Drifting Net Café, Vol. 1

By Shuzo Oshimi. Released in Japan by Futabasha, serialized in the magazine Manga Action. Released in the United States by Futabasha on the JManga website.

Of all the titles released so far by JManga, no magazine has more examples of its wares than Futabasha’s seinen magazine Manga Action. It’s a bi-weekly magazine that caters to the same sort of reader as all of the ‘Young’ magazines, which is to say each edition features a hot Japanese gravure model on the cover. Now, to be fair, the content is just as varied as any other magazine for men. You have bento manga, medical manga, sports manga, and even Star Protector Dog. That said, you also have manga about guys trapped in loveless marriages who end up with the hot girl of their dreams.

Drifting Net Café stats off with this basic plot. Toki is a salaryman with a pregnant wife, and is dissatisfied with how he got there. Yukie, his wife, is having mood swings; he’s incredibly horny but unable to have sex; and he keeps thinking about the girl he had a crush on in high school, whom he hasn’t seen since then. Then one day as it’s raining he goes into a net café to ride it out, and runs into none other than his old crush!

So far so normal, and the entire first volume is set up so that you’re supposed to root for the adultery. Yukie is cute, and he loves her in that ‘yeah, whatever’ sort of way, but with Tohno it’s clear he still has chemistry and an undefinable spark. Unfortunately, they can’t immediately hook up because the café they’re in is suddenly transported to the middle of a hostile swampy desert in the middle of nowhere.

Yes, that’s right, this isn’t just an adulterous salaryman romance manga, it’s also a takeoff on Kazuo Umezu’s classic horror title The Drifting Classroom. Instead of children, we have bored and jaded young twenty-somethings cast adrift, and the conflict between then erupts almost immediately. We’re only one volume in, so we don’t really get to know the whole cast, but the characters we’ve seen get in the spotlight have issues. I honestly can’t even remember their names, I define them by their roles. The huge guy with some sort of rage disorder. The shallow girl who whines about wanting to go home. The psycho guy.

Speaking of the psycho guy, this is another manga rated M for mature. For most of the volume, that’s due to the occasional bout of violence, with folks beating up other folks because they’re all confused at being transported from Tokyo to a strange swamp in the middle of nowhere. Then right at the end, one of the meek characters, who’s been bullied by his boss since the start, goes nuts. He stabs his boss with a penknife, then grabs the shallow girl and forces her to go down on him at knifepoint. It’s as sordid as it sounds, and made me feel ill. Then another guy pulls out a taser… and that’s our cliffhanger. Didn’t take long for morality to erode, much like its older counterpart.

So we’ve got a wannabe cheating hero, a heroine who through one volume is still somewhat faceless (in flashbacks, she’s shown to be the cool mysterious beauty, but in the present she seems very passive), a lot of violence, and we end with sexual assault. Is there something to like about this title? Well, it’s certainly very good at setting a mood. From the moment we enter the net café, there’s a creeping feeling of horror that is conveyed very well on the page. I’m just… not sure I want to read the mood that this story is good at setting. If you want to see a horror/mystery title with a side of sex and violence, this may be for you. As for me, it lost me by the final chapter.

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