by Tamio Baba; adapted by Sheldon Drzka
published by DC/CMX Manga; $9.99 US
The complex setup for this series is mostly wasted in its episodic chapters, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, if you enjoy the stand-alone stories that result.
Detective Toyama is sent to pretend to teach a fifth-grade class because their former teacher mysteriously killed herself. He’s supposed to find out what happened while protecting the children. That’s the part that gets forgotten, until the very last few pages. Presumably, it will be followed up in the next book, due out in March.
Bullied student Makoto sees what are first thought to be demons. Toyama is the only person who believes in and helps him, and Makoto’s the only one who knows Toyama’s a cop, so the two bond. Makoto’s visions later turn out to be symbols of the conflict to be resolved; he sees other people’s stress as visual metaphors.
While he’s supposed to be the authority figure, in practice, Toyama winds up being a goofy, oversized plot device, since Makoto is the one who drives resolution but he can’t take certain actions because of his age. The stories are really about how mean kids can be to each other. The results are simple morality tales, correcting injustice and resetting order in predictable, comforting ways. It’s like a much kinder, gentler Hell Girl.
One girl is made fun of for her height and early development, for example, so she appears as a rag doll (symbolizing her still-young mind and desire to return to a simpler time) bursting at the seams (representing her discomfort and pain at her growth). Other stories teach a kid not to shoplift manga and help a wristcutter stop injuring herself and repair her broken family. The final one is a school ghost story, running around campus after hours. That one takes a slightly different tack, turning Makoto’s disadvantages into strengths in a setting where the normal students are discomfited.
The characters are alternately cute or creepy, as needed. The style is old-fashioned (for manga), clean and with distinctive character designs. I was confused by the rating — it’s marked “Teen Plus”, which is suggested for 16 and up, but they’re likely to be bored by the lack of real drama. Perhaps the rating is due to the creepy demonic images, combined with the story about wrist-cutting. (The publisher provided a review copy.)