After School Nightmare, Volume 10

After School Nightmare, Volume 10Creator: Setona Mizushiro
U.S. publisher: Go! Comi
ISBN: 9781933617718
Released: February 2009
Original release: 2008

Many years after reading the first volume of Setona Mizushiro’s manga series After School Nightmare, I have now read the tenth and final volume. After School Nightmare is a dark and intense psychological fantasy with strong horror elements. Despite finding the first few volumes compelling, I also found them to be challenging since many of the themes explored hit fairly close to home for me. However, while After School Nightmare continued to be unsettling, I am glad that I finally made a point to read the entire series. After School Nightmare, Volume 10 was first published in Japan in 2008. A little over a year later the tenth volume was released in English by Go! Comi in 2009. Go! Comi no longer exists as a company and so After School Nightmarish has gone and currently remains out-of-print. Sadly, that also means that the series is becoming more difficult to find with each passing year.

Mashiro has slowly come to terms with his gender identity, but it has been a struggle. His body can’t be easily defined as either male or female and although he initially made the decision to live as a man, he has since realized that may not have been the correct choice to make. Although he was always uncomfortable with who he was, in large part Mashiro started to reevaluate his self-identity when he was placed in a special after school class required to graduate. Along with several other students, Mashiro was forced to confront and share his most personal fears, anxieties, and insecurities within a literal nightmare. Mashiro’s fellow classmates, each dealing with their own traumas, are also in the position to graduate, but to accomplish that will require active change and desire on their part. Every one of the students in the class must participate in the brutal, violent nightmares if they hope to leave the agony and anguish of their old lives behind.

After School Nightmare, Volume 10, page 44The final volume of After School Nightmare is almost impossible to discuss without spoiling the entire series—it contains a fair number of plot twists and major revelations which greatly impact the understanding and interpretation of the manga as a whole. The boundaries of birth, life, rebirth, and death are much thinner than one might expect and very closely intertwined. However, while Mizushiro leads readers down multiple dark and twisting paths over the course of the series, the true nature of the nightmares and of the school itself have been hinted at from the very beginning of the series. After School Nightmare, Volume 10 addresses many of the mysteries and answers many of the questions raised by the story and setting of the manga. In the end, there is a reason for the ominous and disquieting atmosphere and a purpose behind everything that the students have been through.

Honestly, After School Nightmare, Volume 10 leaves me feeling conflicted. In concept, I like what Mizushiro was attempting to do with the series, however I ultimately found the execution and much of the resolution to be unsatisfying. Although almost everything is explained by the end of the series, that explanation seems to effectively render meaningless all of the character development, their struggles and triumphs as they grow and overcome personal strife. I think in part After School Nightmare was intended to be uplifting or even empowering as the characters find the strength to survive. That’s certainly a legitimate interpretation, but to me it came across as exceptionally depressing as though the manga is needlessly or at least unnecessarily cruel. (And for the most part, I actually really liked the darkness of the series.) Still, I’m glad that I finally finished reading After School Nightmare. Even though I’m still working out my feelings regarding the conclusion of the series, over all I found it to be worthwhile.

After School Nightmare, Volume 9

After School Nightmare, Volume 9Creator: Setona Mizushiro
U.S. publisher: Go! Comi
ISBN: 9781933617701
Released: November 2008
Original release: 2007

After School Nightmare is a ten-volume manga series by Setona Mizushiro. Darkly psychological with elements of horror as well as social commentary, After School Nightmare can at times be a deeply troubling and challenging read while still being engrossing and oddly compelling. I first started reading the series several years ago, but have only recently been able to bring myself to read beyond the first few volumes of the manga, largely because I did find it so disconcerting and hard-hitting. Granted, the dark, anxiety-ridden atmosphere which makes the After School Nightmare so intimidating to approach is also what makes the story particularly effective and is an aspect to the manga that I can appreciate. After School Nightmare, Volume 9 was first published in Japan in 2007. The English-language edition of the volume was released in 2008 by Go! Comi. Sadly, the entire series has now gone out of print and is becoming more difficult to find.

