I would really love to beat up the people responsible for the fact that crap like Rosario + Vampire get TV series while good stuff like this does not.
After School Nightmare is a manga that reminds me very heavily of Revolutionary Girl Utena, in that it features a lot of questions about gender and that it carries the change from adolescence to adulthood as the center of its concerns, albiet buried under a lot of symbolism.
After School Nightmare starts off with an immediate hook – our hero, Mashiro Ichijo, experiences the beginning of his first period.
While this may sound like a bad trope right out of a BL series, in After School Nightmare it is the beginning of an identity crisis, for Mashiro is a boy who was born with a male upper half and female lower half. This more obvious sign of identity crisis is only symbolic of the crisis of identity all face in their adolescence, and a jumping off point for all the other characters’ own crises of coming of age.
However, to simply leave it at Mashiro bleeding once a month despite considering himself to be male, there is the added layer of intrigue in the form of a special class all students must take in order to graduate. In these classes, students are grouped into sections of five apiece, and sent off to a dream land straight out of a Bosch painting. Here students fight one another, in a dream form that reveals their trues selves, for possession of a key that will unlock the door into another world for them. But, even as many of the students vie for the right to enter the new world, no one knows what lies beyond… just that they must reach it to graduate, and that the teacher says it will grant their wishes.
Having thoroughly enjoyed Utena, it comes as no shock that I also am enjoying After School Nightmare. Admittedly, I have yet to complete the series, as it just concluded in Japan earlier this year, and volume eight is due out in August (originally, July), but I feel that it would be very difficult for the series to veer so utterly off course as to prevent me from recommending it to others.
After School Nightmare does fall under the shoujo classification, but is much closer in kind to the likes of Utena than, say, Alice 19th or Vampire Knight. Like Utena, After School Nightmare is very interested in the process of going from childhood into adulthood, and does not shy away from the complexities or ambiguities involved. After School Nightmare also has a good deal of interest in the question of gender – what is gender? What does it mean to be a girl? A boy? Does it matter? Does gender matter when it comes to love?
Although the manga has one of those dreaded hallmarks of shoujo manga – the love triangle! – here it is used to further underline the questions of gender. Mashiro initially dates Kureha, a girl who severely dislikes men as a result of having been raped as a child – and having a father whose chief worry about the matter was that she had become ‘damaged goods’ – only to find another classmate, Sou, interested in him. Kureha is alright with dating Mashiro precisely because he isn’t completely male, something that comes to plague the relationship as she becomes more comfortable around guys as the story progresses. Sou does not view Mashiro as a guy – he sees him as definitely female, although it is unclear whether, despite his insistence that Mashiro acts like a girl, if this is since he genuinely believes Mashiro to be a girl, or if he is unwilling to admit being attracted to a boy.
In addition to this complication, we are also treated to dysfunctional family relations (featuring incest, distant mothers, and bad fathers), and the litany of feelings associated with growing up (loneliness, a sense of non-importance, fear of the future, nostalgia for things past). In the dream world, people become paper giraffes, girls walk around faceless, and limbs become the sole expression of self. Nothing seems beyond the scope of consideration within these pages.
As for technical details, Setona Mizushiro’s art is pleasing to the eye, and while definitely shoujo, does not stray into the more outrageous realms. The characters in the book look their age, and look like real people might if someone drew them in manga form. Meanwhile, the dream world is rendered in styles ranging from surreal to remembrances of places past, depending on which character is in control, while the characters themselves gain an array of different forms, from somewhat grotesque to startlingly simple.
I cannot recommend the American edition enough – artwork is cleanly reporduced, binding is good, translation is sharp, and liner notes are helpful. I have found in more recent times that I am appreciating the work of the smaller manga publishers more than that of the larger ones, and Go! Comi is no exception. The price-point is slightly higher ($10.99 instead of the industry norm or $9.99), but it is well worth the money spent.
In closing, I would say that anyone who enjoyed Utena will, quite obviously, enjoy this series, and that I sincerely wish it would get an animated incarnation. If you’re on the fence, pick up the first volume – it won’t hurt, and chances are, you’ll enjoy it. And for those of you still unconvinced… hmm, well, there is a loli and some sibcon.