Random Musings: Wrapping Up the Horror Manga Monthly Review Project

MushishiLiveActionOver the last few years one of the features at Experiments in Manga has been a monthly manga review project. What makes these reviews any different from the rest found on the site? Not much, really, except that the readers of Experiments in Manga actually helped to choose the manga that would be featured. The subject of my third monthly manga review project was put up for a vote about a year and a half ago. I narrowed down the genre to horror–using a very broad definition of horror–and selected five options from which readers could pick: After School Nightmare by Setona Mizushiro, Dorohedoro by Q Hayashida, Mushishi by Yuki Urushibara, Nightmare Inspector by Shin Mashiba, and Tokyo Babylon/X by CLAMP.

Much to my surprise, there ended up being a tie between After School Nightmare and Mushishi. So, instead of trying to come up with some arbitrary way to choose one series over the other, I decided that I would simply review both of them. Between December 2014 and July 2016 I alternated between the two series until I had reviewed every volume of the manga. I also wrote a bonus Adaptation Adventures feature for Mushishi which provided a brief overview comparing and contrasting some of the series’ adaptations. One thing that I personally found interesting about this particular review project was that while I already knew that I loved Mushishi (I simply hadn’t previously written much about it at Experiments in Manga), After School Nightmare was a manga that I had started but never finished and so didn’t know what my overall impression of the series would be.

As was the case with my past two review projects (namely Blade of the Immortal and the Year of Yuri), I greatly enjoyed delving into After School Nightmare and Mushishi as part of the horror manga review project. Though both series share some similarities, such as strong psychological elements, a unsettling atmospheres, and an ominous sense of foreboding, they are still very different from each other. One particularly notable difference between the two is how each manga approaches and treats themes of life and death. Life in Mushishi is something that is held as sacred in which one person is part of a much greater whole; in After School Nightmare, life consists of trials and tribulations that must be personally overcome and is something that must be actively claimed as one’s own.

Found below are the links to the individual in-depth reviews and features associated with the horror manga monthly review project. Though not specific to the review project itself, tags for both After School Nightmare and Mushishi are also available for browsing.

After School Nightmare
After School Nightmare, Volume 1
After School Nightmare, Volume 2
After School Nightmare, Volume 3
After School Nightmare, Volume 4
After School Nightmare, Volume 5
After School Nightmare, Volume 6
After School Nightmare, Volume 7
After School Nightmare, Volume 8
After School Nightmare, Volume 9
After School Nightmare, Volume 10

Adaptation Adventures: Mushishi
Mushishi, Volume 1
Mushishi, Volume 2
Mushishi, Volume 3
Mushishi, Volume 4
Mushishi, Volume 5
Mushishi, Volume 6
Mushishi, Volume 7
Mushishi, Volumes 8, 9, and 10

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.

My Week in Manga: December 14-December 20, 2015

My News and Reviews

Only one in-depth review was posted at Experiments in Manga last week. I should be getting back to my regular blogging schedule very soon, though. As for the said review, I took a look at Setona Mizushiro’s After School Nightmare, Volume 7 as part of my monthly horror manga review project. After School Nightmare is an effectively unsettling work, but it’s also engrossing. The seventh volume has some particularly chilling developments and revelations. (And that’s it from me at the moment!)

Quick Takes

Black Rose Alice, Volume 4Black Rose Alice, Volumes 4-6 by Setona Mizushiro. From what I can tell, Black Rose Alice is currently on hiatus in Japan. Fortunately, the first six volumes appear to complete the first major story arc of the manga. While I certainly hope that the Black Rose Alice continues, and I look forward to seeing how it develops, at least readers are provided with some resolution and closure for what could be a long wait. This second half of the first arc deals with the aftermath of Leo’s demise. The relationship dynamics in Black Rose Alice have always been a little peculiar and unnerving, but as they begin to fracture under the strain of the loss of Leo it’s shown just how strong and just how tenuous they can be at the same time. These volumes also include the reappearance of Koya, which throws the situation into even more turmoil, and the revelation of the twins tragic backstory. Emotions run high and the drama is intense as everything seems to be falling apart. Black Rose Alice continues to be dark and creepy and Mizushiro’s vampires are still some of the most unusual ones that I’ve come across.

Itazura na Kiss, Volume 1Itazura na Kiss, Volumes 1-3 by Kaoru Tada. Considering the number of boys’ love titles that Digital Manga releases in print (as well as its recent efforts to translate all of Osamu Tezuka’s works and its foray into hentai) it can be easy to forget that the publisher has other interesting manga in its catalog, too. Itazura na Kiss is one such series, a classic shoujo manga from the nineties which was extremely successful in Japan and elsewhere in Asia. The story is about Kotoko, an academically-challenged young woman in high school who has fallen in love Naoki, another student who is a legitimate genius. He also turns out to be a huge jerk, but every once in a while he shows a warmer, kinder side of himself. So far, I have been enjoying Itazura na Kiss, perhaps more than I expected. Kotoko shows wonderful strength of character and even Naoki’s unpleasant personality has more depth to it than initially appears. Despite the best efforts of their parents who would love to see them married, the romance between the two of them is believably slow to develop. I also like that the story doesn’t get stuck in high school and follows Naoki and Kotoko as they enter college.

Merman in My Tub, Volume 1Merman in My Tub, Volume 1 by Itokichi. Seven Seas has made something of a name for itself as the publisher of monster girl manga, but with Merman in My Tub monster boys are now better represented as well. The basic and appropriately ridiculous premise of Merman in My Tub is that Wakasa, a merman, has become a permanent resident in the bathtub of Tatsumi, a young man who rescued him from a polluted river. His mere presence causes all sorts of problems and inconveniences for Tatsumi, especially when his other aquatic acquaintances begin showing up, too. The series is a largely episodic four-panel comedy manga although there are some small story arcs, recurring characters, and running jokes. There is also plenty of boys’ love tease and innuendo. (In part Itokichi seems to have created the series as an excuse to draw half-naked men.) At the same time, Merman in My Tub makes use of some of the vaguely incestuous little sister/big brother tropes that can be fairly prevalent these days. As a result, though it has its charm, the series sometimes seems a little confused about which audience it’s trying to appeal to.