Mashiro is a hemaphrodite. From the waist up he is male, but his internal organs and lower half are female. This might not be a big problem in the long run, except today he just got his period for the first time and he’s really uncomfortable with the idea of being a woman. What Mashiro wants more than anything else is to just be a guy. Mashiro is the protagonist of Setona Mizushiro’s After School Nightmare.
Soon, Mashiro’s gender will be much more important and much less important than he could ever have expected. A mysterious teacher – who does not appear to actually exist – leads Mashiro to a basement in the school – which also does not exist – gives him no useful information whatsoever, and sets him to participate in a group nightmare shared by a number of students. Each student appears in the nightmare as their internal vision of themselves and they experience each other’s darkest and most traumatic secrets, while competing for a key in order to “graduate” from school. In the meantime, students are randomly and rapidly disappearing from the school and no one seems to be noticing.
In his first nightmare, Mashiro appears in the girl’s uniform, thus giving away his secret. He encounters a homicidal girl who had been raped. Knowing each other’s secret, they become friends, then start to date. Kureha is comfortable with Mashiro because she knows he is not quite fully a guy, and Mashiro wants to prove to Kureha that she can be friends with a guy.
Mashiro has a male rival from his days in the kendo club, a tall, dark, broody guy named Sou. Sou knows that Mashiro is “really” a girl, and one day, kisses Mashiro.
Thus an uncomfortable triangle begins, with Sou pursuing (in a broody, semi-rape-y, i.e. BL-ish, kind of way) Mashiro, while Mashiro clings to Kureha, (in a codependent and needy, i.e., lesbian-ish kind of way.)
When Kureha and Mashiro first kiss, his thought is that he is “kissing another girl,” which puts the lie to his insistence that he is a guy.
As his relationship with both Sou and Kureha becomes more uncomfortable, he’s learning more and more about the nightmares he and the other students are experiencing. In heroic fashion, his true desire is to save as many of the others as he can, rather than focus on “graduating,” himself.
The story is very ably drawn, and I really can’t complain about characters or dialogue. The plot holds together nicely and the tension between Mashiro and Sou is palpable. But…I didn’t *enjoy* the two volumes I read. For several reasons.
The first, and most systemic reason was the air of “I know something you don’t know.” Having one character driven by that is irksome, but acceptable. The third character who gives a “knowing smile” or “humphs” knowingly, or says something like, “Because I know what happens next,” it’s off my list.
Secondly and probably more critical – I didn’t like Mashiro. Full stop. He’s a woman without breasts who wants to be a man. Fine. I don’t like getting my period either and it makes me bitchy too, fine. But. Dude, go find a professional, talk to them about gender reassignment. I’m not saying it’s not a big deal, but it seems like the way to go for you. It’s not like it’s an impossible thing. (This sounds more insensitive that it is – I understand that it IS a big deal in real life, with many repercussions. This is a manga. It is a horror-romance manga. Not real life. Breathe before you send me that angry comment.)
Ultimately, I found it hard to be sympathetic to Mashiro for a reason having nothing to do with his gender issues at all – he’s an *idiot.* Gee, let’s see, people are being dragged into these nightmares and some of them are “graduating” AND people are disappearing from school. Hrmm…any connection? No, I didn’t think so.
Thirdly I really didn’t like the way Mashiro treated Kureha. She accepted (and loved) him for exactly *what* he was, and he spends most of Volume 2 trying to change her. Bleah.
Fourthly, oh come ON! Sou is a jerk. He says he’ll rape a woman to make a point that he *really likes her.* What is it with BL fans and rape? I am so not getting the appeal. UGHUGHUGH, I cannot stand broody, non-verbal, driven-by-animal need Heathcliff/Angel/Edward types. Gah.
And lastly, the nightmare scenario is unpleasant and silly and I don’t see it going anywhere good. I’m not much for wallowing in people’s pain.
So I hit the end of Volume 2 and said, “That’s enough.”
In my head, I took Kureha, carefully got her out of the school, found her a nice girlfriend and we all moved on and lived happily ever after. ^_^
Art – 8
Story – 7
Characters – 8 (like or dislike them, they made an impression and forced a reaction)
Yuri – depends on whether you’re on Mashiro’s or Kureha’s side
Service – 6 It’s pretty pandery whichever way you look
Overall – 5
Having typed this, I will now go read the rest of the MMF posts for this series and see how (again) I completely disagree with everyone else! ^_^