Nightschool: The Weirn Books Volume 1

Review by Ed Sizemore

Sarah Treveney is the new Night Keeper at a high school for supernatural beings: weirns (witches/ warlocks), vampires, werewolves, etc. Her job responsibilities include making sure that normal people don’t discover the school’s existence, ensuring students don’t use magic outside the classroom areas, and preventing the facility from destroying the property during lessons. She gets along well with the students and is helping them to organize several extracurricular clubs. She has a younger sister Alex who is a weirn, but for reasons yet to be explained, is currently being homeschooled by her.

Nightschool Book 1 cover
Nightschool Book 1
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Alex is suppose to study inside the apartment, but she likes to go to the local graveyard to practice her spells. There she runs into a vampire with his latest girlfriend and a group of hunters. It’s not fully explained, but it appears hunters are people who go hunt supernatural beings. Alex mysterious escapes the hunters and gets back to the apartment. It looks like everything is okay until Sarah suddenly disappears.

Svetlana is a graduate of Toykopop’s school of hard knocks for young artists. Her previous series Dramacon is generally considered one of the few successes for Tokyopop’s line of original manga. Many people, myself included, were excited to hear she was doing a new series for Yen Press. Nightschool first appeared, and is still being serialized, in Yen Press’ monthly magazine Yen Plus.

As the summary above indicates, this first volume of Nightschool is short on exposition and character background. The focus of this book is world-building. As readers, we are introduced to lots of characters and circumstances, but we aren’t given many details about either. This can be off-putting for readers who prefer more character-centered storytelling such as Svetlana used in Dramacon. This book is almost pure plot with lots of hints about things to come.

This doesn’t mean that the characters are completely ignored in this book. You get to spend enough time with Sarah to begin bonding with her and to actually care, like Alex, when she disappears. However, we don’t really get to spend as much time as we should with Alex for her to become a sympathetic character. The chapters in which she appears tend to be taken over by other characters rather quickly. We get a better sense of Alex’s astral (witch’s familiar) than we do her. Not knowing why Alex doesn’t attend school, like the other weirns her age, is a distracting question mark throughout the book.

The book is both fast-paced and slow. We move promptly from event to event in this book. Readers won’t be bored with lots of dialogue or bogged down with background information. There’s a nice blend of action, drama, and humor to keep the reader entertained, and the book is a quick reader. However, because of all the hints and foreshadowing in this book, it feels like we haven’t even scratched the surface of the main story. This makes the book feel like a prologue to the real storyline.

Of all the OEL manga authors, Svetlana has the most intuitive grasp of the manga format. She really understands the conventions of manga and uses them all flawlessly. If she was writing under a Japanese pseudonym, I doubt anyone would even realize that a non-Japanese person wrote this. This is best seen in her use of humor and chibi art. Like the best manga, the humor comes from the characters and usually serves to make the person more endearing as well as provide some insight about them. So many OEL artists use the chibi form as a way to get cheap laughs. The chibi works best when it flows from the story and is used to highlight the lighthearted nature of a moment or a remark. I never feel that Svetlana is trying to copy someone else’s style, but that manga is really the format most natural to her storytelling.

The art is superb. I love just looking at each page. There’s nothing that Svetlana does bad visually. She has excellent page layouts. The characters are well-designed, and each one has a unique look, so you’re not left guessing who is who in a crowd scene. She aptly conveys the characters’ thoughts and emotions on their faces and in their body language. The fight scenes are full of energy and flow well. I found myself lingering over pages as I read, just soaking in the art.

Overall, the book was thoroughly entertaining, and the series has a lot of promise. Alex appears to be a likable person, but I want more than a vague impression. Also, there is a large cast of secondary characters that need to be fleshed out. Not to mention fuller exposition on who the hunters are and what rules govern them. I fully recommend this book for the art alone, if not completely for the storytelling. I don’t think Svetlana will let us down in the character development department, but I can’t say for sure. Hopefully, the next volume will settle down and give muscle and flesh to the skeleton we have here.

18 Comments

  1. Great job of analysis, Ed. I wanted to like this more than I did — I wound up feeling too confused about who was who and why they were doing what they were doing. I’m sure Svetlana has worked out all the details, but I’m not sure she’s sharing enough of them with us. Just when I started feeling like I had a handle on the plot, she’d skip to some other cast group with different motivations and powers. I thought there was too much going on at once, and I got lost frequently. (Plus, the hunters gave me way too much of a Buffy-wannabe vibe.) It is very pretty, though.

  2. Danielle Leigh

    I think I felt the way Johanna did when I first read this in chapter form in Yen Plus but I ended up liking volume as a whole much better (it was easier for me to keep track of the three different storylines).

    this is a very informative review, so glad to see such an in depth look at the volume!

