MMF: After School Nightmare

September 30, 2010

Sean (A Case Suitable for Treatment) Gaffney is hosting the current Manga Moveable Feast, which is focusing on Setona Mizushiro’s After School Nightmare. Looking back on this column I wrote for The Comics Reporter, I realize I don’t really have anything to add, so I will lazily reprint the column here.


In a lot of manga aimed at an adolescent audience, the characters’ objectives are sunny and straightforward. Do your best! Be true to yourself! Learn! Grow! Befriend! Love! You can dress those objectives up however you like and contextualize them in sports or sorcery or pop stardom, but the bottom line is basically the pursuit of happiness.

What makes a book like Setona Mizushiro’s After School Nightmare (Go! Comi) so alluring is that it’s about the aversion of unhappiness. The objectives here are just as straightforward, but they’re bleaker and probably more honest. Keep your secrets. Hide your flaws. Try not to hurt anyone more than you can avoid, but a teen’s got to do what a teen’s got to do.

Mizushiro’s introduction to the English-reading audience came courtesy of Tokyopop in the form of the two-volume X-Day. It’s not a bad little book, but it suffers from inflated expectations. The synopsis promises a plot by moody loners to blow up their school, but the reality is much more subdued. It’s a dysfunctional character study, and it has its moments, but it ends up feeling like an old After School Special. Everyone learns a valuable lesson, which is rather disappointing.

But in X-Day, Mizushiro did demonstrate the will to go to dark places, and the book’s promise is fulfilled in After School Nightmare. Go! Comi tagged the ten-volume series with the line, “This dream draws blood!” It does, both figuratively and literally.

Mashiro Ichijo is an upstanding student. He works hard, he’s polite to his classmates, and he’s in the kendo club. He also has a vagina, but that’s a well-kept secret. It may not stay that way after Mashiro is enrolled in a special class by the school nurse. One day a week, Mashiro reports to the infirmary to drowse into a dream world where he must battle his classmates for a mysterious key that leads to an even more mysterious graduation.

Mashiro’s paranoid protectiveness of his public persona becomes heightened as he tries to determine which of his classmates are joining him on the subconscious battlefield. An aggressive kendo team-mate, Sou Mizuhashi, claims he knows Mashiro’s secret. Mashiro is simultaneously attracted and repulsed by what he perceives to be Sou’s uncomplicated masculinity, and Sou demonstrates a kind of unsentimental attraction for Mashiro in return.

Mashiro’s feelings for sweet, sunny Kureha Fujishima are no less complicated. He knows Kureha’s in the class, frozen in a traumatic moment from her childhood, and he wants to protect her. (It’s what a real man would do, after all.) Mashiro’s ambiguous gender allows Kureha to return his feelings; he’s not entirely male, so he’s not the object of terror she finds most men to be. But are Mashiro’s feelings sincere, or is he just role-playing, trying to meet ingrained expectations? That’s a question you could ask of any of the principle characters.

Mizushiro gets terrific mileage out of the question, spinning the love triangle over most of the ten-volume series. Mashiro, Kureha and Sou are all trying to reconcile their respective damage, and to varying degrees they do that by modulating to meet the expectations of others. But Mizushiro doesn’t romanticize that; secrecy and denial are the obstacles to the characters’ forward motion towards whatever graduation entails. They have to accept what they don’t like or what they fear about themselves. They have to stop caring how others see them.

It’s less her story than Mashiro and Sou’s, but I found Kureha mesmerizing from beginning to end. She represents a number of overly familiar character types — the pony-tailed princess, the unwitting beard, and the victim who’s never healed properly — but she doesn’t embody any of them. She’s too sturdy, surprising, and strange. And while Mashiro and Sou waffle and flail (entertainingly, I should add), Kureha evolves. And she does so without losing any of her radiance. If anything, she gains in radiance, especially in the dream sequences.

As to those subconscious throw-downs, do you remember those occasional sequences where the X-Men’s Danger Room would malfunction, plunging one or more mutants into a personally resonant horror? It’s like that, except every Thursday. Mizushiro is playing with allegories throughout the series, but she doesn’t shy away from brutality. After School Nightmare is one of the few shôjo series I’ve seen with sequences that could be scored with a Pat Benetar song.

Even with ten volumes at her disposal, Mizushiro finds room for so much. In addition to the emotional and metaphysical violence, there’s a lot of tenderness here. Not much sentiment, but that’s welcome. All she needs are three messed-up people trying to survive.

