Manga Moveable Feast: Afterschool Nightmare Manga (English)

September 26th, 2010

After School Nightmare Volume 1Mashiro 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. ^_^

Ratings:

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! ^_^

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14 Responses

  1. Atarun says:

    Houkago Hokenshitsu is the first manga I read in Japanese… I guess that’s why I stuck to it to the end despite my growing frustration with the main character.

    Like you, I think he or she is an idiot. It’s one thing to be confused about your gender and your surroundings, quite another to switch every 10 minutes between Persona1 aka the strong shiny knight who will protect his princess (and tell her how she should behave and think and all, hey, it’s for her own good *sic*) and Persona2 aka the pathetically weak wimp who gets bullied a lot and ends up loving the bullies…

    I mean, seriously, if you had to pick between Kureha – cute, smart, loving, understanding, lots of issues but working through them bravely – and Sou – handsome maybe but pathologically dishonest and quite willing and able to get forcefully what he cannot get without even asking because he basically cannot talk… Not to mention what Mashiro thinks he did to her for a large part of the story and the deep-seated rivalry between the two… Kureha EPIC wins.

    OK, I’ve been told time and again that some people love to get hurt… But well, that doesn’t necessarily mean they deserve it, for one thing, and that sure as hell doesn’t mean I like to identify with them.

    I would have loved Houkago Hokenshitsu so much more if the main character had been Kureha ^^

  2. @Atarun You bring up a good point that I didn’t touch upon – to Mashiro being a man=strong and win and being a woman=weak and fail. That is a seriously unsympathizable thought process, in my opinion.

  3. BruceMcF says:

    So far it seems two thumbs down and one thumb up so far, with Johanna largely agreeing (“This is another one of those stories that wouldn’t have anything to tell If people would only honestly talk to each other, but everyone’s convinced their secret is life-altering poison. Add in the anti-female attitudes, and I don’t need to read anymore”), …

    … and mbeasi disagreeing (” ‘The emotional intimacy forced upon them during the dreams really is every teen’s nightmare and though the full implications of that have yet to be explored, it’s something I’m anticipating eagerly as a reader. There is so much rich material here to work with, I can only hope the series follows through.’
    My response after having read the entire series? In short: It does.”).

  4. Mara says:

    Ah, such nostalgia. This was lent to me by a friend years ago I believe up to the forth volume. I agree with most of what has been said before and indeed I never the bought this manga myself (unusual for me).

    I will bring up that in this horror-ey, pyco-torture…-ey story I prefer characters who I do not like. It is nice to see such reprehensible people ripped apart in their nightmares over and over (Although in this manga the most disgusting character is not immediately/obviously tortured, darn). Then they leave and go back to their lives and make us hate them even more so that the additional suffering gives us even more catharsis.

    Considering I read to volume 3/4 two or three years ago has this manga progressed or finished yet?

  5. @Mara- What an excellent point! I did not consider that at all, but you’re right – in many ways it is good that we don’t like the characters. The problem for me is that I do like Kureha, and Sou won’t be eviscerated soon enough.

    The series is complete at 10 volumes and was also completed in English by Go! Comi, but as they are out of business, the series is not easy to find. I was lucky enough to have the most amazing library system in the world, which has all 10 volumes.

  6. Well, yeah, of course he doesn’t make the connection of people disappearing in school and in the dreams – if they disappear, no one remembers them, so no one can form any conclusions at all from those happenings.

    Mashiro comes around a lot… actually, all the characters grow by a lot by the close of the story. That they start off with such glaring flaws and progress from there makes those unsavory aspects of their characterization very important to the story as a whole.

    Despite being a BL lover myself, I have never really gotten the whole rape thing. I have several theories, but I personally find it unappealing in an extreme.

