The second serialized work of mangaka Segawa Hajime, Tokyo ESP was originally published in Kadokawa’s monthly Shounen Ace magazine. Surprisingly, Vertical Comics chose to bring this work to English in a two-for-one omnibus with stunning color pages at the start of each volume. The experienced Kumar Sivasubramanian, known for his work on Blade of the Immortal and Tezuka Osamu’s Metropolis, provides the translation.
Segawa plunges his readers into the work just as literally as he plunges his heroine, Urushiba Rinka, straight through the floor of her powers as her psychic powers awaken. Startled and inexplicably stripped, we quickly learn through Rinka’s classmate, Azuma Kyotaro, that some mysterious floating fish have granted Rinka the ability to phase herself through objects at will. It isn’t only Rinka who’s been affected either. Both Kyotaro and Rinka’s father, Rindo, now have psychic powers of their own. There’s also talk of a mysterious phantom thief, Black Fist, who’s been stealing artifacts left and right without leaving a single scrap of evidence. Rinka’s suspicions that it might be Kyotaro’s teleportation power bear an uncanny similarity to eyewitness reports of the thief’s latest heist lead her to investigate on her own, only to find that Black Fist isn’t Kyotaro at all, but the confident and cocky Kuroi Kobushi, whose powers allow her to turn invisible.
Thwarting Kobushi’s efforts, Kyotaro quickly reveals his true intentions to Rinka. He wants Rinka to join him on his quest as a hero of justice. Though Rinka seems hesitant at first, wanting to devote her time to supporting her struggling and unemployed father, the two of them quickly find themselves caught up in a conflict of yakuza, ESPers, and one very strange flying penguin. And that’s only the beginning.
From page one; Tokyo ESP doesn’t fail to establish itself as a faced-paced action title. Segawa manages to maintain the forward motion of his plot in a way that doesn’t leave the reader feeling rushed, but still manages to keep the punches flying page after page. However, in his relentless pacing, it sometimes feels like the depth of the characters he’s brought to the page gets lost in the hubbub. Rinka’s poverty, for example, is a fairly striking trait for a shounen protagonist to have. Yet for as much as we’ll see the occasional complaint about her need to work at her part-time job, or how she doesn’t have enough money to last until her next paycheck, her busy schedule and struggle to make ends meet is never something that comes to bear on the plot itself. Part time work or not, she’s got plenty of time to go investigate Black Fist’s heist or go chasing flying penguins with Kyotaro. In the end, it makes it feel like her hardship is written off more as a recurring gag than as something that actually reflects on her character.
Segawa’s seeming confusion on whether to keep his series serious or lighthearted also shows through in the art that he puts to the page. While all of the main characters have distinct and well-rendered designs, whenever there’s an unimportant side character, like Rinka’s classmates or random police officers, they’re drawn in such a grotesque parodic style that it almost looks like they’ve been snatched from the pages of a different manga. For a story that offers such a unique play on the idea of superhuman psychic powers, it’s a little disappointing to see that Segawa can’t seem to make up his mind on what kind of story he wants to tell.
Sivasubramanian’s translation is also surprisingly poor for a veteran in the industry. While his work has no glaring errors or obvious mistakes, it’s rife with stilted and awkward dialogue that doesn’t really convey the voice of the characters on the page. After all, what kind of high school girl says something like “The weirdest person in the world goes to the same school as I”? And who would expect a grade school boy from a war-torn country to spout off a line like “we won’t even be able to keep up business.”? Sivasubramanian’s notes also leave something to be desired. When he clarifies that Kuroi Kobushi’s given name is a homophone for the phrase “Black Fist” in Japanese, he mistakenly labels it as a literal translation even though her name is written with different kanji.
In the end, the most appealing part of Tokyo ESP is the ESP itself. For those looking on a unique take on the latently awoken psychic powers genre, the story does seem to have struck out in an interesting direction. However, it remains to be seen whether Segawa will follow through on the path he’s set before himself.