Setona Mizushiro; adapted by Mallory Reaves
published by Go! Comi; $10.99 US
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.
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.