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After School Nightmare Vols. 1-2

Written and illustrated by Setona Mizushiro
Go! Comi
200-204 pages, $10.99 each
Vol. 1 ISBN: 1933617160
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9781933617176


Read excerpt from right to left. Oh, this couldn't possibly be Freudian imagery, could it? Ichigo discovers a student even more screwed up than himself, in this sequence from After School Nightmare Vol. 1; ©2005 Setona Mizushiro; English text ©2006 Go! Media Entertainment, LLC.


Ichigo was raised as a boy, but is secretly a girl — and struggling desperately to hang onto his male self-image. Already reeling from the onset of menarche, his life is turned upside-down when he's enrolled in a special class, which takes place in a basement level of the school that only appears to students in said class. There, he is put to sleep and enters a shared dream world with other students, where their neuroses take physical shape and the only way to pass the class is to "kill" the one classmate with a special key in his or her heart and make it to a special door without being waylaid by the others. Students who achieve this feat graduate — but then disappear, forgotten by the others. Can Ichigo unlock the secret of his own confused gender identity? What really happens to the graduating students, and why can't anyone remember them after they leave?

In case you hadn't guessed from the above, After School Nightmare is deviously attuned to the confusion brought on by puberty, constructed in such a way as to allow the reader to get lost in a series of simple-but-effective metaphors for adolescent angst and paranoia, allowing the author to methodically exploit the various possibilities inherent in the set-up. Chief among these is the love triangle that drives the series: Surrounding the series' hero are two fellow "classmates" in the nightmarish dream sessions: Kureha, a seemingly sweet girl whose facade masks a vicious hatred of men induced by a childhood sexual assault, and Sou, an arrogant bully who may or may not be appearing in the shared dreams as an insane armored knight who mindlessly attacks everyone he sees. Each is drawn to Ichigo for different reasons — Kureha sees a man with non-threatening female qualities, while Sou sees a woman with defenses worth cracking — and Ichigo in turn finds himself drawn to each of the two for obvious and conflicting reasons.


Read excerpt from right to left. One dreaming student torments another, in this sequence from After School Nightmare Vol. 2; ©2005 Setona Mizushiro; English text ©2007 Go! Media Entertainment, LLC.


Calling this a Freudian playground is putting it mildly. After School Nightmare trades on symbolism to the point where creator Setona Mizushiro, already notorious for such High School Hell comics as the let's-blow-up-the-school novel X-Day, can avoid adding real depth or complexity to her series' characterization and story. If you took the premise away, these would be stock characters in a stock high-school environment. What would be a wounding criticism of just about any other book, however, is almost irrelevant to the enjoyment of this one, as the story's hook provides a panorama of subconscious metaphors so vivid that you never notice its relatively shallowness while you're actually reading it. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, when you think about it. Puberty, after all, is a journey from instinctive reaction towards biological urges to proactive adult decision-making, and this series presents that struggle in a fashion so luridly direct that it can't help but resonate with its target audience. Metaphors like these aren't new to literature, of course — Stephen King built a career on one such example in his debut novel, Carrie — but After School Nightmare takes that book's one note and turns it into multipart harmony. Complexity in characterization would distract the reader from this series' bizarre pageantry of primal urges and conflicts made flesh; it would no doubt enhance the storytelling, but it isn't necessary to achieving the author's goals.

How you react to this will depend on where you are in life: Adults will find After School Nightmare fairly obvious, but a teenager in the midst of the wrenching changes so wildly dramatized in these pages may well discover a series that seems to pull its emotional perversity right from the depths of their own psychic and bodily struggles. It's too late in the day for me to draw any real intellectual or emotional nourishment from these books, but if I'd found them when I was sixteen years old, I imagine I'd have eaten them up and demanded a second helping.


This essay appeared on the then-website of The Comics Journal sometime between 2006 and 2008.


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