Saturday, November 3, 2012

Top 10: Psychic Characters

So I thought about doing a Halloween episode, but I couldn't get my ideas out quite fast enough.    But it's just as well: after the recent unpleasantries, some communities have pushed back their Halloween festivities.  Like where I live, communities that have lost their power as of All Hallow's Eve, the trick-or-treating will take place on 7th November, one week later.  Plus, in the harder-hit New Jersey, governor Chris Christie (R) himself commuted Halloween to Friday the 2nd because, in his own words, his power knows no bounds.  On that note, I'm counting down the top ten characters whose powers also know no bounds - psychics.  Magic users may come twelve for ten cents in fiction (or a dime a dozen, whichever's cheaper), but to qualify for this list, it has to be reasonably established that they can screw over the laws of physics with no outside implements - merely the power of their mind.  And being a mere fortune-teller won't be enough - the more ways their powers have manifested, the better.  So sorry Solitaire, but it looks like the James Bond franchise shall remain unrepresented on this list.  But why psychics, you may ask?    Well, just one scroll through this list should cement the idea in your mind that psychics are unstoppable and awesome.  In fact, it was one entry in particular that influenced me so pervasively, that I was enamoured with them ever since and even incorporated them as an integral part of my spy fiction saga, Sapphire.  (Which I totally need you to read and spread the word of, by the way.)  Who might I be referring to?  Read on and find out.

10) Rei Hino / Sailor Mars
from Sailor Moon (TV, 1995)

As a member of the Sailor Scouts, it's a given that miss Hino has elemental powers of fire in her superhero form, Sailor Mars.  But unlike her peers, she exhibits some powers even as a civilian.  Working part-time at a Shinto shrine with her grandfather, Rei occasionally delves into some fortune-telling to help her friends with the plot, and has also used some slight telekinesis to "help" her in a contest.  Ignoring her fire-fighting, pardon the pun, Sailor Mars' ESP isn't well-built enough as a character trait, if you ask me, but taking a look at the whole picture is enough to put her on the list.  Bonus points for her re-characterisation in the abridged series.

9) Rose
from Street Fighter Alpha (Game, 1995)

Like the last entry, the impact of Rose's powers is lessened in a world where chi-powered fireballs and levitation are apparently the norm.  But fortune telling is apparently not so pervasive.  In fact, Rose bases her fighting style around her abilities, here called Soul Power, channeling her energies through magical orbs and her scarf.  Oh, and not only does she levitate in some of her victory poses, her aforementioned scarf seems to have a gravitational field of its own, 24/7.  Beat that, Chun-Li.

8) Neo
from The Matrix (Film, 1999)

Does it count if the psychic powers only manifest themselves in an alternate universe?  I'll let that slide, but it won't help Itsuki Koizumi, seeing how sparingly his powers are brought out.  Thomas Anderson Neo, on the other hand, doesn't have to worry about this problem.  Neo's war is fought in the Matrix, a computerised copy of the real world, and over the course of his martial-arts training, he manages to mentally manipulate the digital space and time in this world.  The classic bending-a-spoon-with-your-mind trick is referenced mid-way, and after a Jesus moment near the end, he starts doing stuff like blocking bullets and flying.  And they said no one could be told what the Matrix is...  Too bad they never made any sequels.

7) Mao
from Code Geass (TV, 2008)

In the world of Code Geass, certain characters possess supernatural abilities through contracts made by "witches", such as the green-haired C.C. (pronounced "C2").  First and foremost among these is lead anti-hero, Lelouch vi Britannia, who gains mind-control abilities, no doubt an important tool to help this chessmaster usurp the Britannian throne.  But I went with Mao, who only appears in three episodes.  Mao's geass powers give him the ability of mind-reading - specifically, hearing the thoughts of everyone within half a kilometer, beyond his control.  Which sucks if you're Lelouch, facing off with him in a chess match, with your little sister held hostage, to be blown up upon defeat or rescue attempt.  I won't spoil how our little Lulu gets out of this one, but suffice it to say, Episode 16 sealed Mao's place on this list.

6) Matilda
from Matilda (Book / Film, 1988)

Writers have used all manner of explanations for the development of psychic powers in certain characters.  From her eponymous Roald Dahl book, Matilda Wormwood's case is perhaps the most sympathetic.  Her whole life she's been dominated over, whether it's her parents who want to stop her reading, or her school principal Ms. Trunchbull whose methods of punishment include locking up perceived misbehavers in the Chokey, a sharp-walled stand-up closet.  To be fair, it's never explicitly stated that this suppression was the cause of Matilda to spontaneously gain her special abilities, but I've accepted that to be the case, and I'm sure I'm not alone.

