Like most teenagers, Mashiro Ichijo has a secret. But Mashiro's secret is that he's neither fully male nor female! So far, Mashiro's been able to live his life as a boy, but all this changes when he's informed of a new class he must take in order to graduate from his elite prep school. To pass, he must find the "Key"...and the only way to find it is to enter into a nightmare world where his body and soul are put at the mercy of the worst kind of enemies - his classmates!
I don’t often read shoujo manga, mostly because I tend to find that shoujo manga would fall under one of the two categories: ones filled with blushing heroines, princely (lady) boys and convenient fairytale stories or the other side of shoujo; the one that attempts to be dark and mysterious but most of the time only ends up being filled with pretty gothic clothes and whiny characters. Although there are some excellent works that fit under these stereotypes and pull it off, I do get rather bored of its predictability.
After School Nightmare is such a shoujo manga that keeps me on my toes
by meshing together the two types of shoujo, plus adding its own flavour of the psychological streak, to create an unorthodox balance between fairytale romances and dark, depressing stories. There’s a reason why it is rated 16+; it leans more towards the genre josei and rightfully so: it is packed with heavy content, sexual situations and even has VERY strong themes of incest. At times, the psychological impact it made on me was so great I felt like crawling into a cave.
After School Nightmare has a questionable premise. Think you had or have it bad as a teenager? Not only does our protagonist, Mashiro have to deal with school life, insecurities and sexual frustrations like most teenagers...but he also has to deal with a gender-identity crisis. Neither male nor completely female, Mashiro is born with the body of being half male from waist up, and half female waist down, living life as an intersex being. Because of his condition Mashiro can never truly feel comfortable in his own skin, and never truly knows his place as a male or a female. Then there’s our other two main characters; Sou, the enigmatic male classmate with trust issues and Kureha, a tragic girl who is afraid of men to the very core of her being.
The After School Nightmare starts. Students with inner conflicts (such as Mashiro, Sou and Kureha) must take a class once a week after school in order for them to be able to ‘graduate’. The subject? Dreams. All students are thrown into one collective dream; and in it they must try to find a key that will open the door to ‘Graduation’.
Now, what most may ask when venturing into this work would be “What is this ‘Graduation’? What happens when you graduate?” This is never explained or elaborated upon until the very last pages of the final chapter, but constantly is it brought up and speculated about.
The dreams are one of the most interesting aspects of the manga. Like most dreams it is abstract, and so it is up to us, the readers and the characters in the story to figure out the meaning -- but tells us about the situation and characters more clearly than dialogue or narration ever could. All the participants are not in their usual bodies, but instead take on forms that reflect themselves. They act out gruesome slaughter; they learn things of each other i.e. their stories; their struggles; their sanity and most of all, they learn about themselves.
The story and writing is clever. It is riddled with metaphors, allusions, thought provoking ideas and woven with many layers. Characters are given a streak of realism with their dialogues and actions – they anticipate the other person’s move and respond realistically accordingly to it, as opposed to the majority of stories which are mediocre, where everything happens in a convenient manner i.e. Person A is heartbroken and ‘just happens’ to be alone in a room with another person. Person B takes advantage and advances on Person A. Setona Mizushiro, author of After School Nightmare, give her readers more credit than that. Nothing is given to us in a frank or blunt manner. Recurring themes run throughout the whole or part of the series, hinting to us till the very end and we are pushed to use our minds to work things out ourselves, including the ending.
ASN is rich in characters, both main and supporting. Mizushiro manipulated all of her characters well. Frequent and minor characters are treated with importance and every character (even the ones in the backgrounds whom you would not pay attention to) is interconnected to the dream. Mashiro is perhaps one of the most interesting characters I have ever come across in a manga or anime because he struggles to settle with what sex he is, so sees life from a “gender” perspective. For example, he would kiss a girl because “that’s what a guy would do” and the prospect of him actually having feelings for the girl does not even come to mind. Throughout the manga the Boys VS Girls debate is brought up (which is the better sex, the stronger one?) and points about one gender or the other is constantly brought forth.
Kureha and Sou, our other two main characters were so brilliantly fleshed out and done that they could easily rival Mashiro in taking the spotlight. Kureha, the girl who makes Mashiro feel like a man and Sou, the boy who makes Mashiro feel like a woman were wonderfully interesting and disturbing, and kept the story going.
