Author: George Iida
Manga-ka: You Higuri
Publisher: Del Rey
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: November 2009
Synopsis: “The world is a lonely place for Naoto and Naoya, brothers with amazing psychic powers that set them apart from humanity. Their parents cast them out–and had them imprisoned in an exploitative research center. But after they make a daring escape from the institution, Naoya has a psychic vision of an even greater threat: a deadly plague that threatens the entire world!”
Reading like that paranormal save-the-world movie you’ve probably seen done a dozen times on VHS, Night Head Genesis is a one-dimensional race against time that pits psychics against scientists and two brothers against the world they’re trying to save. Del Rey and You Higuri ensure the visual packaging makes this book a no-brainer on the pick-up-and-flip-through scale but read at all deeper and you’ll find this modern day mystery is as transparent as the cover’s fan service.
The story revolves predominantly around the abovementioned brothers. First you have the tall brooding one, Naoto. The older of the two, Naoto’s psychic powers manifested in the form of telekinesis, meaning he makes a big mess when throwing an emotionally charged (but oddly stone-faced) tantrum. His younger and more timid brother, Naoya, has the ability to read minds as well as see visions of the future.
The book opens with the two as children being ripped away from their parents and taken to an institution for study and to protect the public. These moments are a tad rushed, presumably in order to flash-forward to the pairs’ sexy-angst years. They do nevertheless achieve a fair level of emotional resonance with readers. The following vacuity regarding the institute’s exact purpose, atmosphere and lifestyle however does downplay the severity a tad.
After escaping their apparent-prison by by-passing some magical trees, the duo make their way into the city to presumably find a normal life while on the run from their captors. However they quickly find themselves on a quest to save the world from a deadly virus after Naoya has a vision of society’s end.
Unfortunately for this potentially dramatic turn of events, neither Naoto or Naoya really feel like they’re absorbing what’s happening, let alone really emoting or evolving in response. They’re too obviously directed by an omnificent force holding a pencil, forcing them in a pre-destined path. Thus instead of becoming attached to the cast, and subsequently caring about them, readers are merely pulled along the string of events with them. Here in lies the author’s hope that the situations themselves will prove compelling enough to keep reading. Granted to some extent the plot does manage to achieve this, albeit just barely. Events are good at keeping readers anticipating their resolve but at the same time provide disappointing twists that read as anything but.
Part of this stems from the matter of believability where unexplained aspects of the story prove more distraction than convenience. Things like how the brothers are surviving now that they’ve escaped they’re teenage-life prison. Where’s all this money coming from? Their cozy hotel room? The boys’ habits and customs seem more indicative of boys raised in regular, albeit a little socially restrictive, society than a pair trapped in an institute away from the world. Also, for an on-the-run series, the two do very little actual hiding or adapting which quickly makes light of the initial suspense.
The brothers’ sudden drive to save a world that shunned them never the less leads the pair to a scientist working towards curing diseases. One of the most believable parts of the story, she doesn’t believe their tale of the future to come and she refuses to halt her research. Fortunately for the plot, and to potential groans from readers, Naoto’s steely stare, and notably blank disposition if not in relevance to his brother, saves the proverbial day as the scientist comes to trust him – among other things. An almost-rape scene and quick-to-love implications insure she’s on their side but will psychic powers win over disease? It’s not entirely clear by volume one’s end but figuring out how much you care will likely be the greater bulk of your deliberation of the question.
On a positive note, You Higuri’s artwork is a much more flattering aspect of the book. The characters hit a good compromise between pretty and believably masculine plus adorned in their denim and leather outfits, you’ll at least care to see how they look when they do the things you likely care much less about. Sure it doesn’t feel like they do much but they’ll at least look darn good doing it.
Regrettably as a whole however everything just keeps progressing forward too stiffly and with a severe lack of depth. You Higuri’s artwork may be the book’s saving grace but it’s not enough to hold everything up on its own. Night Head Genesis isn’t a bad read so much as one that simply leaves much to be desired – not a book worth actively avoiding, but not one worth going out of your way for either. Shallow and just mildly endearing, this book’s B-movie vibe is certainly not subtle but safe to say unintentional.