Friday, February 13, 2009

After School Nightmare (manga, vol. 4) by Setona Mizushiro

In case you hadn't already noticed, I've pretty much given up on blocking myself from writing all spoilers. Read this post (and others in this blog) at your own risk. Most of this post was written 6 months ago, prior to my big move, so the public library I mention is not the one I now have access to.

Mashiro Ichijo's friend, Shinbashi, witnesses Sou kissing Mashiro. He assumes that Mashiro is confused about his sexual orientation, and he urges Mashiro to make a choice, either Sou (who's known to go through girlfriends like potato chips) or Kureha (Mashiro's girlfriend). Because Shinbashi cares for (loves) Kureha, he wants her to be happy, and Mashiro's indecisiveness is not making her happy. Eventually, Shinbashi ends up in the special class. A key is finally found, and Shinbashi decides to take it and graduate so that Kureha and Mashiro can stay together - his only request is that Mashiro finally choose Kureha, even if he still feels conflicted and confused. Mashiro agrees. When he wakes up from the dream, he can't remember Shinbashi, who has now disappeared, but he discovers within himself newfound confidence and indifference towards Sou. For now, at least, he can resist the temptation that Sou offers.

I'll admit that I had to skip volumes 2 and 3 - I can't afford to buy them at the moment, and my public library has been buying this series out of order. The volume does begin with a "our story so far" section, but only the last two of the five paragraphs actually covered anything that I missed. Still, I guess it's better than nothing. As far as I can tell, the actual story hasn't progressed too far, although at least one of the dreamers I remember from volume 1 has apparently graduated.

Although this is primarily a dark and serious series, I thought the portions where Mashiro desperately wants to explain to Shinbashi that it's not his sexual orientation that's confusing him were pretty funny. The thing that's really confusing Mashiro is his gender - his top half is male, while his bottom half is female. He wants desperately to be male and has an idealized version of masculinity in his head that he'd like to follow, but his feelings for Sou confuse him. I think it's interesting how Mashiro feels he has to pick just one gender and then follow that role perfectly. It's too bad that he doesn't feel he can follow a third option (or maybe even recognize that other options besides male and female as he sees them exist), since I think he'd be a lot happier and more relaxed if he could just forget all that "ideal male/female behavior" stuff.

Shinbashi was an interesting character. I don't think he was in the first volume, so everything I know about him comes from this volume. It's obvious that he cares about Kureha, and he knows or suspects enough about her past to know and understand that she's not comfortable around men. Because of that, most of their interactions in this volume take place via cellphone. In my opinion, it was both sweet and horrible that Kureha was so important to him that Shinbashi took the form of a cellphone in the dream world. It left him able to find her no matter where she was and get help for her, but it also left him unable to help her himself.

As soon as I saw that Shinbashi was going to become a student in the special class, I figured he'd end up fighting Mashiro in the dream world. Instead, Shinbashi had a form that rendered him incapable of fighting. He chose to view Mashiro, flawed as he is, as Kureha's best chance to be happy, even better than someone like him (Shinbashi), who definitely loves her.

Sou, as usual, has no problems physically expressing his interest in Mashiro. In this volume, Sou kisses Mashiro, does some upper body fondling (Mashiro set the limitations, probably not realizing how intimate Sou could still make things become), and almost has sex with him (her? - it's too confusing to switch pronouns, so I'll just stick with "him"). Had they not been interrupted, Mashiro would have ceased to be a virgin in this volume.

In some ways, I'm kind of glad that they were interrupted. Sou is still guarding himself so much that it seems like Mashiro isn't much better than one of Sou's throw-away girls - at one point, he even makes it clear that he's mainly interested in sex and that it never occurred to him that he and Mashiro would go on dates. I'd like them to actually bond more before things go farther in their relationship. Then again, since I missed out on two volumes worth of the story, maybe they've done more bonding than I know about. It's certainly amazing that it's taken Sou four volumes to get as far as near-sex with Mashiro.

In other ways, though, I wish they hadn't been interrupted. This isn't the squealing fangirl in me talking, although I do think Sou is sexy when he's not acting like an unfeeling, chauvinist bastard. No, the reason why I wish they hadn't been interrupted is because I, too, would like Mashiro to settle on someone, and I haven't even gotten to see him waffle for three whole volumes. It's painful seeing him to try play the role of perfect boyfriend for Kureha. He likes Kureha, but he's in lust with Sou - if he can't decide which one to choose, then it might be better if he weren't dating anyone at all.

One last comment before I wrap things up: I loved the ending of this volume. Usually, Sou expects Mashiro to cave any time he comes over and makes some crack about Mashiro being a girl. These situations usually end with Sou kissing Mashiro and Mashiro barely resisting. Not this time, though, and Sou's expression was great. It's one of the few times when I feel like readers are actually getting to see a little of what Sou is feeling - it's hard to say exactly what emotion his expression is indicating, but it could be shock, upset feelings, or both, or more. I'm just thrilled that it's not his usual blank indifference.

Overall, despite missing out on volumes 2 and 3, I enjoyed this volume, and I can't wait to see what else happens in this series. Choose someone, Mashiro!

As far as extras go, there are four lovely full-color pages, a few author sidebar notes (the design of the necklace for the special class, a little information about Kureha's uniform, the "colorful" names), and a page of translator's notes. The sidebar about the "colorful" names is accompanied by a great drawing of Mashiro wearing a shirt, tie, and vest - Mashiro doesn't usually bring out the fangirl in me, but for some reason this drawing does.

Much like Emma, this is a series for which I have difficulty coming up with read-alikes/watch-alikes. Again, feel free to list your own read-alike/watch-alike suggestions in a comment.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Loveless (anime TV series); Loveless (manga) by Yun Kouga - Twelve-year-old Ritsuka's life isn't very normal - his older brother died not too long ago, his mother is physically abusive, and a strange 19-year-old man named Soubi has shown up, claiming to have known his brother. Soubi says he is Ritsuka's Fighter, while Ritsuka is a Sacrifice. Ritsuka slowly comes to understand what this means, as he learns to battle other Fighter-Sacrifice pairs who may be able to lead him to knowledge about his brother's death. Those who'd like another story with mystery, twisted relationships, and emotionally damaged characters might enjoy this title.
  • Legal Drug (manga) by CLAMP - Kazahaya is collapsed in the snow, on the verge of dying, when he is rescued by Rikuo and taken to a pharmacy called the Green Drugstore. Kazahaya doesn't always like Rikuo's attitude, but he feels indebted to Kakei, the owner of the pharmacy. He wants to continue to be able to stay there, so he agrees to do the strange jobs Kakei gives him and Rikuo. These jobs often require Kazahaya and Rikuo to use their special powers. Those who'd story with mystery elements, strangeness, and an often moody tone might enjoy this series.
  • 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 another sometimes spooky, often weird manga series with high school students as main characters might like this series. As with After School Nightmare, some parts of the series can get a bit dark and involve a lot of emotional anguish.
  • The Cell (live action movie) - A psychotherapist uses a revolutionary new technology to help patients by exploring their dreams. She enters the dreams of a comatose serial killer in an attempt to save his latest victim before she dies. Those who'd like another dark story in which someone's psyche is explored through dreams might like this movie.

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