  3. Maybe I should have read it again, once I was familiar with it.

  4. Personally, I don’t like any of Svetlana’s work, and I disagree with the idea that it’s indistinguishable from Japanese manga. The biggest problem I’ve encountered with OEL is that the art is overtly toned. Too much shadows, shading, tone in general. I was born in Japan, and encounted many, mnay types of manga, from “traditional” manga, like Fruits Basket and shojo, to avant-garde indies stuff. I’ve never been fooled by an OEL artist, if only because of over-toning. And I’ve seen these same artists give out advice/tutorials for toning, when they really need to open a Japanese book and notice the subtlety.

    No offense to anyone by this comment, but I still feel that OEL needs a lot of work. Maybe that’s why none of them are very popular, not even this or Dramacon. Maybe for OEL, but not for manga. Not by a long shot.

  5. [...] of Nana (Manga Maniac Cafe) Edward Zacharias on vol. 34 of Naruto (Animanga Nation) Ed Sizemore on vol. 1 of Nightschool (Comics Worth Reading) Connie on vol. 1 of Reading Club (Manga Recon) Danielle Leigh on vols. 2, 3, [...]

  6. Ed Sizemore

    Velma, Obviously I disagree. I’ve seen some overtoned and overshadowed Japanese manga. Svetlana’s work fits perfectly among what I see currently come out in Japan. But I doubt either of us is going to persuade the other to change their opinion. I do appreciate your providing a different perspective.

  7. [...] [Review] Nightschool: The Weirn Books Vol. 1 Link: Ed Sizemore [...]

  8. There absolutely are heavily toned Japanese manga out there. One has to go no further than opening one of the handful of anthology magazines in English to find them. However, generally speaking, I wouldn’t completely disagree that toning is a crutch some OEL tends to lean on. However, Svetlana’s work is absolutely not one of the guilty ones. There’s a big difference between using the tones to serve the mood of the page and using them to cover one’s blind terror of negative space and people noticing sloppy art in general. Both Dramacon & Nightschool are definitely in the first category.

    Besides, the argument is moot, since Svetlana doesn’t tone her pages. Another person does that (J. Dee Dupuy). So any complaints in that regard are really properly not directed at her.

    Anyway, well done with the review, Ed.

  9. Ed Sizemore

    Emil,

    Thanks. As you point out, Ms. Dupuy does beautiful tone work. Her and Svetlana make a great team.

  10. I didn’t know my comment would offend people. :/ While Svetlana doesn’t personally tone Nightschool, I have seen her toning tutorial online, offering advice on how to tone, and to me, it was overdone. I believe she instructed her toner to as to how’d she like the pages to look. And if I’m wrong about that, then oh well. I’m not particularly concerned with proving a point. I, personally, without making assumptions on anyone else’s behalf, dislike Svetlana’s work, and have never been fooled by an OEL. I cannot simply give a reason as to why OEL looks ‘off,’ just that toning, specifically, jumps out at me as a reason. If people could define what throws off OEL, maybe we’d see a growth in the genre, which I actually like, and support. For instance, I highly proclaim my love for Jen Quick’s OEL work, which is often overlooked and under appreciated.

    Svetlana just doesn’t do it for me, in any aspect, and that is an opinion, and not to be thought of as offensive. And I hope no one reads into it as insulting. It’s not intended that way.

  11. Ed Sizemore

    Velma, I’m not offended by your comment. Just wanted to point out that the flaws you find in OEL are found in Japanese manga too. Shonen can be overshadowed and shojo can be overtoned.

    As far as Dramacon’s popularity, I did a little checking and I think you might be suprised. Tokyopop has published it in 12 languages (including Japanese), I’d say it’s very popular.

  12. Thanks for the info! So is Off*Beat and a few other OELs! I have the Japanese versions of Off*Beat and Steady Beat currently.

  13. i’ve read the book once and remember all of it :D now i need the second one >:(

  14. Well does anyone know wen volume 3 will b released then plz email me and man she is a great writer/artist I mean seriously! :)

  15. Animaniac,

    Amazon says volume three will be released in April 2010.

  16. [...] two of Nightschool is more focused and character-driven than volume one. Thankfully, with all the major world-building out of the way, the story’s pace has slowed. [...]

  17. [...] nine creators include Svetlana Chmakova (Dramacon, Nightschool), Leisl Adams, and Queenie Chan (The Dreaming, In Odd We Trust). Their mission statement runs like [...]

  18. [...] the adaptation of James Patterson’s Witch and Wizard. While she is working on this project, Nightschool will be on hiatus. That’s sad news for me since I’m really enjoying [...]

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