One by one the students participating in the special after school class which forces them to share their literal nightmares with one another are graduating and disappearing, leaving only a vague memory of their existence behind. Though at times vicious and cruel, the dreams are intended to allow the students to work through their personal traumas, crises, and fears so that they can let go and move on from their troubled pasts. However, the violence and turmoil they experience within the dreams frequently spills over into their waking lives and graduating doesn’t necessarily guarantee a peaceful resolution. Koichiro in particular has reached his breaking point. He is ruthless in his determination to graduate and leave his overbearing and abusive father behind along with his carefully crafted public persona. Triggered by outside events, the nightmare Koichiro brings down upon the other students as he tries to free himself turns into a shockingly brutal and bloody rampage, signalling the beginning of the end for himself and for those who still remain.

After School Nightmare, Volume 9, page 29A few questions still remain, but for the most part Koichiro’s character arc is resolved in After School Nightmare, Volume 9. Like so many of the other characters’ stories, Koichiro’s is a tragic one and it is heartwrenching to see it play out. The culmination of his anger, pain, and suffering has a direct and devastating impact on the others, ending with a violent attack on Mashiro, the portrayal of which has blatant parallels to a sexual assault. Koichiro was at one point the most stable and seemingly well-adjusted character in the series, so to see such a drastic shift in his outward attitude and behavior is especially startling. He isn’t the only character to have significantly changed over the course of After School Nightmare, though. However, for some the process, while still being extraordinarily difficult, has ultimately been more positive. Just as the dreams have led Koichiro to abandon his self-restraint, they have also allowed Mashiro the freedom to begin to come to terms with his fluid gender identity and the fact that he may feel more comfortable as a girl. Compared to the beginning of the series, Mashiro has greatly matured.

After School Nightmare, Volume 9 has a fair number of major plot twists, surprising reveals, and crucial story developments, many of which call into question everything that has come before in the manga. Some of these things have been foreshadowed and are not entirely surprising but there is still some disorientation as they are revealed to be not quite what they initially seemed. Koichiro dominates the first few chapters of the ninth volume but from there the focus of the manga turns toward Sou as more of his backstory is explored. An explanation of a past that he has not entirely dealt with yet and that has been incredibly damaging both emotionally and psychologically is finally given. After School Nightmare was never a light series, but the ninth volume is a particularly heavy and dramatic one. Considering the very final scene which challenges many of the assumptions that I had made regarding the series, I am very curious to see where Mizushiro takes the story in the final volume. After School Nightmare has been a dark and twisting journey and I have no idea how it will end; I’m almost a little frightened to find out.

After School Nightmare, Volume 8

After School Nightmare, Volume 8Creator: Setona Mizushiro
U.S. publisher: Go! Comi
ISBN: 9781933617633
Released: August 2008
Original release: 2007

I first started reading Setona Mizushiro’s manga series After School Nightmare several years ago. I was specifically drawn to it due to the series’ exploration of gender and identity, but it was also those themes that caused me to hesitate to finish reading the work. After School Nightmare is fairly dark and heavy, in many ways hitting very close to home for me, and so I’ve only recently been able to bring myself to read beyond the first few volumes. After School Nightmare, Volume 8 was originally published in Japan in 2007. The English-language edition of the volume was released by Go! Comi in 2008. It, like the rest of the manga, is now out-of-print, but I had previously collected the series in its entirety based upon my impression of the early volumes alone. My initial feelings have so far carried through to the later volumes as well—I continue to find After School Nightmare to be oddly compelling, chilling, and disconcerting.

Mashiro has been living as a man for his entire life, but his gender identity has been something that he has always struggled with. Born with a body that was neither entirely male nor female, he’s constantly fighting the feelings of his own inadequacy and lingering self-doubt. Mashiro along with several other students have been participating in a special after school class which, through shared dreams, forces them to confront their most personal troubles and fears. Slowly things are changing. Mashiro has been able to begin to accept himself, realizing that the feminine side that he’s been trying to suppress is closer to his true self than the masculine persona he’s created. Along with his personal identity, Mashiro has also admitted to his romantic interest in Sou—another student dealing with a difficult past, traumatic secrets, and conflicted feelings—which only serves to complicate matters even further for the both of them.

