by Setona Mizushiro
published by Tokyopop; $9.99 US
After sampling After School Nightmare for this month’s Manga Moveable Feast, I thought I’d try Setona Mizushiro’s earlier work, X-Day. This series is only two volumes, released in 2003 by Tokyopop, but like ASN, X-Day tackles an extraordinarily touchy subject using teens. (Also like ASN, it’s out of print, although it can still be found on the used market or in libraries.) A depressed young woman meets some like-minded spirits online, and they plan to blow up their school.
Rika is a senior who feels disconnected from school, including her former track teammates and boyfriend. Her supposed friends mistake her lack of appetite for dieting, and she’s pretending nothing’s wrong when inside, she feels paralyzed by her pain. When she wishes her school could disappear in an online chat room full of other complainers, she finds someone who takes her desire seriously.
She doesn’t know whether to believe those who say they want to make their plans come true, since it’s only words on a screen, but she’s seduced into trying to find out more. They seem more friendly to her than her real-life acquaintances, with more in common with her. Each have their own immense pains, although viewed from outside, they seem minor and survivable. There’s Polaris, a gothic Lolita; Mr. Money, a junior boy; and surprisingly, a biology teacher.
The art is spare, thin lines against white backgrounds with few patches of dark. It feels sun-baked and bleached-out, as though these kids were living in the middle of Arizona. The focus is on faces, and everyone has lots of hair curling into their faces. You can tell Mizushiro was younger when she drew this; it’s not as polished or accomplished as her later work. The teacher, for example, looks the same age as the students.
Certainly, given the shock value of the premise, I was surprised to find it handled in only two volumes; I would have thought that it deserved more space to explore fully. But Mizushiro focuses on the internals, on what her characters are feeling and how easy it is to pretend to be normal while handling huge negative emotions.
They don’t want to hurt anyone, by the way — just destroy the building, the place where they feel jailed. And they really didn’t need to do it; they could have picked any big project, something to work towards together to feel like they belonged again, something huge to challenge their imaginations and determination. By being thrown together by chance, they learned to sympathize with someone outside their typical social class acquaintances. They’ve been taught to fit in and get along, so accentuating their individual differences is beyond them. They’re not strong enough alone to say what needs to be said, to ask for help, but they can assist each other in seeing what should be done.
Secrets continue and multiply in the second volume. Rika’s torn between two guys, one of whom is embarrassed by his lack of experience and seeks advice from a teacher, who’s being forced into a politically important relationship he doesn’t want to protect his job. There’s a lot of difficulty trying to form connections with others when you don’t value yourself, either because you’re depressed or abused. How others treat us affects how we’re able to relate to other people in the future.
There’s a bit of playing with audience expectations, as we’re led to believe actions are more serious than they turn out to be in order to back away from the seriously disruptive. I thought I’d be shocked by the events, but Mizushiro reverts to the conventional in order to provide hope for the reader and characters. Given that, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this story.
Some adults will find it difficult to approve a story that revolves against the premise of explosive destruction, but it’s a metaphor for how badly some kids wish they could start all over again, removing everything that symbolizes their current life. It’s an idea, not a prescription for action. I think many teens could relate to the emotions shown on the page.
Reading this old Tokyopop edition also made me nostalgic for their early line of releases. The ads in the back are for classic shojo — Peach Girl, Kodocha: Sana’s Stage, Mars — and the early seinen that was so popular: Chobits and Love Hina.