Ichijo Mashiro has a secret- for all that he chosen to look and act like a man, the truth is that his body is not completely one gender or the other. It’s an unusual scenario, but one he tries to convince himself he has come to terms with, at least until a bizarre set of circumstances forces him to admit otherwise. For Ichijo has been chosen to participate in a very special after school club, one in which he and five other troubled classmates enter a dream world in which they all must fight each other for the elusive key that enables them to ‘graduate’. In this world, victory depends on breaking the heart of your opponents, but what happens when someone’s darkest secrets are laid bare- and how does it affect your relationships with those people in the waking world?
Although there was the possibility that it would turn out to be no more than a cheesy high school horror tale, I have to admit that I was drawn to After School regardless- thanks to the rather unique situation of the lead. The idea of fiction exploring a character who is neither entirely male nor female in a context outside of flippancy light humour seemed like a prospect for some interesting character development, and so it was that I resolved to at least try the first volume. As it turned out, it was to prove to be a solid series, and certainly far more than a mere novelty.
Like the excellent Homunculus, After School Nightmare takes us to a world where people’s true forms are distorted by the skeletons in their close- only this time our protagonists are being asked to shatter each other’s hearts in order to be set free. Just what is the secret to finding the elusive ‘key’, and does it appear when a classmate is destroyed, or when they are saved? Who is the mysterious woman who runs these after school classes, and what is the ultimate point of them? Even at this early stage, there are already many questions to ponder, but although it may well be the case that they are never properly addressed, the series is already beginning to weave an absorbing web.
As is so often the case, it is the glimpses into the dark and troubled pasts of the cast that make it such compelling reading. From a girl who hates men due to a trauma in her past, to Mashiro and his own struggle to establish his identity as a man despite the female aspects of his nature, these aspects are entirely fascinating, and with more characters to explore than can be covered in this first volume, there is still a lot more to see as relationships develop and back stories are revealed.
Visually, After School Nightmare is at its best on the cover and colour pages, where it has a soft yet beautiful style. The remainder of the artwork is somewhat above average, especially with regards to the hairstyles, but is not outstanding- backgrounds are simplistic and the layout is sparse enough to enable quick reading.
In its opening volume, After School Nightmare has proven to be an interesting series that certainly deserves to be followed up through future instalments. There is a danger that the series could end up dragging on for too long without ever resolving the issues raised here, but at this early stage it serves as a fascinating exploration of unique and difficult personal issues.
Volumes: 7 (ongoing)
Creator: Setona Mizushiro
Licensor: Go Comi