Super-Powers in Mai, the Psychic Girl’s Second Act

Continued from our introduction to Mai, the Psychic Girl and part one of our discussion of how super-powers are depicted in the series.

As the narrative shifts into its second half, in which the Wisdom Alliance deploys its telekinetic children against Mai and Kaieda, we’re introduced to Turm Garten. Her sociopathic amorality is a part of her character from the start. The Wisdom Alliance only intercepts her because she’s blown up a passenger plane, killing three hundred people, in order to eliminate a school rival. As she watches the ensuing chaos, she shows no emotional reaction whatsoever.

If Mai is the schoolgirl as innocent, in the positive sense of the term, Turm represents something else: the casual selfishness often found in one’s teenage years, in which the pettiest of rivalries, over things no one could possibly recall just a few years later, are felt like deadly feuds. Of course, the traits of both girls are exaggerated, but they’re perfect opposites for one another, and both of their characters are rooted in their ages.

Once acquired by the Wisdom Alliance and told that Mai seems to be more powerful than she is, Turm Garten angrily asserts her superiority and causes a screen bearing Mai’s image to burn.

Soonafter, we see her stewing in her room, where she demonstrates her powers by exploding object after object, including a doll, a window, and a chandelier. She then suspends the shards of the chandelier in mid-flight. The sequence doesn’t do much for the plot, outside of demonstrating that Turm is impetuous and might be a force to be reckoned with, but it’s an artistic tour de force.

In the Tokyo airport, two girls running with balloons bump into Turm, causing her to drop her Micky Mouse bag. She makes the balloons explode, igniting the girls’ hair.

When a Kaieda operative tries to photograph Turm while she’s riding a bicycle through the woods, Turm senses him and emits a psychic bolt that travels through the camera lens and blows out the back of the man’s head like a bullet. It’s the fifth demonstration of Turm’s powers so far, and it’s beautifully illustrated.

Not long after, when a Wisdom Alliance employee says her mission to capture Mai will be difficult, Turm causes the watch to explode on his wrist. He’s not hurt, but it’s another demonstration of her powers – and her character.

Turm visits Mai, where she dismisses Kaieda’s men by firing a psychic bolt through one’s head and sending the three others flying. She then telepathically tells Mai that this is a warning – the first time we’ve seen that any character possesses telepathic powers. Turm doesn’t have much to say, except that Mai should not obey, when Turm makes her move.

At this point, we’ve had more than enough build-up and, after Turm’s explosion of the passenger jet, withholding of her powers. During this time, the only instance of Mai using her powers is to stop an arrow in mid-flight from killing Kaieda – a misunderstanding, and an ability both that we’ve seen Mai demonstrate before and that pales in comparison with what we’ve seen from Turm. Of course, Mai’s deliberately not using her powers, following the tragedies they’ve caused, but she won’t be allowed to restrain herself for long.

Mai is contacted by her missing father, although we later learn that this has been orchestrated by Turm, using technology in possession of the Wisdom Alliance that allows them to impersonate someone’s voice. As Mai heads to the hotel where she’s supposed to meet her father, Turm seems to manipulate cars, causing the two Kaieda vehicles tailing her to be totaled. When Mai enters the hotel room, Turm’s already there waiting. Turm demands that Mai surrender herself to the Wisdom Alliance.

As Kaieda personnel arrive, having realized it’s a trap, Turm kills one with another psychic bolt. She causes an arrow fired at her to stop and bend at a right angle in mid-air. She then seems to stretch and distort two men, who look a bit as if they’re being electrocuted, before tossing them around. As she chases Mai, she also stops Kaieda’s giant, although he survives.

Communicating telepathically with Mai, Turm chastises Mai for not using her powers. “We are gods!” Turm asserts. It’s an assertion with which American super-hero fans are familiar, and it’s most often associated with super-villains and corrupted heroes, like (the X-Men’s) Dark Phoenix or Kid Miracleman (from Miracleman). Obviously, it’s a very different view of super-powers from that of Mai, and these two views echo the difference between Magneto and Professor X, of the X-Men. Magneto and Turm consider themselves superior, due to their powers, while Mai and Professor X emphasize the responsibility to use their powers responsibly to help people and to heal, rather than harm.

This entire first confrontation between Mai and Turm (not counting Turm’s earlier warning) doesn’t lead anywhere. It’s ultimately just another demonstration of Turm’s powers. Mai escapes, and the final confrontation between the two is postponed.

Lacking a photo of the girl with which to brief its operatives, Kaieda then plans to photograph Turm, who’s the daughter of the East German ambassador to Japan, at an official dinner. Turm fires a mental blast, incinerating the van of those who took the photos. But one Kaieda operative finds a test photo, taken on a Polaroid, on the floor.

