Setona Mizushiro’s After School Nightmare has loomed in the back of my mind ever since I began this series of manga recommendations for my teen students, and there is really no good reason that it has taken this long to actually come to the fore. I suppose I thought maybe I’d reread it myself first—it has been years now—so that I could talk about it with the particular verve and passion that only accompanies a fresh read. Maybe I thought I’d wait until I had lots of pretty pictures to share, or more articles to point to besides my one lonely review of the first volume.
In the past, I’ve expressed regret at missing out on the Manga Moveable Feast dedicated to this series, and yes, I was really busy at the time, and that was a real factor. But if I’m really being honest with myself and with you, the reason I’ve written less than I’d like about After School Nightmare, is that it nails so many of my personal storytelling kinks and hits upon so many of my own secrets and anxieties, I actually find it difficult to talk about out loud. You know, with other people. Like Please Save My Earth, it weaves dreamworlds in a way that feels written especially for me. Unlike Please Save My Earth, it also scares the bejeezus out of me.
I’ve often said that what I find most powerful about fiction in general is that it lets us explore other people’s inner lives and compare them to our own. I’ve even said that this is, for me (as I suspect it is for many introverts), the most effective way of connecting with other people. And this absolutely applies to me and After School Nightmare (or me and Setona Mizushiro, depending on how you look at it). But there are some stories that feel so close and so private, they are best explored in silence. For my students’ sake, I’ll try to break that silence, just a little.
After School Nightmare is a 10-volume shoujo manga, originally serialized in Princess magazine, home of such legendary manga as Yasuko Aoike’s From Eroica with Love and Moto Hagio’s A, A Prime. The story revolves around Ichijo, a student at an elite high school, whose induction into an unusual after-hours class sends him into a dream world where he must battle other students for a mysterious key necessary for graduation. Furthermore, in the dream world, the students appear as physical manifestations of the things they most fear revealing about themselves. From my review:
Everybody has some kind of secret, though Ichijo Mashiro’s is bigger than most: he was born with a male upper body and a female lower body, something he has successfully kept from his peers for his entire life … In the nightmare, the students are reduced to their “true forms,” revealing their worst fears and deepest wounds to each other. One student, for instance, appears in the dreams with gaping holes in place of her face and chest, while another appears in a full suit of armor. Yet another appears as a pair of endless, disembodied arms. Unlike the others, Ichijo’s true form looks exactly like himself, only dressed in a girl’s school uniform.
As Ichijo soon learns, the battles in the nightmare are only the beginning, for though some students’ daytime identities are pretty well-concealed by their nightmare “true forms,” more (like Ichijo’s) are not, and the dynamics the develop during the after school class soon begin affecting people’s waking relationships as well. Throw in lots of beautiful artwork, some gender confusion, a little romance, and a genuinely surprising plot twist, and you have the recipe for a perfectly MJ-pleasing manga.
The story is well-told and compact (for manga), and though the series has now been out of print for several years, and its North American publisher is no longer), copies can frequently be found used. I originally borrowed the series from a friend, and then picked up my own copies (mostly used) shortly afterwards, so my local students can borrow the series from me in its entirety. The line starts here!