Birthday book: The War at Ellsmere

September 29, 2010

I learned via Twitter that today is the birthday of one Faith Erin Hicks, so I would suggest you celebrate this occasion by picking up a copy of her fun look at clique warfare, The War at Ellsmere (SLG). Here’s a bit of my review of the book:

“For all of the book’s easy charm, it’s very tightly written. Hicks finds a solid, compelling plot in Jun’s first year at Ellsmere. She fleshes it out nicely with well-developed characters and, more importantly, chemistry among those characters. That’s a really important next step, and I think some creators may neglect it. There also seems to be more confidence in terms of voicing characters here than in Zombies Calling; there’s a similarly metatextual quality to the dialogue, but it’s dedicated more to the characters’ feelings than the shifting rules of zombie combat.”

Just for the record, I’d still happily read a sequel to this.

The Seinen Alphabet: K

September 29, 2010

“K” is for an awful lot of stuff, so I’ll try and be representative rather than comprehensive.

Kodansha! Where to even start with Kodansha? They used to work with a number of stateside publishers to license their properties, even going so far as to sharing a first-look agreement with in-limbo Del Rey, but then they ended that, yanked their licenses back from Tokyopop, and started a fairly tepid stateside publishing project of their own. They’ve got a panel scheduled at this year’s New York Anime Festival, so maybe they’re ready to kick things off properly. They’ve got a lot of great seinen magazines and properties, though.

Viz is serializing Kingyo Used Books, written and illustrated by Seimu Yoshizaki, on its SigIKKI site. It’s about the power of manga nostalgia. Other SigIKKI contributors include Mohiro Kitoh of Bokurano: Ours fame and Puncho Kondoh of Bob and His Funky Crew “fame.”

Yen Press will publish Kakiffy’s K-On! It’s a four-panel gag manga about a school music club. It originally ran in Houbunsha’s Manga Time Kiara, and I know a few people who really like the anime.

Speaking of four-panel manga published in English by Yen Press, they’ve got two from Satoko Kiyuduki. There’s the excellent Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro and GA: Geijutsuka Art Design Class. I don’t know anything about GA, as I haven’t read it, as I resent it for being the apparent cause of Kiyuduki suspending work on Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro.

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (Dark Horse), written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by Housui Yamazaki, originally started in a shônen magazine but currently runs in a seinen publication, Kadokawa Shoten’s Young Ace.

Kujibiki Unbalance (Del Rey) has kind of an odd provenance. It was the manga obsession of the characters in Kio Shimoku’s Genshiken (also Del Rey), and the popularity of Genshiken led Shimoku to collaborate with Keito Koume on an actual version of the fictional comic. It ran in Kodansha’s Afternoon.

Yuji Iwahara’s King of Thorn (Tokyopop) isn’t as good as his Chikyu Misaki (CMX), but he’s an amazing artist. King of Thorn ran in Enterbrain’s Comic Beam.

Kazuo Koike has written one of the most famous manga to be made available in English, Lone Wolf and Cub (Dark Horse), which was drawn by Goseki Kajima. Koike and Kajima also collaborated on Samurai Executioner and Path of the Assassin, both available in English from Dark Horse. Koike collaborated with Kazuo Kamimura on Lady Snowblood (Dark Horse) and Ryoichi Ikegami on Crying Freeman (Dark Horse). Koike also taught a college course in how to be a manga-ka.

Someone really needs to license Fumi Yoshinaga’s Kinô Nani Tabeta? It’s Yoshinaga’s first time writing for a seinen magazine (Kodansha’s Morning), and she’s writing about food again.

Upcoming 9/29/2010

September 28, 2010

Only one item really pops out at me from this week’s Comic List:

Did you like Hitoshi Iwaaki’s Parasyte (Del Rey) but wish it had more contemporary art? Vertical can accommodate you in the form of Nobuaki Tadano’s 7 Billion Needles. It isn’t as smart as Parasyte, but it has a number of elements working in its favor.

I like the protagonist, for one thing. Hikaru is a high-school girl who, for reasons yet to be fully articulated, isolates herself from her fellow students via headphones and a media player of some sort. This state continues until her body is invaded by an interstellar entity on the hunt for a vicious killer. Hikaru and her uninvited guest must engage with people to find the poor soul who’s hosting this monster, known as Maelstrom.

As I suggested earlier, I also like the art. It’s clean and imaginative, packed with detail. The best way I can describe it is to ask you to suggest a muted combination of Yuji (Cat Paradise) Iwahara’s imagination and Kio (Genshiken) Shimoku’s obsessive-compulsive streak. Tadano doesn’t quite reach Iwaaki’s gory heights of imagination, but Tadano is also more persuasive in rendering the quieter moments.