5) Anyone who's ever used the Force
from Star Wars (Film, 1977)

I'm cheating a little with this entry.  The Star Wars franchise has presented us with an entire demographic of psychic users, called Jedi.  Or Sith, if they've gone evil.  If I had to nominate just one person from this franchise, I'd give the nod to Anakin Skywalker, whom some of us choose to refer to solely as Darth Vader.  From superhuman reflexes in a podrace as Anakin to ripping up the scenery in a fight with his son as Vader, this guy deserves his awesome reputation.  ...As Vader, anyway.

4) Todd Ingram
from Scott Pilgrim (Comic / Film, 2006)

In the world of Scott Pilgrim, nothing's ever played exactly straight.  For one, Todd Ingram gains psychic powers just by following a vegan diet.  (Since this excludes dairy and eggs, and apparently requires attending a Vegan Academy, yeah, it's not as easy as it sounds.)  How does this work?  Straight from the horse's mouth, he claims this is because it unlocks the 90% of one's brain that is filled with curds and whey.  ...Yeah, he's not the sharpest bent spoon in the drawer.  But more than anyone on this list thus far, Todd feels like someone who is impossible for our protagonist to overcome.  So much, in fact, that Scott has to trick Todd into breaking his vegan diet (in the film; in the comics it was a more sudden deus-ex-machina) in order to win.  Bonus points for being played by Brandon Routh - better known as SUPERMAN - in the movie.

3) Sabrina
from Pokemon (Game / TV, 1998)

Sabrina's first incarnation was in the video games, where she is the Gym Leader, or boss, of Saffron City and primarily uses Psychic-type Pokemon, which in the first generation are overpowered and render type-advantages counter-productive.  But the version that stuck for me was from the 1998 anime, being the first time I saw and was aware of psychic abilities in action - and what a trip it was.  From her humble beginnings bending spoons, to imploding her own house, to transforming Brock and Misty to dolls, Sabrina exuded awesomeness on a level which in retrospect I would compare to Chuck Norris.  Yeah seriously, that's what I thought of her at the time, and her standing has not lessened much over the years.  Combine that with the abilities of her Pokemon Kadabra, and she truly came across as unbeatable.  How did our hero Ash manage to conquer her?  Turns out his new ghost Pokemon Haunter made her laugh - and via some convenient mind-link, made Kadabra laugh, rendering it unable to fight and Ash the winner.  Bear in mind that Sabrina has remained introverted (i.e. no laughing) ever since she discovered and developed her powers as a child, and it brings a satisfying end to her 3-episode story arc.

I realise this is a roundabout way of saying it, but my point is, when you're young and impressionable, even the most minor characters can leave the biggest impressions.  So if she's so near and dear to my heart, how did she not clinch the top spot?  Read on.

2) Tetsuo Shima
from Akira (Comic / Film, 1988)

To digress a little, has anyone read Eragon and the Inheritance Cycle?  It's not particularly original, or even good, and I plan to tackle it somewhere along the line, but that's beside the point.  In the Inheritance universe, magic users are limited in their powers, in that spells take physical energy, specifically, as much as it would take to perform the same action by physical means.  How that would work when a fireball is involved, you tell me.  I bring this up because Tetsuo Shima has no such limitations.  Bringing down a skyscraper?  Pulling a satellite out of orbit?  Pulling off a Big Bang in a parallel dimension?  Assuming that wasn't just some fancy aesthetic animation, it's all in a day's work for our boy.  And I haven't even mentioned the titular boy - even though we never see him intact in the film, anyone who can spontaneously blow himself up and induce World War III is not to be trifled with.

1) Psycho Mantis
from Metal Gear Solid (Game, 1998)

With all I've said about everyone else on this list, how could another psychic possibly top that?  By extending the reach of his or her mind's eye into the realm of the player - yes, you.  That's where Psycho Mantis comes in.  When you reach this boss in Metal Gear Solid, he will make comments about your playing and saving habits, telekinetically shake your controller (sure, it's just turning the rumble on, but it's the atmosphere that counts), and even react to select game saves on your memory card.  And that's just the tricks directed at the player - he has some surprises in store for our hero Solid Snake as well.  He levitates 24/7, casts chairs and planters across the room, and turns invisible (but for Thermal Goggles), which would be tough enough, but he can also predict and dodge all your attacks, be they bullets, blasts, or body blows.  Which has led to one of the game's most famous not-technically-cheats: plug/assign your controller into player 2's port.  There are reasons why Metal Gear Solid has achieved legendary status among the gaming community, and without Psycho Mantis, it just wouldn't be the same.

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