Mai the Psychic Girl: Manga Flashback

I’ve been toying with the idea of doing some spotlight reviews of the first manga titles that I read, back in the 80s and 90s when we didn’t have weekly shipments of 200+ page manga volumes appearing at bookstores and the word Clamp did not stand for an female manga authoring collective. Back then we would buy a mere 32 page issue of translated manga at the local comic shop for $1.50 and we were grateful for what we had! So my inaugural manga flashback title will be the first manga I ever read, Mai the Psychic Girl by Kazuya Kudo and Ryoichi Ikegami (amazon).

Reading this manga when I was in high school was like a breath of fresh air — I’d been surrounded by mostly superhero comics up to this point, and I was delighted to find a comic that featured a teenage girl who actually wore normal clothes instead of superhero spandex.

The plot of the book centers around Mai, who is a happy-go-lucky junior high school student. She enjoys hanging out with her friends and she dotes on her father, who is her only parent. Mai does have a secret power of psychokinesis (moving objects with her mind) that she mainly uses to entertain herself when she’s bored. Mai’s world is interrupted shortly after she takes a strange intelligence test that she finds very easy. A shadowy organization called the Wisdom Alliance (whose leader looks like Ming the Merciless with an eye patch) wants to monitor and capture children from countries all over the world who have extraordinary psychic powers. Once the Wisdom Alliance knows of Mai’s existence through their demonic standardized testing, they start monitoring her. Mai’s Father quickly acts to protect her by pulling her out of school and taking her to her family’s ancestral shrine. Mai soon learns more about her deceased mother and the necessity of using her powers responsibly. Separated from her father and on the run from the Wisdom Alliance, Mai begins to grow up and come to terms with her psychic powers.

While some comic and manga art takes on the look of a particular time period, Ryoichi Ikegami’s realistic art style doesn’t seem dated to me. The anachronisms in the book are references to songs of the 80s or some of the fashion choices of the characters. Based on what I see undergrads wearing now (I don’t know why anyone needs to wear slouchy boots and a neon newsboy cap in 2006, but whatever), the 80s are back, so perhaps Mai is now fashion-forward.

Ikegami’s art is very detailed and cinematic, — when I read Mai for the first time I was amazed to see cars that really looked like cars and detailed drawings of buildings in the backgrounds because the art in American comics back then was less realistic. Ikegami captures movement really well, especially in some of the fight scenes that look like freeze frames from a martial arts movie. Librarians who have a no nakedness in graphic novels collection development policy will will want to be aware that there are a few instances of nudity in a couple volumes of the series.

On rereading it, I think Mai the Psychic girl holds up remarkably well, if you haven’t read it already, give it a try.