The first volume is equal parts introduction to Hikaru and the concept and ensuing mayhem. It’s a solid starting point, and I’m looking forward to seeing her develop as a heroine and person. 7 Billion Needles was originally serialized in Media Factory’s Comic Flapper and was collected in four volumes. Comments above are based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.

AXed transcript, part two

September 27, 2010

Here’s the second part of a transcript of a Twitter discussion on Top Shelf’s AX anthology of alternative manga held Friday, Sept. 24 and tracked by the hashtag #AXed.

Participants are:

  • MangaCur: Me
  • Debaoki: Deb (About.Com) Aoki
  • Snubpollard: Jog (Jog – the Blog) Mack
  • aicnanime: Scott (Ain’t it Cool News Anime) Green
  • remoteryan: Ryan (Same Hat!) Sands
  • And some pop-ins along the way. Thanks to Deb for assembling this transcript and for rounding up some AX-related links.

    I’m going to put this after the jump, because it’s really long and there are many spoilers along the way. So be warned! Also, be warned that I didn’t clean this transcript up, because it’s a Twitter conversation and I’m too lazy. I think it reads just fine as is. I did add some images, as I think it gives you a sense of the book’s scale and range.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    AXed, round two

    September 26, 2010

    Our Twitter discussion of Top Shelf’s AX anthology continues tonight (Sunday, Sept. 26) at 8 p.m. I’m not sure who’ll be participating this evening, but I’m sure it will be lively. We’ll be looking at the second half of the book, which has some of my favorite stories. Here’s a transcript of the first round of conversation.

    AXed transcript, part one

    September 25, 2010

    Here’s the first part of a transcript of a Twitter discussion on Top Shelf’s AX anthology of alternative manga held Friday, Sept. 24 and tracked by the hashtag #AXed.

    Participants are:

  • MangaCur: Me
  • Debaoki: Deb (About.Com) Aoki
  • Toukochan: Sean (A Case Suitable for Treatment) Gaffney
  • Factualopinion: Tucker (The Factual Opinion) Stone
  • Hermanos: David (4thLetter) Brothers
  • Snubpollard: Jog (Jog – the Blog) Mack
  • And some pop-ins along the way.

    I’m going to put this after the jump, because it’s really long and there are many spoilers along the way. So be warned! Also, be warned that I didn’t clean this transcript up, because it’s a Twitter conversation and I’m too lazy. I think it reads just fine as is. I did add some images, as I think it gives you a sense of the book’s scale and range.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Twitter book club

    September 24, 2010

    Hey, just wanted to mention, hopefully without over-promising since none of us have ever done this before, that some folks will be talking about Top Shelf’s AX anthology on Twitter tonight. We’re going to go story by story, giving quick impressions of each. Perhaps there will be a bonus round. Who can say? But it should be a fun experiment, if nothing else. We’re planning on using the hashtag #AXed, if you’re curious, and things are set to begin at 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. At the moment, the group includes myself (@MangaCur), Deb (About.Com, @debaoki) Aoki, Tucker (The Factual Opinion, @factualopinion) Stone, and Ryan (Same Hat!, @remoteryan) Sands.

    Updated: Well, we made it through about half of the book in a lively discussion that also included David (Comics Alliance, 4thLetter, @hermanos) Brothers, Sean (A Case Suitable for Treatment, @toukochan) Gaffney and Jog (Jog – the Blog, @snubpollard) Mack, which you can check out by searching for the #AXed hashtag on Twitter. I believe we’re planning to resume on Sunday, though I’m not sure on a time. I’ll post when I hear something, and I’ll get Deb Aoki’s transcript of part one posted either this evening or tomorrow morning.

    The Seinen Alphabet: J

    September 22, 2010

    “J” is for… well, not a whole lot, but…

    Viz has published Jourmungand, written and illustrated by Keitaru Takahashi and originally serialized in Shogakukan’s Sunday GX.

    The work of a number of spectacularly talented manga-ka is featured in Fanfare/Ponent Mon’s Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators, and many of them have created work for seinen magazines.

    Araki Joh is well known for his libation-friendly manga series Bartender and Sommelier.

    I would love it if someone published Iou Kuroda’s Japan Tengu Party Illustrated in English.

    Also on the unlicensed front, Mitsuru Adachi’s Jinbē sounds like an interesting if tricky romance. It was originally published in Shogakukan’s Big Comic Original.

    What starts with “J” in your seinen alphabet?

    Upcoming 9/22/2010

    September 21, 2010

    Welcome to my ultra-lazy look at this week’s ComicList. I have a head cold. Sue me. Here’s what looks particularly good to me:

    What looks good to you?