Setona Mizushiro has a unique style of artwork, combined with the classic shoujo style. By classic, I mean the typical random flowers decorating the panels, and large panels with nothing but writing. Mizushiro has some traits that are unique only to her that makes her art instantly recognizable, like oddly drawn eyes and long lips (which look good may I add) instead of the usual ‘desirable’ small lips in most anime and manga character designs. There is a moderate amount of backgrounds but most of the time it is unnoticeable because of the lack of tones used to bring it out. Mizushiro likes to keep her style clean and simple, leaving the backgrounds to be mostly white and flat.
Mashiro’s character design is amusingly feminine and masculine at the same time in both mannerisms and physique. On that note, people who are VERY uncomfortable with anything related to yaoi or yuri may not enjoy this because of how boyish or girlish Mashiro may look as he is caught between Sou and Kureha’s love for him (but it was fun working out whether he is a gay or a lesbian, I must admit).
The pacing of the story is slow yet it does not have the feeling of being tedious. Rather, it sets a solemn and calm tone to the story as things unravel and to let things sink in. The story itself almost has a quiet and dark feel because of the pacing.
Reading After School Nightmare is like being in a nightmare yourself. It’s not the most pleasant experience, but you just can’t wake up to get away from it (or in this case put it down). It is reads like these that give me hope that not all shoujo are formula made, and that there are some authors who give their readers a bit more credit than they are usually given.
School's a nightmare. But the extra-curricular lessons are where the true horrors lie.
Okay, After School Nightmare is about a teenager entering school, but he has a big secret. HE is half boy and half female. You may be thinking "ew, this is another one of those shojo gender-bender manga". Do not be fooled! The story is quite good!
The story line seems simple at first, but becomes continually confusing as the manga wares on. The author drops subtle hints to the ending frequently throughout the manga. You may find yourself back-pedaling a few pages just to understand a specific part. The flow of the story keeps you entertained along with many plot twists.
The art is beautiful
in this manga, and matches the feel the mangaka is trying to achieve. Some images may seem disturbing, but careful detail is put into the art and is apparent throughout the story. The art also remains consistent, so you don't have to worry about putting faces with names.
Each character is very unique in their own specail way. Each main characters personality is very well-thought. Sometimes though, the characters personality will gradually change, which may confuse you. The side characters, whose personalities aren't as in-depth, still move the story forward. Some of the side characters become important at some point in the story, and a little background info is given.
Together with all the aspects above, the manga is great! The chapters could have been shortened maybe alittle, since each was around 60 pages long, but other than that, it really is a good manga.
I recommend this to you if you like sci-fi, romance, but a little horror. You really need a fine-toothed comb to pick up on all the little details strewn throughout the story. If you don't have a lot of time on your hands, I wouldn't suggest this to you since the story is rather long and you may have to reread some chapters.
I had started a review on this manga when I was half way through it. Then as my mouth was hanging open at the end, I realized- my review was crap. After finishing the manga, it was nothing like I thought it was. So I began writing again knowing I would still come up short.
But I'll start at the beginning before I tell you the end…
Being human is hard enough; getting to know yourself and finding out who you are and where you’re going. For Mashiro that’s even harder. See, Mashiro is half woman and half
man, that’s how he was born. He is a woman from the waist down but a man from the waist up.
One random day at school he get’s a call from a teacher to follow go to the infirmary. The teacher explains to him about the extra class he needs to graduate that take place every week. In this class, which you do through your dreams, you have to find and triumph over your personal obstacles in order to find the key that opens the door that enables you to leave the dream world behind through graduation. Only after you completely find what you need to find and free your soul of the thing bothering you will you succeed. The trick lies in the details since in the dreams you can’t lie and are always yourself, meaning the person you are deep in your heart, your true form will be incorporated in the dream. That part is easy for the readers and for Mashiro, well know what his dilemma is about, his gender.
If you lose in the dream is because your soul is weak and you will have to redo for as long as it takes until you conquer it. But don’t worry you are never alone there, there are other students with their own quest similar and yet different to yours there.
Wanting something to be true against all odds, even to the point of trying to change your own mind - is the beginning.
Accepting yourself, all of yourself, and coming to terms with reality - is the ending... or is it?
