Reviewby Carlo Santos, Sep 17th 2007
St. Lunatic High School
Niko Kanzaki is living in the depths of poverty—but it looks like that's all about to change when her older brother Atchan lands a teaching post at the prestigious St. Lunatic High School. Unfortunately, what they didn't tell him is that he'd be teaching the night class ... which just happens to be populated by demons and monsters. But it's even worse for Niko, who's actually forced to attend that class as well. Now she must deal with a brooding demon-boy classmate, a crazy guy in a kangaroo suit, a rival rich girl, cursed mushrooms, and a whole host of other wacky supernatural oddities. All this, and they still aren't making any more money than they were in the first place...
Aww, St. Lunatic High School thinks it's so cute and funny. But here's the truth: it's not. This kiddie comedy put on airs of Looney-Tune wackiness and fantasy-cute aesthetics, but what lies at its core is a string of dull, obnoxious gags. There are only so many ways to spin out variations on "Ha ha! Poor people are really poor" and "Going to school with monsters is weird"—and it takes maybe half a chapter for this brainless sense of humor to start wearing out its welcome. Even readers who might actually enjoy such subject matter can find better material out there. It's true that the horror-fantasy and comedy genres are pretty popular—but clearly, combining the two is no guarantee of success.
The episodic chapters of this story rely on one basic joke: the Kanzaki siblings are ridiculously poor, and will do plenty of embarrassing things just to maintain their dignity, including mingling with monsters. While some of these embarrassments are mildly entertaining—Niko's ill-fated fishing venture is a classic exercise in lowered expectations—most everything else is just one pointless gag after another. The Kanzakis starve themselves sick to save on money. (Wow, that's not funny, that's just pitiful.) Niko gets grossed out at the monster kids' lunches. An outsider stumbles upon the school and everyone panics as they try to hide its secrets. Come on, where are the surprise punchlines? There's nothing wrong with using sitcom scenarios as a starting point, but when they fail to bring about any new humor, when they fail to generate any unexpected laughs, then it's just a trash pile of recycled jokes.
The poorly developed characters have a lot to do with this—the Kanzakis and their supporting cast all seem to operate on the basic personality trait of "Oh, we're so crazy!" Look, it doesn't count as ensemble comedy if everyone in the ensemble acts the same. The third chapter, where Niko meets the school chairman, is the lone attempt at building character relationships—and it falls apart in a confusingly plotted slapstick chase. The last chapter of this volume does show signs of improvement, as Niko's mushroom dilemma follows a more solid story pattern and doesn't try to wig out at every opportunity. However, that escapade is still highly reliant on formula, so it's really just an upgrade from plotless insanity (bad) to predictably-plotted insanity (below average).
Although the character design style might be appealing at first glance—humans and monsters alike are cute-ified with big eyes and child-size proportions—the visual storytelling is much less enjoyable. With no regard for space and flow, the page layouts end up trying to make everything as bold-lined and wacky as possible, resulting in an overdrawn mess. Because of this, several punchlines get lost in the fray; one has to backtrack and decipher the action to figure out what was (supposedly) so funny. Even special effects and super-deformed exaggerations don't help much, as they lead to confusion more often than clarity. And forget about having any sense of background or environment—there are maybe about two full drawings of the actual school building, and everything else is just walls and ceilings thrown around randomly.
The simple style of dialogue shows a definite leaning toward young readers; even the occasional expletive is toned down in translation. (Do people like Niko really say "Dang it"?) With the humor being as low-level as it is, it's no surprise that this volume presents few linguistic challenges. In fact, with its culture-neutral fantasy-school setting, it doesn't really need a glossary either—so don't expect any bonus content here. Sound effects, which are fairly frequent, are basically ignored and left in their original Japanese.
There is really only one reason to recommend St. Lunatic High School, and that would be to satisfy a strange craving for cute-occult-fantasy-comedy after having tried everything else. Otherwise, this opening volume is just too ridiculous and too lightweight, a failed attempt at replicating the success of something like Disgaea (arguably the modern prototype for mashing up fantasy creatures with cutesy comedy). But see, the reason Disgaea works is because the characters have backstories and goals, and interact in ways that create conflict and comedy. This, on the other hand, is just an idiot parade where, instead of interacting, they're re-enacting old jokes. And who wants to bother paying full price for refurbished humor?
Overall : D
Story : D-
Art : C-
+ Cute character designs; gets marginally better by the last chapter.