MPD Psycho’s protagonist Kazuhiko Amamiya and his multiple personality disorder – with one personality indeed being a bit of psycho – proves to be a blessing and curse for new readers. In one sense it opens the plot up to a new degree of sophistication and, perhaps more importantly, creates a unique sense of danger. Almost immediately we learn that our leading man is equally as capable of the horror committed by those he looks to stop. This alone sets MPD Psycho apart from many other supernatural thriller series and offers a tense, unpredictable drama unmatched by its peers. Eiji Otsuka, its writer, has become an acclaimed writer in the supernatural genre and his achievements here justify every bit of it.
The curse of this complexity, of course, is that you have to keep track of this central character and his many facets – facets that come with lengthy Japanese names and subtle signifiers of identity. The first volume, honouring the tradition of scene setting, offers no less than three distinct personalities of Kazuhiko Amamiya to wrangle with. There’s Yousuke Kobayashi, his former self (lost entirely after suffering a massive trauma prior to the current events); the Amamiya personality he is now (a product of that massive trauma), and Shinji Nishizono, the psychopathic wildcard who doesn’t think twice about pulling the trigger. Couple this with episodic crime investigation and a brooding overarching plot and you have a manga that demands its reader pays attention. Otsuka doesn’t punish with this sophistication, however. By the second volume you’ll likely have a full handle who’s who and by the third and forth you’ll likely appreciate MPD Psycho’s brilliance without a qualm.
Sho-u Tajima’s grotesquely beautiful artwork makes paying attention even easier and goes some way in neutering those initial confusions. Otherwise known for the character design in Kill Bill’s anime segment as well as other Production I.G. titles such as Kai Do Maru (OAV) and Otogi Zoshi (TV), the Tajima here depicts the unsettling and macabre with brilliant flare. Rather than being out-and-out gory (although to be clear this is a very graphic manga) Tajima imbues MPD’s art with a sensual queasiness that somehow makes inventive horror of its murder scenes all the more disturbing. His character design is equally captivating and so much is expressed through subtle facial expressions and weird camera angles.
True to form Dark Horse delivers a beautiful product with outstanding design. Those stunning covers are retained for extra authenticity (as well as the standard right-to-left reading format) and high quality paper is used to aid full appreciation of the stunning interior art. Kumar Sivasubramanian’s translation is excellent and captures every understated moment and quirky bit of humour effortlessly. The books themselves are just lovely to hold and will sit handsomely on any bookshelf. A warning needs to be given about those beautiful covers, however – some feature full frontal nudity and generally aren’t appropriate for kids. Children shouldn’t be anywhere near this series to begin with; the obnoxious shrink wrapping and 18+ are, for once, wholly justified.
MPD Psycho, then, offers a fantastically mature and intelligent seinen manga. It pulls no punches in depicting its murder and violence, with our relationship to corpses being a central theme (as author Otsuka expresses in volume one’s end note), yet it rarely feels gratuitous. Rather it is a smart, gripping, beautiful example of the supernatural thriller genre. A worthy addition to the collection of those who love the dark and disturbing, as well as the intelligent and humorous.