By Setona Mizushiro. Released in Japan as “Houkago Hokenshitsu” by Akita Shoten, serialized in the magazine Princess. Released in North America by Go! Comi.
As I’m hosting this month’s Manga Moveable Feast, it would be a good idea for me to actually have an opinion on the title that I am hosting. Which, due to the wonders of democracy, I had not actually read before. After School Nightmare was put out by Go! Comi between 2006 and 2009, and I never did get it when it first came out, most likely as I’m not generally into horror unless there’s a healthy dose of humor.
The horror element is a major part of the series, and Volume 1 serves up some nice imagery. The girl with the holes in her face and chest is a startling image when you first see it, even if the backstory to it is sadly predictable, especially if you’ve read any Japanese manga before. The thing composed entirely of one long arm was also intriguing, though I did not actually find out the story behind it here. And of course you have the underlying menace of people ‘graduating’, which is clearly meant to equate to death in this universe.
Then there’s our three main characters, each with issues of their own. I quite like Kureha, despite her clearly traumatic backstory (did the manga really indicate she was raped as a 5-year-old girl?), even if I understand that in a manga featuring two pretty ‘boys’, one of whom has a psychotic crush on the other, she is doomed doomed doomed. I was less fond of Sou, but then I dislike that sort of character in general, even though I know how distressingly common they can be in real life. And then there’s Mashiro, whose gender ambiguity is starting to define his life. (I use his here simply as Mashiro in this volume is desperate to think like a guy). As others have noted, I wasn’t too bothered by the ‘girls are weak, guys are strong’ nonsense as it’s clearly being repeated more as a mantra to keep thoughts from straying too far.
Sadly, after all is said and done, I found Volume 1 strangely uninvolving. I’m not quite sure what failed to click. The manga is well-paced, the plot is laid out decently and with enough hints to make you want more. The characters are all hideously broken, which is exactly what you want in a psychological horror manga set at a school. It may simply be that I don’t like the genre of manga (or TV, or books…) that TV Tropes has termed ‘Kill ‘Em All’, which After School Nightmare is setting itself up to be. Getting to know and care about characters only to see the many and varied ways they die is not my thing, whether they be killed or ‘graduated’. And the manga is clearly setting itself up to do this, implying that the herd of cast will be thinned very soon. Not my thing.
Still, as a shoujo series, it does provide a lot of what I think young Japanese teens would like. Being at your school and yet feeling ‘different’ from everyone else, dream imagery, sweet boyfriends who are actually girls and therefore unthreatening (Kureha actually says this straight out in the manga itself), coupled with the thrill of the ‘dangerous’ guy, and of course what will no doubt be endless miles of tragic backstory. For those reasons, I can see why anyone would want to read After School Nightmare.