Wednesday, February 25, 2009

After School Nightmare (manga, vol. 2) by Setona Mizushiro

Sou still insists on pursuing Mashiro, despite the fact that Mashiro has a girlfriend (who's getting more than a bit unhappy with the Sou/Mashiro relationship) and Mashiro's insistence that he's a guy. Sou's sister shows up - she doesn't think things are going to work out between Sou and Mashiro (in fact, she warns Sou to stay away from him), and she's more than willing to continue to be Sou's lover until he finds a girl who'll love him. During the "special class," Midori, the girl with a hole for a face, appears to have given up. In the dream world, she jumps from a balcony - this upsets Mashiro, but Midori actually feels peaceful and whole for the first time in ages. While Mashiro is freaking out over Midori, the black knight comes and rips the key (the one that allows students to graduate) right out of Mashiro's body. Mashiro's not completely down yet, however. He uses his willpower and imagination to provide himself with a weapon, which appears in the dream world as two strange swords (one short and one long - a female and a male sword) bound by a cord. Mashiro manages to defeat the knight and, in the process, the key the knight took ends up in Midori's hands. Midori uses the key to graduate.

After Midori graduates, all signs that she existed disappear, and no one remembers her. Mashiro talks about it with Sou, who flusters him again by telling him for the umpteenth time that he loves him. Later, Mashiro and Kureha meet someone new, a guy named Shinbashi. Kureha is afraid of him, as she is of all males, but Mashiro tries to befriend him, even after Shinbashi confesses that he has a crush on Kureha. Mashiro hopes that Shinbashi can help Kureha become more comfortable around men. However, Shinbashi also becomes his sounding board after he and Kureha start having fights (mainly about Mashiro's inability to have any kind of intimate relationship with Kureha). Mashiro also talks to Sou about interacting with girls (is Mashiro dumb, or what?), which of course leads to the usual "I love you" talk that always makes Mashiro so uncomfortable.

In the dream world of the "special class," Mashiro comes across a new student, one who takes the form of a paper giraffe and who can see the true identity of all the other students. The giraffe is cruel to Kureha but is eventually defeated by a bit of rain. Mashiro also ends up getting defeated in the dream world, and the black knight finds the key after Mashiro is gone but doesn't use it to graduate. In the waking world, Mashiro finds out that there's a new student at his school, a 14-year-old child prodigy named Shinonome. Mashiro tells Kureha that he plans to ask the giraffe about the black knight's true identity, which sets Kureha off - for one thing, she believes that students' true identities are private things, and, for another, if the knight turns out to be Sou she's suspicious of what Mashiro plans to do with that knowledge. Kureha confronts Sou and doesn't exactly come out of it a winner. Meanwhile, Mashiro meets Shinonome, who admits that he's the giraffe and offers to tell Mashiro the knight's true identity for a price - Mashiro has to agree to do whatever Shinonome says.

After getting several volumes into the series, I'm glad to finally get to read volume 2 - I had to skip volumes 2 and 3 because those weren't available at my library yet.

Since I've already read several future volumes, the confrontations between Sou and Mashiro feel very "same old, same old" to me - it's pretty much the same thing over and over again. Sou won't take no for an answer, Mashiro doesn't help with all his blushing and obvious obsession with Sou, and Kureha is stuck in the sidelines, jealous and suspecting that something's going on between Sou and Mashiro, but unable to really do anything about it. I do feel sorry for Kureha, but I think it's also important to remember that Mashiro's not just using her (being her boyfriend and protector makes him feel more male), she's also using him. Because Mashiro isn't quite male, Kureha feels he's the perfect boyfriend for her, but then she gets upset because he's not behaving like how she feels a boyfriend should (kissing her, etc.).

What does intrigue me about this volume are some of the details and more minor characters. Midori, for instance, is pretty interesting. She doesn't really do much in this volume, but some of the things that are revealed in her scenes may be important clues that could help explain some of the mysteries of this school. Early in the volume, she mentions seeing a black crescent moon, one that Mashiro is unable to see. I can only remember one other character in the series seeing a black moon, since that's a detail I haven't paid as much attention to as a should have, but the other character I can think of also graduated shortly after seeing the black moon. It's possible that a black moon is a sign that a character will be graduating soon.

