So, first, a quick summary of the volume (and a GIANT SPOILER ALERT, for those who worry about spoilers, because I'm going to give stuff away). Mashiro finally decides to be comfortable as him/herself. In private, Mashiro basically chooses to embrace being a girl (and even has sex with Sou), although he/she still dresses and tries to act like a boy while at school. In the dream class, Sou (whose form is now a dog, which is weirdly cute, considering that form is basically a representation of Sou's desire to be loved and cuddled by Mashiro...although I still wish that Sou had found someone better for himself) and Kureha help Mashiro get the key - this is done via Sou ripping out Kureha's throat, and Kureha letting him. Mashiro can now graduate, and graduation turns out to be birth. Mashiro's dual-gender status was a result of being twins in one body. In the real world (?), Mashiro's mother is pregnant with twins, and the hospital she's staying in is on fire. The male twin dies before being born, but the girl twin lives - only one twin was going to live, and this is the reality of Mashiro's choice. Years later, the girl twin bumps into a stranger who looks a lot like Sou. Will they get to know each other, somehow drawn together by the relationship they had while they were still in their mothers' wombs? Who knows?
I thought this volume was good, but unsatisfying. I cared about the characters enough to want to see what happened to them, and Mizushiro's ending basically said "none of what you read really mattered." There is no evidence that character relationships have any bearing on how those characters interact with each other after being born, so all that intense drama and character growth seems to have been for naught. It makes me wish that the "years later" part had been a bit longer, and that Mizushiro had given the girl twin and the guy who looked like Sou some spark of "do I know you?" when they bumped into each other. Otherwise, what was the point of this series, of the characters' experiences and growth? This is almost as bad as a "and it was all a dream" ending.
I think I enjoyed the buildup to the ending more than the actual ending, although I'd love to reread the whole series again, so I could see graduating and disappearing characters from this new perspective. If I were to encounter another one of Mizushiro's works translated into English, I think I'd jump at the chance to read it. Even if the ending of that series turned out to also be a disappointment to me, I'm sure I'd at least enjoy the journey.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- King of Thorn (manga) by Yuji Iwahara - This is another manga that ends with a bit of a headtrip. It has much the same feel as a blockbuster action movie. I've written about the first four volumes and will have a post for the last two up shortly, since this is another series I chose to finally finish during my vacation.
- Loveless (manga) by Yun Kouga; Loveless (anime TV series) - This is another series in which an overarching mystery slowly gets unraveled, although unfortunately the manga may never be finished in the U.S. because it was one of Tokyopop's titles. The anime is short, only covers some of the manga volumes, and doesn't have a true ending, so I'd probably recommend the manga over the anime (although my first experience was with the anime, and that was enough to get me hooked). Like After School Nightmare, this series has some cute moments, but the overall feel of it is kind of dark, and several characters have messed up relationships.
- Xxxholic (manga) by CLAMP; Xxxholic (anime TV series) - I haven't finished this series yet, but it had gotten pretty strange at the point I stopped, and I wouldn't be surprised if this turned out to be another series that ends in a way that makes you rethink everything you thought you knew was going on. At least at first, this is a very episodic series. Generally, Watanuki encounters some kind of spirit, and/or Yuko deals with a client. Unfortunately, I think later events probably won't make as much sense unless you also read Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle at the same time. I have written about the first season of the Xxxholic TV series and volume 12 of the manga.
- Perfect Blue (anime movie) - This is a dark and twisty psychological thriller about a pop singer-turned-actress who is being stalked. Those who'd like something else in which all is not what it seems might want to try this.
- Paranoia Agent (anime TV series) - Like Perfect Blue, this TV series was directed by Satoshi Kon. It's another dark psychological thriller (or would it be better to call it a mystery?). Those who'd like something else dark, twisty, and strange might want to try this. If I remember correctly, unlike Perfect Blue, this series has some darkly humorous moments, so it might be better for those who also liked After School Nightmare's lighter moments.