Friday, February 27, 2009

After School Nightmare (manga, vol. 3) by Setona Mizushiro

Mashiro still has to decide if he's going to help Shinonome in order to discover the knight's identity. Things are still rocky between Mashiro and Kureha, and Shinbashi, who has a crush on Kureha, begins a phone calling relationship with Kureha, who needs someone to talk to while Mashiro waffles between her and Sou. Mashiro ends up agreeing to Shinonome's terms (do what he says, and guard him in the dream world). Mashiro does his best to defend Shinonome (who takes the form of a paper giraffe in the dream world), but his actions draw Kureha's wrath. Horrified at having hurt Mashiro, even if only in the dream world, Kureha is convinced that Mashiro will hate her, while Mashiro is sure that she's avoiding him because she's still angry with him.

The giraffe discovers Mashiro's secret, that his bottom half is that of a girl, and needles Mashiro about it. Mashiro forgets his pact with Shinonome and kills his dream form - although he had gotten the key for Shinonome, Shinonome now has to wait for the next class session to graduate. Instead of being angry with Mashiro, Shinonome still wants to continue with their pact - if Mashiro's not willing, Shinonome is willing to blackmail any of the other classmates to get him or her to do his bidding and help him graduate. In the next class session, Shinonome almost doesn't make it, but Kureha puts his paper form back together. The giraffe, now stronger, manages to defeat the black knight and obtain the key. Before he uses the key to graduate, Shinonome offers to tell Mashiro the knight's identity, but Mashiro says he no longer wants Shinonome to tell him. Shinonome graduates, and Mashiro and Kureha make up (for now). By the end of the volume, however, Mashiro has once again attempted to confront Sou, and Sou kisses him - unfortunately, Shinbashi witnesses the kiss.

This is one of those series I feel I could write about forever. There's just so much going on, and so many mysterious thing to unravel. I wish that Shinonome had been around longer. I wonder why Kureha put him back together after his paper form was torn - did she look like herself (as opposed to looking like a wild girl in a raincoat) in that moment because she managed, for a brief time, to overcome her personal problems? What was the significance of Shinonome's giraffe form? And why was he stronger after Kureha fixed him? I think this is also the first time Mizushiro has shown readers more of what's beyond the graduation gates. When Shinonome goes beyond the gates, he falls into blackness, surrounded by a loud "dong" noise. Was that the sound of a clock striking the hour, or was it something else, and what's the fate of those who graduate? I wonder if Shinonome really graduated legitimately. I mean, I remember something about students only getting to graduate after they oversome their personal issues, and I'm not sure Shinonome really overcame his.

Mashiro's swords turn up again in this volume, and I wonder about those, too. The black knight calls them male and female swords - those names don't surprise me, since this fits with Mashiro's gender issues. However, I wonder what kind of significance the appearance of the swords has. To me, each sword looks like one half of a giant split feather. In another volume, Mashiro is frustrated because the cord connecting the swords makes it difficult for him to fight, since he's not used to using two swords at one time. He'd like to get rid of one of those swords, but he can't, which is a pretty good metaphor for how he feels about his body. His body combines features of both a male and female, and he wants to rid himself of his female side, but he can't, something that his obsession with Sou makes painfully obvious. Maybe the appearance of the swords hints at a way Mashiro can overcome his own issues. If the swords are two halves of a whole, couldn't they be combined to be wielded more comfortably? If Mashiro were able to accept both his male and female aspects as parts of the whole that is himself, he'd be much more comfortable with himself, as well.

In this volume, Mizushiro makes the conflict between Mashiro's male and female sides a literal thing - at the beginning of the volume's final special class session, a male and female Mashiro fight each other inside a giant cage suspended in blackness. The female Mashiro feels she is stronger and tries to get rid of the male Mashiro so that the combined weight of them both doesn't take them both down, but the male Mashiro manages to win. Despite that, however, I doubt that Mashiro's internal conflict has been resolved.

One final note before I wrap this up - in my post for volume 2, I mentioned that one of the students who soon graduated was able to see a black moon in the waking world sky that no one else could see. In this volume, the same thing happens to Shinonome. Maybe being able to see the black moon indicates that a student is about to graduate, or maybe it doesn't. At any rate, the black moon makes me doubtful that the waking world the students experience is really the real world. In the real world, people don't see black moons or have their existences completely disappear, so what's actually going on?

Man, I love the mysteries in this series. Sure, the conversations and tension between Sou and Mashiro can get more than a little repetitive, but I think the overall weirdness and mysteries more than makes up for that. As far as extras go, there are three full-color pages (including a 2-page spread in which Sou and Kureha are drawn as servants tending to the every need of a Mashiro dressed as a princess - pretty fitting), the usual author's note at the very end of the volume, and a page of translator's notes. Although there's not much in the way of translator's notes, one of them, an explanation of the name of Mashiro's school (Kokoku) is very interesting. Besides meaning "large swan," it apparently also serves as a way to call someone a "great and mighty person." According to the translator, this will be very important in the future, so I wonder, is this school a crucible intended to produce great and mighty people? I'm not sure that everyone who graduates succeeds at becoming better people than they were...

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.
  • 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.
  • Paranoia Agent (anime TV series) - A mysterious kid with a bent golden bat has been going around attacking people. Two detectives are investigating, so that they can stop this kid, dubbed Lil' Slugger. Lil' Slugger's actions sometimes reveal the (often strange) secrets and private lives of his victims. Those who'd like another weird and possibly paranormal mystery that is heavily character-focused may enjoy this series.

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