A Kaieda operative attempts to kill Turm using a sniper’s rifle, but Mai (who’s hiding out with her amnesiac father) somehow senses that this is going on and warns Turm telepathically. The sniper gets off his shot, but Turm bends the bullet around her. It’s a scene that, today, might recall The Matrix or Wanted, except that it was produced far earlier. The idea of using mental powers over an environment to bend the trajectory of a bullet was a dramatic and remarkably thoughtful use of telekinesis in the 1980s.

The Wisdom Alliance now contacts Turm and changes her orders. Instead of capturing Mai, Turm’s orders are now to kill both Mai and Mai’s father. Mai, responding to news from Kaieda that her father is a target, slips away and contacts Turm.

Turm asks why Mai contacted her about the sniper, and Mai claims that she wants to use her powers only to “make people happy.” It’s not entirely convincing. True, Mai mentions that she’s hurt people with her powers, so saving Turm might feel like a way of making up for this. But another possibility exists: Mai’s never met a peer before, and she’s been removed from her classmates. In the way Mai reaches out to Turm telepathically, there a sense of kinship. It’s a dialogue and a power they alone share, and the art accentuates this point, isolating the characters visually during these sequences, so that they seem more like one another than the people around them. It seems likely that, despite Turm’s violence, Mai feels a certain kinship with the girl and may be trying to figure out whether Turm can be redeemed or become a friend.

Heading to confront Mai, Turm sees that her father is still awake, so she leaves through the window. We think she’s going to scamper down the side of the building, but instead she takes to the air. It’s the first time we’ve seen any character do this, although it’s a logical implication of such powerful telekinesis, which could obviously be applied to one’s own body as well.

Using telepathy, Turm describes her own lineage, parallel to Mai’s history with the village of Togakushi. Turm claims that her “ancestor was an ancient German god who protected Dresden!” This goes a long way to explaining why Turm sees those with mental powers as gods, set above mortals. And she assumes that Mai’s ancestors must have been similarly worshipped.

We soon see that Mai has also taken to the air. As the two girls fly through the woods, Turm fires an occasional blast in Mai’s direction. It’s exciting stuff, even if it’s odd that Mai has adjusted so quickly – seemingly between panels – to flight. Where the sequence really excels is in Ikegami’s artwork, in which these schoolgirls hover effortlessly over the Tokyo cityscape. They’re glorious images, conveying the magic of super-powers in a realistic setting like very few American comics, before or since.

Flying, Turm runs into the armored personnel carrier driven with Kaieda in it, and she flips it into the air, then pauses it in space just before it hits the ground. Mai appears in the sky, and the two girls continue their battle in the air, leaving Kaieda to escape the armored vehicle. (Unfortunately, we don’t see the vehicle crashing to the ground, but we see it after the fact.)

From the air, Turm successfully blasts Ron. We’ve already seen how much she loves the dog, and threats to it have inspired her use of her powers twice before. Now, as Mai cradles the pup in her arms, she commits to stopping Turm.

As Turm approaches the house where Mai’s been hiding with her amnesiac father, Kaieda’s men fire a volley of bullets at the girl. She causes one man’s head to explode, which is rendered rather graphically, with the man’s shattered helmet containing some of the expanding mess of blood and brains. She later kills another with a blast through the chest. She also delivers blasts into the house, but Mai’s father apparently uses his martial arts instincts to help dodge. One blast graphically drives through the neck of the woman tending to Mai’s father.

Turm heads into the house, and Mai issues one final telepathic warning. Supporting the idea that Mai feels some kind of kinship with Turm, Mai says, “I don’t like fighting anyone – especially you!” It’s then that Mai fires her first psychic blast in the entire series, which incinerates the house, killing Turm.

It’s a stunning display of power, and it’s pretty well-done in the series. A half-page shot of Mai’s face, as she prepares to kill Turm, establishes that she knows fully what she’s doing.

The cost of Mai’s victory isn’t simply measured by the dead and wounded. She’s also been forced to consciously kill.

From a structural standpoint, the battle between Mai and Turm certainly doesn’t proceed as smoothly as it could. But it’s still a wonderful illustration of super-powered conflict. The realism with which Ikegami depicts snipers blown apart and the bullet bending around Turm enhance the sense that these are people using super-powers in the real world. There’s a sense of danger to the proceedings, as well as a sense of wonder and lightness, especially as Turm and Mai take to the air. It’s telling that, while Western super-heroes often fly, they’ve rarely been depicted as gracefully as they are here. Ikegami gives us a sense of setting, so that a flying figure isn’t simply an abstract thing but something rooted in a physical and particular location.

To be continued.

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In 1996, while still an undergraduate, Dr. Julian Darius founded what would become Sequart Organization. After graduating magna cum laude from Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin), he obtained his M.A. in English, authoring a thesis on John Milton and utopianism. In 2002, he moved to Waikiki, teaching college while obtaining an M.A. in French (high honors) and a Ph.D. in English. In 2011, he founded Martian Lit, which publishes creative work, including his comic book Martian Comics. He currently lives in Illinois.

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