Originally serialized in Princess magazine from 2005-2008, After School Nightmare was chosen by the Young Adult Library Service Association as one of the 10 best graphic novels for teens in 2008. This story is a psychological thriller that will leave you on the edge of your seat until the very end.
The Gist: Mashiro Ichijo is a favorite among the girls at school. His good looks and sweet personality are charming, but we soon discover his secret dilemma – he’s neither fully male nor fully female. He has the upper body and build of a boy, while his emotions and internal organs are that of a girl. One day a mysterious nurse introduces him to a class in which he is to participate, located in the previously non-existent basement of the school. There the students sleep, and in their dreams, they must compete to uncover the location of a hidden key that opens a door and allows them to graduate from the class.
In these dreams, the students’ true personae are revealed, and many of them are distorted to unrecognizable forms. Ichijo finds that he is himself, only dressed in a girl’s school uniform. Conflicted about his gender identity, he seeks to prove himself a heroic male, only to be confronted with his feminine emotions. Outside of class, he befriends Kureha, a girl who struggles with her own fear and hatred of men, yet she feels comfortable with Ichijo. Also vying for his attention is Sou, a quiet boy who desires Ichijo no matter the consequences. Confused by his own emotions, Ichijo must decide once and for all what gender he most desires in order to escape the horrible nightmares of the after school class.
The Characters/Romance: Ever gone to a dive expecting to get a meal that was edible and somewhat tasty, and instead found yourself eating a gourmet dish that cost next to nothing? That’s been my experience with After School Nightmare. Not knowing anything about it when I picked it up off the shelf, I flipped through the first few colored pages, blushed, and immediately went to the counter and purchased it. Expecting a thrilling and naughty high school manga, I was instead blown away by the literary quality of the story. I don’t want to provide any spoilers, so I won’t go into the plot, but the author’s ability to string the audience along, dropping hints here and there without giving away the ending….it is a brilliant construction by Mizushiro. The characters are developed as you watch, with the internal struggles played out through action sequences in the students’ dreams, as well as through their social interactions at school. The mangaka keeps you guessing during the entire story which students in the school match the distorted personae in the nightmares. Throw in some sizzling love scenes and unexpected plot twists, and you have a gourmet recipe for After School Nightmare.
The Artwork: The artwork as well is pleasant to look at. Good paneling, figure drawing, toning, and backgrounds all combine to accent the rich plot. Mizushiro has cleverly left imagery and dialogue that are presented in such a manner that, unless you know what to look for, you’ll miss it. That’s why this unique series requires more than one read through. I highly recommend you find a copy if you haven’t already read it.
The Audience: Steamy – There’s a little for everyone here. Not knowing what gender Ichijo is, scenes could be shonen-ai, shojo-ai, or just plain romantic. Some good sizzle moments for all the fans.
The Media: After School Nightmare is available in English in 10 volumes from Go!Comi. If you have a hard time finding it, check used book stores or your local library.
Heart of Manga Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥ Don’t miss it!
Afterschool Nightmare will have you devouring volumes just to unravel the mystery behind the characters’ strange dreams.