Speaking of graduation, I wonder about Sou's sister's comment that she knows what happens after graduation. She talks about this again later in the series, but she doesn't give any more details then than she does now. I still wonder what happens after graduation - is it really so bad, and why don't the other students remember those who've graduated? Is the waking world of the story really the waking world at all, or is it another kind of dream world?

Besides volume one, the earliest volume I got to read before I read this volume was volume 4, so I only knew about the giraffe character from the "our story so far" sections. He's an interesting and creepy character. In the dream world, he has no weapons and could, in some ways, be considered the weakest student in the class. However, his ability to see through students' dream selves gives him lots of power in another way, and he quickly demonstrates that he has no problems with using that power in whatever way he can. I wonder about his dream form, though. The fact that he's made of paper may indicate that, no matter how tough and ruthlessly he talks, he's actually really weak and easily hurt. Why is he a giraffe, though?

I'll wrap this up by talking about two other characters that show up in this volume, Sou's sister and Shinbashi. Apparently, the incestuous relationship between Sou and his sister is made fairly clear earlier than I thought, but I still think that it's presented in a much more shocking way in a later volume. She's a very mysterious character - powerful enough in the dream world to graduate any time she wants to, yet unwilling to graduate, and she seems to know more about what's going on than the other students do. As for Shinbashi, I can't believe how Mashiro acts with him. Shinbashi is right - a normal boyfriend would be more reluctant to encourage a guy who admits to having a crush on his girlfriend to befriend that girlfriend. Mashiro's intentions are good, but it's bizarre behavior for a boyfriend. It's yet another thing that hints that Mashiro is merely playing a part with Kureha.

Overall, I thought this volume was interesting - it's too bad I've had to read this series a little out of order. As far as extras go, there are 4 full-color pages at the beginning of the volume and a page of translator's notes - not too interesting.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Xxxholic (manga) by CLAMP - Watanuki is a high school student who is plagued by the ability to see spirits. One day, he meets a woman named Yuuko who can help rid him of this ability. Anybody who receives her help must pay a fair price in return, so Watanuki becomes her cook, housekeeper, and errand boy for an undetermined amount of time. Until he has worked enough to earn her help, Watanuki will continue to have to deal with his abilities, which often come in handy when Yuuko gives him special errands to run. This series includes lots of mini-stories, as Yuuko deals with clients who need her special skills and knowledge. Sometimes things turn out well for the clients, and sometimes things end badly, and, due to these experiences, Watanuki gradually grows and changes. Those who'd like something else that's often strange, sometimes a little dark, and has a tendency to deal with characters who have secrets and personal issues they have to overcome might want to try this series.
  • King of Thorn (manga) by Yuji Iwahara - A mysterious disease called Medusa is sweeping the world, slowly turning those afflicted with it into stone and shattering them into bits. A group of people with Medusa are chosen to be cryogenically frozen while scientists attempt to find a cure. Among them are Kasumi, a girl who had to leave her twin behind in order to join this group, Marco, a dangerous-looking man with secrets, a child, and others. The group is awakened too soon and find the island they're on to be overrun by thorny vegetation and monsters. They try to figure out what went wrong, where all the scientists are, and how to get off the island before Medusa claims their lives. They begin to discover each others' pasts and secrets and have to deal with their own dark sides. Those who'd like another somewhat dark story with plenty of weird happenings might enjoy this series.
  • The Sandman (graphic novel series) by Neil Gaiman - The first book is the series is called Preludes and Nocturnes. This series focuses mainly on Morpheus, the Sandman, a dark figure who watches over dreams and makes sure they stay separate from reality. Despite this, several of the stories in this series involve the blending of reality and dreams. Morpheus' various siblings make the occasional appearance, and they're fascinating as well. Those who'd like another character-oriented series that deals with dreams might enjoy this title. The series often takes a look at aspects of human characters' lives and personalities and how these intersect and blend with their lives in the dreaming world.

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