All of the characters in this manga are broken in one way or another. There is no one that travels the road called life unscathed here. Bearing that in mind it’s the courage and not to mention a great ending that makes this manga just, “wow.”
It didn’t start off like other manga do. That should have been my first clue that Houkago Hokenshitsu was going to be a peculiar and yet shocking ride. I didn’t know why at fist there weren’t any characters I liked, they were all selfish, shallow, and hurtful, not deep enough to warrant not even my sympathy. I just felt detached, even from our very own protagonist. Right off the bat Mashiro befriends Kureha and attracts Sou. The manga is dark and yet light, touching on serious topics with a suaveness that's almost insulting to the darkness of the subjects. The manga balances the time spent on the dream world and on the real world immensely well, you never get bored waiting for one or the other. There are secrets and people you try and guess about only to be wrong.
Mashiro perceived being a girl as the weaker of the sex. He wants to be a boy for all the wrong reasons. Because they’re strong and have more freedom. This is where me and this story clashed at first. I thought he was just being sexist. He was confused to the extreme but can you blame him? He was walking around with girl and guy parts…high school is hard enough as it is. I couldn’t do with his character at first, he wasn’t honest to anyone, not even himself. Which just ends up in a lot of people getting hurt. He wants to be a boy, he dooms himself with the thought that it either has to be one or the other. I think it’s because it never occurred to him that he didn’t have to choose, he was half and half. He grows though and that’s all I can say on his behalf.
Kureha role frustrated me. I think she was weak all around until she wasn’t. But even then I just couldn’t help not liking her, the damage was done. I can whine about her until the cows come home (which is a long time since I don’t live in a ranch…or own a cow) but she redeems herself. Not enough for me to like her but enough to get my sympathy. She wanted to be loved and protected. Which isn’t so bad.
Sou what can I say about him? The dude has serious issues. He is a complex character . He was looking for what we’re all looking for a t some point, someone to save us. That shinning light at the end of dark tunnel that leads us home, to safety.
It’s through the dreams that Mashiro meets many new classmates that are also wanting to graduate and in the dream realm. Of course not all of them look like themselves since how their hearts are is how they resemble. Suffice it to say not everyone is nice or pretty. But all of them are interesting in some way, though not all are necessary.
The one decent character that I thought was human enough was towards the end and he was there for a short time only but he did end up having his own chapters, so not all is lost. His feelings were hidden because his future was already set and the real him, didn’t want any of it. But he didn’t want to disappoint so he bit his tongue and moved forward. What made him more balanced to me as a character though was that we got to see him interact wit his family which made him just a little more real to me than the rest like the the frustrating Kureha.
The art is unusual on Mashiro’s face sometimes, like lumpy. It also messed up sometimes on the characters clothes not being consistent throughout the same scenes. Also the faces where not proportioned right or sometimes the mouth wasn’t centered right…it just didn’t look right. If you consider that some of the images were kindda creepy than the art fits just fine in the whole scheme of things. One thing can be said for sure, a bubbly art wouldn’t have done this one justice, so I would keep it as is.
The ending: I didn’t expect it. Which is weird because there are few manga that surprise me. It answered enough questions to make it ok but not nearly enough to not think about and try and guess at, which results in writing this review at 2 a.m because you’re wondering of the “if.”
It’s about not being yourself and being what everyone expects you to be. To the point where you don’t even recognize yourself and feel lost. Trying to find it, that is the journey. A twisted and bumpy one, but very well worth it. A cruel dream some might say but I think the nightmare was necessary at least when you wake up from it you know you lived through watching it and experiencing it. Like a character said, that it wasn’t the size of the problem that makes a difference but the strength to overcome it. It was all a journey to accepting yourself.
I have to say that I feel better about this review, because although I have told you a lot of the manga at the same time I haven’t told you anything. You think you know but you don't. Where do the mind games start?
The moral of this story-- We’re all fucked up somehow. Nah, though it is true I think it was more of a, “In three words I can sum up everything I have learned about life. It goes on.”
This manga is a very good manga. The plot is scary and makes you want to read more. The conflicts the characters face are very dramatic and satisfying. The story drags you into awesome twists and turns. I loved this manga because it kept me wondering untill the end. If I had time I will re-read it.