After School Nightmare, Volume 8, page 50The events, revelations, and realizations that occur in After School Nightmare, Volume 8 are momentous, not only for Mashiro but for many of the other characters as well. Intense feelings and emotions that have been churning under the surface, largely hidden from the view of others, finally erupt as Mashiro and several others reach their breaking points in a dramatic and chilling fashion. After struggling for so long trying to live up to the expectations set for themselves either personally, by their families, or by society at large, they can no longer contain their apprehension, anger, and distress. The masks that they publicly wear are beginning to disintegrate, for better and for worse. The eighth volume is a turning point in the development of many of the characters as they claim or reclaim their identities along with all of the good and bad that comes with recognizing and admitting to themselves and to others who they really are as people.

The psychological drama of After School Nightmare is tremendous and the subject matter that Mizushiro explores can be hard-hitting as the characters deal with a wide range of traumas. As slow as some of their personal growth has been, and as unlikeable as some of the characters can be at times, I am glad to see them coming to terms with themselves, what they’ve been through, and what they continue to experience. Mizushiro effectively conveys the turmoil of young adulthood and through the characters’ nightmares brings it to the forefront to the series. The nightmares are heavily symbolic, the emotional and metal states of the characters directly impacting and influencing the dreamscapes. The consequences of their behaviours both within the dreams and outside of them can be devastating. While the eighth volume of After School Nightmare grants some relief from the mounting tension, it also reveals just how long-lasting and damaging the effects of one person’s actions on another can be.

After School Nightmare, Volume 7

After School Nightmare, Volume 7Creator: Setona Mizushiro
U.S. publisher: Go! Comi
ISBN: 9781933617626
Released: April 2008
Original release: 2007

After School Nightmare, and more specifically the first few volumes of the series, was my introduction to the manga of Setona Mizushiro. The beginning of the series left a strong impression on me, so I sought out more of her work released in English, namely X-Day and more recently Black Rose Alice. But for a very long time, I didn’t ready any further in After School Nightmare. The manga is a dark psychological drama with elements of the fantastic, which is a type of story that I tend to enjoy, but some of the series’ themes could occasionally hit uncomfortably close to home. I have since found the courage to read the rest of After School Nightmare and so far have continued to find the series to be both engrossing and disconcerting. After School Nightmare, Volume 7 was first published in Japan in 2007. The English-language edition, now out-of-print, was released by Go! Comi in 2008.

After rejecting Sou and after his breakup with Kureha, Mashiro now finds himself more alone than ever. The distance between himself and others is made even more painfully clear when the relationship between Kureha and Sou, once rivals in love, begins to deepen. At first they merely commiserate with each other, having both been hurt by Mashiro, but eventually they become very close. Meanwhile, Mashiro is struggling to come to terms with the confusion and turmoil of his feelings, and his identity, on his own. Physically, his body has both male and female characteristics, but for his entire life Mashiro has striven to be seen and accepted as a man. More recently, however, his desire to express himself as a girl has grown. One of the reasons that Mashiro refused to recognize his developing feelings for Sou, seeking refuge in his relationship with Kureha, was that he was trying to deny this feminine part of himself. However, that avenue of escape may no longer be an option for him.

After School Nightmare, Volume 7, page 35While Mashiro is the lead character in After School Nightmare and much of the manga’s focus in on his personal struggles and growth, both Kureha and Sou have major roles to play as well. After School Nightmare, Volume 7 reveals more about them and their unfortunate family circumstances than ever before. Surprisingly, Kureha actually returns home to visit her parents for a time, though she still harbors ill-feelings towards them due to the trauma she suffered in the past. The exact nature of the unpleasant ordeals that Sou has lived through and has never quite recovered from are exposed in the volume as well. Mizushiro isn’t afraid to go in some very dark directions with After School Nightmare. Many if not most of the characters are dealing with the lasting repercussions of abuse, whether it be mental, physical, emotional, sexual, or some combination of the four. Perhaps even more tragically, at times this maltreatment is even self-inflicted.