  7. JRBrown says:

    I think you’ve misinterpreted parts of the story. Kureha was raped by a stranger, not her father. Mashiro doesn’t pick up on the disappearance of the graduating students because they vanish from memory too; they are essentially retconned out of existence. And it doesn’t develop until a bit later in, but the major thrust of the story is Mashiro coming to grips with the fact that he’s a girl, and dealing with his prejudices against female-ness.

    Although Sou turns out to be even more screwed up than you think now.

  8. @JRBrown – You are coreect, I forgot that it was a stranger, but no, I did not “minsinterprate” that the students are being forgotten. I dismissed it as a idiotic plot complication to allow the clueless lead to remain clueless – a completely different thing. :-)

  9. Actually, I took the whole ‘forgetting they existed thing’ as evidence of the fact that the author enjoyed Revolutionary Girl Utena. I think if this were a true horror manga, though, it would make more sense of have them vanish from both and have folks remember it – definitely would ratchet up the tension. As it is, I don’t really think its that much of a stupid device as it is fully integrated within the framework of the story and helps emphasize the fact that… well, if I said that I’d be giving away the ending… ;)

  10. Anonymous says:

    Your review pretty much named my concerns about this series, and the reasons I didn’t feel particularly eager to read more.

    As someone more intimately familiar with transgender issues, it didn’t really feel like the creator knew or handled those issues well. Then again, it’s not uncommon for transgendered persons to be, well, just that screwed up. All kinds of wrongheaded notions about gender getting in the way of them figuring out who they really are and how to express it.

    But I didn’t really see anything in the early volumes to indicate that the creator knew how to handle gender issues (both transgenderism and prejudiced notions about masculinity and femininity) well. I could read on to see if that gets resolved adequately later on, but… the early volumes are just grueling to read through.

    (Note: posting this as anonymous because the captcha image didn’t want to load and I’m tired of entering my login details every time.)

    – Kaja Rainbow

  11. @Kaja – That is pretty much how I felt. It appeared that the gender issue was played as a “plot complication” and nothing more. I also agree that while as a whole, it was not handled well, I have certainly met transitioned folks who are that (or more) screwed up. You pretty much sum it up when you point out that often the gender issues mask other, just as significant, things.

    My issue with Mashiro is not that he’s intersex. I simply found him annoying as a person. ^_^

  12. Kaja Rainbow says:

    Agreed on not liking Mashiro as a person. This work might indeed follow through and he might indeed become better later on (if I take others’ words at it), but right now it’s just unpleasant to read.

    – Kaja Rainbow

  13. Lumi says:

    I think ASN is one of the best shojo series I ever read and you shouldn’t give up on it so soon.

    I really disliked Mashiro at the beginning, but s/he develops and gets much better.

    I also liked Kureha at the beginning, then she got really annoying and then she got better again. ;)

    The main characters really develop a lot in general, much more than most other shojos I’ve read.

    Also, I don’t think ASN is a real horror manga, it just uses some horror elements and some pretty dark images, but the main theme is self esteem and growing up/knowing yourself.

    I can only recommend people to read on ^^

  14. Anonymous says:

    About Mashiro trying to change Kureha… Well, look at her as if you were him. Kureha has an unhealed trauma. Inside, she fears the whole time. The way she is she would never make it on her own, alwas clinging to a person who protects her. Mashiro saw it and tried to change her, so she would overcome her trauma and be just another happy girl who doesn’t want a protector but a lover.
    Overall, I liked the manga a lot. It’a a good psychologiccal shojo with original concepts and characters (I especially liked the Giraffe and the Maremaid). I only disliked the fact that Mashiro was nearly forced to become a man in the end and that he confessed to So. Ugh!
    Setona Mizushiro has made another manga with the same characters. In “Kurobara”, Dymitr(So) is a vampire, Azusa(Kureha) is a girl four vampires want to mate with (yeah, it’s as strange as it sounds…) and Toko (Mashiro) as a mortaly ill woman who appears in the third volume. No shojo-ai through, it’s a just a regular harem manga.

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