DRAWN & QUARTERED
Nightmares abound for students attending schools depicted in "After School Nightmare," published by Go!Comi in the United States.
Manga authors put students through horrific school days
Nothing quite instills fear and loathing in the vacationing child's heart than the words "It's time to go back to school."
Sure, adulthood brings on the realization that education is a wonderful thing. But it's hard to think about that when those carefree days of summer are replaced with thousand-word essays.
One has to wonder what kind of trauma some manga authors went through at school. Students in the fictional worlds they create have much more to worry about the time of their next class -- sometimes, it's a question of whether these students can make it to their next class alive.
Here are three series that reinforce a lesson taught in many schools: Charles Darwin's theory of "survival of the fittest."
'After School Nightmare'
Ichijo Mashiro is the epitome of a bishonen, or pretty boy, the kind of guy who sets the hearts of girls at school aflutter. He is also a she, thanks to a birth defect that left the upper half of his body male and the lower half female.
It's a secret he's not exactly keen on sharing, and up to this point in his scholastic career he's managed to successfully live his life as a guy. Yet dark secrets have a tendency of revealing themselves, particularly at schools from hell like the ones covered in this column.
This revelation takes form through a rather fiendish class, filled by invitation from a mysterious infirmary nurse. Students are called down to the basement infirmary, fall asleep and awaken in a dream world in which each person becomes the embodiment of his or her own worst nightmare. The objective is to conquer one's own nightmare, fight off the others, grab a key and unlock a door to "graduate."
But there's a twist: Upon graduation, the student promptly disappears from existence in the real world, with nary a memory left behind. There are also hints that graduation may not be as happy an occasion as some may believe.
Ichijo joins this world -- as a girl, of course -- and encounters classmates who have their own psychological problems.
It's through this dream world that he meets two people who have a profound impact on him in the real world: Kureha, a girl who loves him because he protects her in the dream world, and Sou, a boy who ALSO loves him because of the whole femininity thing.
Talk about awkward love triangles.
It's these twists and turns that the series has taken that have made it such a compelling read to date. As long as the solutions to these mysteries aren't too long in coming and don't take too much of a convoluted path, there's the potential for something special.
Welcome to "Survivor" meets "Lord of the Flies," with enough blood to fill blood banks in every state several times over.
Forty-two ninth graders, led to believe they are going on a class trip, are instead gassed during a bus ride and end up on a remote island, home of the popular reality TV series "The Program." According to their new "teacher," they must fend for themselves by any means necessary until only one person remains. "Any means necessary," of course, meaning "figure out how many ways one can shoot, decapitate, bludgeon and otherwise wipe classmates off the face of the planet in the most gruesome ways possible."
Most of the students stick around in the story just long enough for readers to get a good look at their personalities and motivations before they get killed off. It becomes clear early on, though, that six students are the true focus of this tale: orphaned rocker Shuuya, innocent girl Noriko, transfer student Shogo, popular jock Shinji, class whore Mitsuko, and emotionless, merciless assassin Kazuo. Shuuya, Noriko and Shogo form an uneasy alliance, while Shinji works on usurping "The Program" from within. Mitsuko and Kazuo, meanwhile, rely on sexuality and violence, respectively, to bring down their opponents.
And boy, is there ever sex and violence. The term "graphic novel" has never been more appropriate than it is for this work. Five students die in the first volume alone, and the body count rises in subsequent volumes.
Koushun Takami's story, first published as a novel in 1999, may be lurid as is, but Masayuki Taguchi's art adds a grotesque dimension to it. The characters are rather ugly human caricatures, and Taguchi's attention to detail when body parts and internal organs go flying is a bit disturbing.
Readers who don't feel they can keep an open mind, have an overwhelming sense of moral decency or don't feel they can stomach seeing a teenager getting half his head blown away by a bullet fired just centimeters away might want to stay away from this title. For anyone else, hang on tight and prepare for a wild, horrific ride.
COURTESY DARK HORSE
"School Zone," published by Dark Horse.
Welcome to the School Zone, a buffer zone of sorts created to keep children safe on their way to and from school.
For the children of this particular school, though, this area may as well be considered the Twilight Zone, what with the way they approach the school in abject fear and all.
There's a good reason for that. Students and teachers are going missing, and it would appear that the rumors of 13 ghosts emerging from captivity one by one and haunting the halls of their school are slowly becoming a disturbing reality. These ghosts also have a tendency to manifest themselves around isolated individuals, which is why students try to travel in groups led by a fellow student leader whenever possible.
But as often happens in most cliched horror films these days, the worst things happen only when someone oh-so-conveniently gets left behind. And so a student leader gets possessed, teachers' heads get ripped off, and students get sucked through assorted portals of the undead.
Admittedly, the whole theme of "There are ghosts escaping! We must reseal them before it's too late!" feels a bit formulaic at times. Also not helping is Kanako Inuki's art style, which renders characters in seemingly wide-eyed, open-mouthed, virtually perpetual horror, with little, if any, emotional range beyond that.