Reviewby Lissa Pattillo, Jul 4th 2010
Shiro Kamiya is the odd man out amongst his classmates in the prestigious St. Kleio's Academy where talent and intelligence comes second-string to the school's primary requirement – to be a clone of an impacting historical figure. Surrounded by the likes of Napoleon, Queen Elizabeth and Mozart, he finds himself alienated by many while still embraced as a friend by others. But it isn't all bullies, grades and girls for Shiro and his genetically generated peers as more is stirring in the walls of this school than mere day-to-day life as each student finds themselves haunted by the ghosts of their past-selves and an administrations' plans for their future.
While the science of genetics remains forefront in Afterschool Charisma, there's also an inkling of an almost supernatural-vibe that trickles its way in. Ever-present in the minds of many is the idea of a clone's destiny – specifically, if they're doomed to meet the fate of their original via universal karma. These notions take precedence among the students of this unique school after a delivered speech by a ‘newly’ appointed president. Eventually this leads the story's focal lead, Shiro Kamiya, to discover a group in his school who takes the fear very seriously, and for good reason. But that's far from being the bulk of this story as Afterschool Charisma takes on the psychological effects of teenage-clones while teasing at the political and ethical ramifications of their existence.
This first volume trips up a few times when it comes to character introduction, notably because there are so many of them. While the near-immediate reveal of most character's ‘identities’ allows for readers to leap quickly into the historical-play, it feels like the creator could've afforded to give things up a little less easily. The expositional delivery also feels too forced coming from the characters as it does (“…well they are such-and-such-a-person after all.”) and it takes away some of the potential fun of trying to figure out the who's who first. On that same note, part of the series' appeal may be lost to readers who aren't as up to speed on their historical personalities. It's fun comparing and contrasting the cast with what familiarity we have going in about their ‘originals’ and the story toys with the notion of being tied to their predecessor's fate which makes for even more intriguing possibilities.
Despite any issues with context going in however, the characters are all vibrantly distinct and should offer plenty of compelling content to keep readers of any pre-existing knowledge captivated. While most maintain a certain air of dignity in light of the pressures upon them to succeed, many still act refreshingly natural as the teenagers they are. There are groups of friends, cliques, the popular kids, the unpopular kids and some expected gossip, academic stress and hormones tossed in for good relatable measure. The way they interact and respond to each other is unique to each one and the author has obviously taken care to make use of the value of pre-existing personality elements while also giving each one a new-life twist – a really good historically-based fan fiction, you could say. Notable students include a dangerously prideful Mozart and the sly but observant Freud.
While this first volume feels most intent on establishing the cast, there's already a satisfying plot brewing amidst them. The true purpose behind the school isn't as clear as is first believed and those pulling the strings of the establishment already find themselves well at odds with opposing forces who're willing to shed blood for their beliefs, a level of conviction that doesn't seem lost on the faculty of St. Kleio Academy either. This introductory volume also opens right in the thick of a clone's own personal dilemmas, setting a sinister underlying tone for the subsequent chapters after a student challenges what's expected of her and is swiftly expunged.
It quickly proves worth a ponder why the decision was made to not only clone the most brilliant of deceased notables but also some of the most destructive as well. Mozart, Joan of Arc, Freud… Hitler? If there's a desire to house the brilliance of past dictators for the presumable forces of good, you can't help but wonder in how many ways it could all go wrong. Our human beings really determined by nature or nurture? One also has to wonder if there isn't more than meets the eye with Shiro, especially when both he and readers are practically beaten over the head that he's the only non-clone in the institute. While there isn't much to base this suspicious off past his creepy obviously-up-to-something Father (a professor at the school), and the willingness to think against the facts the story wants you to believe, it's still one of the story's elements that proves good food for thought.
Should you want to take a breather from the occasionally terse nature of the story however, look no further than the art, which is a real treat for the eyes. Skilfully rendered with thinly inked lines and atmospheric screen tones, the whole book has a traditional gothic feel to it while also exuding a plot-complimenting militant feel with the student uniforms and intentionally dry but detailed backgrounds. The characters are really expressive, the art bringing them to life with a vast array of emotion whether intended for comedy, drama or seeming indifference. Everything is showcased using a variety of angles and perspectives that really carry the plot along and keep the pages feeling unique from one another, even if the same can't be said for some of the character facial structures which can be distractingly overused. Readers may also recognize Kumiko Suekane's style from her series previously released in English – the one-shot, Once Upon A Glashma and multi-volume, Blood+.
Afterschool Charisma has so far proven itself a fantastic treat for the mind and the eyes of indulging readers. The plot seems potentially over-simplified so far but this first volume's focus on a sundry cast of dynamic individuals makes it an engaging read with the promise of much more to come. Tackling a dynamic sci-fi concept with class and intrigue, this is a first volume not to be missed by the considering or curious.
Overall : A-
Story : B+
Art : A
+ Rich characters and an intriguing plot that balances science, politics and fate; solid, atmospheric artwork with a traditionally-gothic nuance that can appeal to manga readers across genres
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