Saturday, February 21, 2009

After School Nightmare (manga, vol. 7) by Setona Mizushiro

Kureha and Sou are still having lunch together, talking about the things that Mashiro does that upset them, and considering going out with each other in order to get revenge. They don't know that Mashiro already thinks they're going out. In the next special class session, Mashiro is shocked when he sees that the number of his beads has mysteriously doubled. Soon Mashiro discovers that the increase is due to a parasitic student that has attached itself to him - Sou kills it and Mashiro at the same time. Later, Mashiro accidentally hurts Kureha's feelings, and Sou retaliates by kissing Kureha in front of Mashiro - this causes Mashiro pain, because he's now convinced that the two of them are dating and/or lovers. Mashiro doesn't really have anyone he can talk to, so he ends up talking to Koichiro, his sempai, in an attempt to sort through his feelings and figure out what to do. After Kureha and Mashiro get into a fight, Kureha decides that she's going to take the next step in her quest to overcome the ugly part of herself that she hates, the part of herself that's still the scared and hateful rape victim: she's going to go home and see her parents.

After Kureha leaves, Mashiro invites Sou to his room to talk to him and decides he's going to see him while wearing his girl's uniform. Unfortunately, Koichiro visits Mashiro's room before Sou does and Mashiro is forced to explain why he's wearing girl's clothing. Koichiro is surprisingly accepting, which appears to be good news for Mashiro, but now Mashiro and Sou's relationship seems to be on worse footing than ever before. Meanwhile, Kureha is having trouble coping with the fact that her parents are acting as though nothing has ever gone wrong in their family - no one talks about her father's earlier abusive behavior towards her mother or Kureha's rape. By the end of the volume, Mashiro is even more confused after Koichiro kisses him, and he finds himself wondering if his behavior towards Koichiro encouraged that kiss. Also, Mashiro and Sou's sister have a heart-to-heart during the special class, as Mashiro reveals his discovery that Sou's sister isn't even a student at this school and Sou's sister tells Mashiro that she was Sou's first lover. Sou's sister is afraid that Mashiro will make her go away, and she may be right - Mashiro finally tells Sou that he loves him.

A few volumes ago, I might've gotten more exciting about Mashiro's declaration of love, but I'm over that now. Considering Mashiro's track record with relationships, I'm not yet convinced that Mashiro is telling the absolute truth when he says that he loves Sou - after all, Mashiro has yet to deal with the new developments in his relationship with Koichiro. However, Mashiro's declaration does appear to have had an effect on Sou, who blushes and looks shocked/surprised, so it seems likely that the poor guy is going to be inadvertently crushed by Mashiro again.

It was nice seeing more of Sou and Ai's past (Ai is Sou's sister's name). Although it's still clear that the incestuous relationship between the two of them is unhealthy, the brief glimpse into their past reveals a little of the reasons why the whole thing started in the first place. Ai is very, very protective of Sou, overcompensating for their parent's lack of interest in him, which eventually developed into a sexual relationship. I don't think she can ever grow beyond her own issues until Sou is with someone else, because it doesn't seem like Sou is strong enough, at this point, to say no to her unless he's got a really good excuse, like a girlfriend he actually cares about. Although I don't yet believe that Mashiro means it when he says he loves Sou, I hope that he'll mean it eventually, since I'm really starting to root for Sou.

The parasitic student is interesting. Currently, my theory is that Koichiro, Mashiro's sempai, is the parasite, since he appeared with a missing bead after Sou killed the parasite and Mashiro. I'm not entirely convinced that my theory is true, however. When Koichiro appears near the end of the volume during a special class session, he has the parasite on his body and a doubled number of beads, too - if he were really the parasite, his beads wouldn't be doubled. Maybe he only had two beads in that earlier class session because of the shock of seeing one of his classmates killed - after all, he'd only recently started attending the special classes, so maybe he hadn't yet had time to become comfortable with the way the classes work.

Whether he's the parasite or not, I wonder what inner ugliness Koichiro has to deal with that's resulted in him getting added to the special class. The brief glimpse of his home life that readers are given indicates that he's constantly criticized and yelled at by his very proper father. I imagine that Mashiro's adoration is both an ego boost and annoying, since Koichiro knows all too well that he's not perfect. If he's the parasite, does that mean that he has a constant internal commentary going, gossiping about all the other students?

As far as extras go, there are a few author sidebars (mostly just sketches) and a page of translator's notes.

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Kare Kano (manga) by Masami Tsuda; His and Her Circumstances (anime TV series) - Yukino is a vain and greedy (albeit likable) girl who has spent years making herself seem like a perfect, elegant, and humble student, just so that she can be praised and loved by others. One day, Arima, a boy she views as a rival, sees beneath her mask and uses this knowledge to blackmail her into helping him out with his tremendous volume of work. Arima appears to be the real deal, a good-looking, perfect, and humble student, but he has his own secrets, some of which are far darker than Yukino's. As Yukino spends more time with him, she begins to fall in love with him and wants to help him deal with the darker parts of himself. Several of the characters in this series have secrets, hidden selves, and insecurities that may appeal to some fans of After School Nightmare. This title is most like After School Nightmare when it's at its darkest, but it does have a tendency to be lighter in tone than Mizushiro's series.

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