Reviewby Briana Lawrence, Apr 21st 2007
After School Nightmare
Ichijo Mashiro is your average high school boy. The girls think he's dreamy, he does kendo... and he gets cramps when he's on his period. Perhaps Ichijo isn't as average as he wants everyone to think.
In order to graduate he is told that he has to enter a world where he gets to see his classmates in ways he never could've imagined. Once he wakes up from the nightmare the basement room is gone, leaving no trace of the horrifying experience until the following week where he must keep trying until he finds the key to “graduation.” On top of that, when he wakes up he has to deal with classmates who have stabbed him, scared him, and who have learned his secret: he is not really a boy or a girl.
This is that one manga series that always gets overlooked. It gets picked up maybe once or twice a day, the description on the back reading in big bold text, “You have just awakened to find your darkest secret revealed to a group of people who would do anything to destroy you: your classmates!” The problem with this being the bold text is that it sounds extremely cliché, making it hard for readers to go past this part and open up the manga to read it. Though, if readers can get past the back of the book and actually flip through the pages, they will not be disappointed.
The first couple of pages are in full color, leading into beginning of the story where the main character is standing in the shower... having his very first period. Yes, his very first period. This very strange moment is the last colored page before the story kicks off. Suddenly, the manga has become interesting. Now it has become worth reading.
The story is told predominately in the main character, Ichijo's, point of view. This way, readers get to follow the story and experience his confusion with the world he is brought into. Also, readers get to experience Ichijo's confusion with his body being half male, half female. This point of view greatly helps the story, showing the contrast between the real world and the nightmare world. The story does occasionally switch point of view to the other characters, but this is usually to tell their story as Ichijo is learning about it.
Each character who is brought into the nightmare world is physically changed according to the secret they have. For example, when Ichijo awakens in the nightmare world he is wearing his normal school uniform on the top half of his body and a skirt on the bottom half of his body. Each secret is represented differently, though it doesn't matter how severe the secret is. What matters is how painful the secret is to each character. One girl's story of rape only has her cloaked in a hood while another girl's story of changing herself to try and get a college recommendation leaves her with a large hole in her face and chest.
When each character enters the nightmare world they each get three beads, and when those beads shatter they wake up and have to try again the following week. Beads shatter when the heart is attacked, but this isn't restricted to physical attacks on a person. The first time we see a bead shatter is when Ichijo is stabbed in the heart, but we also get to see emotional attacks on the heart that causes the beads to shatter. This means that there are an unlimited amount of weapons in the world, the strongest opponent can be defeated with just a simple word. The manga explains this without using long, drawn out paragraphs that list rules of the nightmare world. The manga, instead, has Ichijo learn through experience. The story's strongest point is its imagery, having breathtaking art with an original plot to back it up.
To add to Ichijo's experience inside of the nightmare world he has to deal with life outside of the world. Each person in the nightmare world is one of his own classmates, and two of them are trying to get closer to him. With his secret out in the open amongst these two classmates Ichijo is constantly questioning his actions and emotions as both a male and a female. There is also the question of his two classmates, Kureha and Sou, liking him for who he is or because of the fact that half of him is a woman. Kureha hates men, and now that she knows that Ichijo isn't completely a man she can get closer to him. Sou is known for going out with a different girl all of the time so one has to wonder if he really wants Ichijo, or if he just wants him because he is part female. In a way, the love triangle is kinda yaoi, kinda yuri, and kinda het all at once.
The best part of the story is when characters are given clues. This way, the readers aren't the only ones trying to figure things out, but the characters themselves are searching for answers. This is illustrated best when Sou gets letters from his sister. Instead of having Sou read the letters out-loud, the manga actually shows them written out on the page.
A huge plus of the story is that the translations keep the original Japanese honorifics. Instead of trying to translate them into English and using “mister” or “professor,” they keep the original suffixes found at the end of characters' names. For readers not use to this, the manga has a page at the end that explains the meanings of everything. Also, there is a page full of translator's notes for certain things in the manga (such as character names and events that took place in the manga).
The story does a good job at giving enough hints to make the reader interested, but not so many that the reader could figure it all out in one page. This technique is extended to the preview to volume two, where images from the volume itself are used instead of having a paragraph that describes what will happen. From the preview, volume two looks to be just as good, if not better, than this volume.
Overall : A
Story : A
Art : A
+ Gorgeous art. Original Story. Interesting characters and one heck of a love triangle.
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