In addition to Sou and Kureha, there is another character whose backstory is specifically explored in After School Nightmare, Volume 7—Koichiro Kurosaki, Mashiro and Sou’s upperclassman from the kendo club. Throughout the series, Koichiro has been something of a cipher. He comes across as well-adjusted and mature, but also distant and reserved. Frequently Mashiro comes to him seeking advice and Koichiro, calm and collected, provides guidance seemingly without judgement. However, in the seventh volume, it is revealed that he, too, is struggling with his own family problems and personal issues. Koichiro’s very careful in how he presents himself, but his vaguely unsettling cool exterior is a cover for a much more troubled and darker personality. Because he has earned the respect and trust of others, Koichiro is in a position to inflict some truly significant harm should he choose or allow himself to do so. This sort of intense, psychological drama in After School Nightmare is part of what makes the series so chilling.

After School Nightmare, Volume 6

After School Nightmare, Volume 6Creator: Setona Mizushiro
U.S. publisher: Go! Comi
ISBN: 9781933617480
Released: January 2008
Original release: 2006

The sixth volume of the manga series After School Nightmare, an intense and dark psychological drama by Setona Mizushiro, was originally published in Japan in 2006. The English-language edition of After School Nightmare, Volume 6 was released by Go! Comi in 2008. Go! Comi is no more, so the entire series has gone out-of-print, but the manga still seems to be relatively easy to find. After School Nightmare is a series that honestly disturbs me, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing since in part it’s a horror manga. But while I find After School Nightmare to be disconcerting, I also find it to be oddly compelling. Mizushiro deals with some heavy issues in the series, including emotional, psychological, and physical abuse, trauma, and violence. The search for personal identity and the roles that gender and sexuality play in defining who a person is are major themes as well. In fact, it was those themes that first drew After School Nightmare to my attention.

Despite some lingering doubts, Mashiro made the decision to give up on his feelings for Sou in favor of his feelings for Kureha. Sadly for him, things aren’t turning out how he would have liked at all. Tying his masculinity to her insecurities, Mashiro wanted to feel needed by Kureha, to become her white knight and protector. But now Kureha is beginning to feel more confident in herself and trying to rely less on Mashiro. Suddenly finding himself without an acceptable role to play in their relationship, and no longer being able to meet the established though self-imposed requirements of what it means to be a man, Mashiro is thrown into turmoil. In the past he presented himself as a prince who would rescue those who were weaker than him, but it’s help that is no longer wanted nor needed. Just when he thought that he had everything finally figured out, Mashiro finds his relationships falling apart because they were built on his own insecurities and fears. He is desperate to be seen as a man by others and at the same time is terrified by the fact that he also yearns to express his femininity.

After School Nightmare, Volume 6, page 184Most of After School Nightmare takes place in one of three settings: the school grounds, the dormitories associated with the school, and the shared nightmares of the students participating in the special after school class required for their graduation. Granted, it’s not graduation in the usual sense. The students who successfully complete the course completely disappear from the campus and from the memories of those left behind, almost as if they never existed at all. The mysteries surrounding what it really means to graduate combined with the story’s limited settings create a marvelously ominous and claustrophobic atmosphere. As a result, when the series breaks from that narrow focus, it can be especially unsettling. In the sixth volume, for what I believe is the first time in After School Nightmare, a truly significant scene occurs away from the school entirely, which serves to emphasize Mashiro’s reluctance to deal with his issues head on. But it’s a moment of false freedom; he won’t be able to run away from his problems indefinitely without there being negative consequences.

The nightmares in After School Nightmare are intended to be an environment in which the students can work through their personal traumas and fears, but the participants are simultaneously stripped of many of their defenses and left incredibly vulnerable within the dreams as well. In theory, what happens in the dreams is meant to remain private and not to carry over into the waking world, but in practice that is rarely ever the case. Even so, most of Mashiro’s growth and maturation is thanks to those nightmares. It’s not until After School Nightmare, Volume 6 that he’s forced to really begin to recognize outside of them how selfish and self-centered his relationships with other people have been, how he’s using them to make himself feel better about himself, and how his actions affect others. In many ways, Mashiro’s waking life is just as much of a fantasy as the dreams he is made to share with his classmates, and both reality and nightmares can be troubling and traumatic. However, it’s the nightmares that are the more truthful and honest even though they can also be highly symbolic and strange. In the end, as horrifying as the dreams are, the denial and insidious falsehoods of reality may ultimately be the more damaging.