlucky souls who have entered the Psyren game.
Psyren has the advantage of coming out of left field in a number of ways – it develops in a very unexpected way, and it has some really stellar art for the style of story it is trying to tell. The art is rough, sometimes sketchy, and it is very telling that this is only the second work for Toshiaki Iwashiro, (his original was another Jump comic, Mieru Hito) but he commands his style in a way that is either indicative of a sure author or a skilled editor, or some combination of the two.
My initial impressions were that Psyren was going to be a very odd conspiracy manga, something like Maoh: Juvenile Remix, a comic I originally gave high marks to, but I fell out of reading after a lull between the third and fourth volumes. The idea of a secret Psyren society and these magical red phone cards was a very interesting setup for a conspiracy thriller. But what Psyren actually delivered was something about as high energy, high violence as shonen manga can get while still being cerebral. The first volume of Psyren is a complete 360° that feels neither ratings-inspired or editor forced.
I really enjoyed this volume of Psyren, and am looking forward to reading more of the series. Having recently ended in Japan at 16 volumes, I hope that future volumes will be just as entertaining.