After School Nightmare Book 1

This month’s Manga Moveable Feast is dedicated to covering After School Nightmare by Setona Mizushiro. Since this series was released in English by the now-defunct Go! Comi, finding copies may be a problem.

After School Nightmare Book 1 cover
After School Nightmare Book 1
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Based on Amazon listings, the first and ninth volumes are now out of print, with the latter going for increased prices as a result. (Makes sense — later volumes in a series are rarely printed in the same quantities as the early ones, unless a series is a big hit.) I was lucky enough to find much of the series at my local library, although they’re missing books 2, 7, and the aforementioned 9.

That doesn’t matter if Volume 1 doesn’t grab me, and I’m afraid it didn’t. It’s an odd mismatch of horror, school mystery, both yaoi and yuri, and gender identity confusion, seeming to include all these elements to capture a wider audience who will wind up dissatisfied. (There’s also a big reveal, which I unfortunately had spoiled for me when I looked at the wikipedia page while trying to figure out how many books were in the series.)

Mashiro is male on top, female on bottom. (Which I would think would make him a girl with underdeveloped breasts, or maybe a cross-dressing woman, but that’s not the way this story works. Logic is not its strong point, since much of it depends on dream imagery.) He’s trying to hide his secret from his classmates when a mysterious authority figure beckons him down to a previously non-existent basement for a secret after-school class.

During that session, all the special students share dreams, where they appear as their deepest fears. One girl who feels she’s lost her own identity in attempting to achieve to meet her parents’ expectations shows up with a giant hole through her head so she’s missing a face, for example. Students who pass the class “graduate”, which means they disappear. In the meantime, they learn each other’s secrets through these joint nightmares.

Mashiro is attractive to the hot player guy in class, Sou, who hits on “him” because he knows his secret. There’s also a girl, Kureha, who hates all men. Due to being abused a child, she’s a killer in her dreams, but because Mashiro’s not really male, she likes him. This is the love triange: guy, girl, and someone who’s both.

Since I knew what this all turned out to mean, I was looking to characterization or art or clever observation to keep me interested, but all those things were generic to the shojo manga genre this is part of. They’re competent, but not striking. There’s a lot of “ooh, spooky atmosphere, you’ll never guess what happens next”, but that sense of suspense is artificial and inconsistent in mood, providing little re-read value.

I also expect those who were dismayed by the few pages of sexism in Bakuman to be incensed by this book, since Mashiro has all kinds of internal monologues that say things like this:

Guys are stronger. Guys are sturdier. Guys have more freedom. Guys have fewer weaknesses.

When I lost [my fencing match], I knew it was because I’m a girl.

I lost to a slacker because of my body. … This body is uglier than anything I know.

Just like before, I couldn’t do anything. If only I could have stopped him … if I were stronger … if I weren’t a girl.

He sees being female as a failure, having internalized all the gender discrimination of his culture. Strangely, there are no male figures in the shared dreams, only girls and non-specific figures that could be either (a being that’s nothing but an arm, a knight in armor). Then again, the men we see are abusers and rapists, with no positive model there either. Sou joins in with the anti-girl talk, saying, “Girls are so pathetic. You use guys as some kind of criteria to determine who’s better than who. … You harpies irritate the hell out of me.” (Although he doesn’t mind sleeping with them first.)

I’m guessing that a teen will think all this love triangle/body dismorphism stuff is much more dramatically fascinating than I do. I just found it wearying. This is another one of those stories that wouldn’t have anything to tell If people would only honestly talk to each other, but everyone’s convinced their secret is life-altering poison. Add in the anti-female attitudes, and I don’t need to read any more.

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13 Comments

  1. I happened to pick up this entire series just as it was starting to get scarce on Amazon. I regretted my purchase immediately…but I continued reading…and I finished it. This is probably one of the most unique series I’ve ever read. After I finished it I had mixed feelings about it for months after. In the end I’ve hesitantly decided that I like it…but I can’t even begin to think about how to write a review on this series. I pretty much agree with what the Manga book written by Jason Thompson says “A well-drawn, creepy, surprising series”. If you’re found yourself getting into a repetitive rut about the manga you’re reading lately…well this will certainly change that. But it’s really hard to muscle through some of the initial plot.

  2. The question of how much to keep reading is one that’s puzzled manga reviewers lately. If I don’t enjoy V1 or find it unsatisfying for whatever reason, there’s little reason for me to keep going, but some series do take a while to settle into consistency. I didn’t want to push myself through this one, because I’ve got so much more on my plate, so I appreciate you sharing your experience.

  3. [...] After sampling After School Nightmare for this month’s Manga Moveable Feast, I thought I’d try Setona Mizushiro’s earlier work, X-Day. [...]

  4. Johanna – I just finished reading the first two volumes and I agree with you completely. I found the obsession with a man=strong/win and female=weak/fail absolutely exhausting. More importantly, I though Mashiro was an idiot, so that was it for me.

  5. To be fair, the characters do develop and change attitude as the series goes on, but the ending was, I thought, completely unexpected, and kind of made sense. Although at some point I should probably re-read it to see if it really does make sense once you know what the situation really is.

  6. Johanna, a large part of the story is Mashiro’s coming to grips with his own femininity, which he initially fears and despises. I don’t think the series has an “anti-female attitude”; the contrary in fact.

  7. Dop, I’d love to hear what you thought, since you had a more typical reading experience than I did.

    JRB, I might feel that way if I’d like the series enough to read nine more volumes of it. But since I didn’t, the impression left from just book 1 is unpleasant. Different context leads to different opinions, of course.

    I am curious, though — are there clear pro-female statements in book 9 or 10 as strong as the explicitly anti-female statements in book 1?

  8. I don’t often say this, but this series is one of those that you have to read to volume 3 at least.

    Mashiro does start off as a complete idiot and sexist, but everything he says negative about a gender is related to his own self-loathing and insecurities. The first two volumes, everyone’s just muddling around and trying to use others to fix their own problems. It’s during volume 3 that the main three start dealing with and trying to work through their problems.

    I don’t have the books in front of me, so I can’t pull any pro-female quotes, but the series does redeem itself from those comments. The transformation that Kureha makes is really telling, and it’s a change that she made on her own.

  9. [...] title I’m envious of–I came across this wonderful line in a review of After School Nightmare: I’m guessing that a teen will think all this love triangle/body dimorphism stuff is much [...]

  10. ASN is definitely no anti-female manga, else I would have disliked it. Setona Mizushiro, from her different works I read, in general isn’t that kind of mangaka. She draws many strong female characters.

    I’d guess that Mashiro’s attitude is supposed to annoy you at the beginning. He changes later on. Same for Sou. And Kureha. And some side characters as well.
    Also, I wouldn’t be so sure that Sou hits on Mashiro because he knows his secret. All the reviews I read so far seem to believe that, but actually that’s not really true ^^;

  11. I have a tendency to give manga series a lot of chances, I usually finish everything I start. But I don’t expect others to do the same, I like series that grab me from volume 1 and keep my attention the whole time better than ones I have to warm up to.

  12. This is actually one of my favorite manga. I’d recommend it to people, but I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I myself was hesitant about reading on after volume one, but the questions I had kept me reading. Mashiro, along with everyone in the story, is a damaged person. The characters have issues that explain why they are the way they are. Mashiro’s issues with his gender Identity is where the sexism comes from. The characters develop and I was actually happy to see their progress, the love triangle was even engaging. When it comes down to it, after completing the story I was very pleased. The story is complete but there is a lot to think about. I should re-read it.

  13. [...] After School Nightmare [...]

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