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Mashiro Ichijo has a big problem for any teenaged boy, let alone one attending boarding school: his body is female below the waist and male above it. Things get even stranger for him when he's told he must attend a special class in the school's basement infirmary after normal school hours each day. For one thing, he didn't know the school had a basement. For another, the class consists of lying down and dreaming.

The vividly strange dream world plays out like a surrealistic video game. Each teen involved takes a special form that relates to his or her traumas and anxieties - and it quickly becomes clear that these are some messed up kids. Meanwhile, back in the waking world, Mashiro begins a romance-tinged friendship with a cute girl named Kureha Fujishima, and is himself stalked by the school Lothario, handsome Sou Mizuhashi, who is completely unconvinced by Mashiro's insistence that he's a boy, not a girl. Other schoolmates turn up as dreamers, and the dream world becomes more and more important - and threatening. What happens to the dreamers who find the key that allows them to "graduate"? Why are they almost instantly forgotten by their classmates?

It's to mangaka Mizushiro's credit that the sillier aspects of this series never bothered me for more than a few seconds while I was reading this. The emotional realism of the story is compelling, and I'm looking forward to finding out more about how Mashiro, Kureha, and Sou deal with their rather serious issues.

 

After School Nightmare, vols. 1-8 (review)

It's uncanny how quickly my initial reaction of "half boy and half girl - this is so stupid!" faded. Mashiro's issues can be read metaphorically - I've begun to think of him as a gay teenaged boy. (Although his lower half really does seem to be female: in vol. 8, he gets intimate with Sou, who clearly knows what he's doing and isn't finding anything he doesn't know how to handle.) But the issues of accepting and integrating the two aspects of himself are much more important than his body, and that's what's playing out in the dream world.

There are layers upon layers of symbolism here, and some questions remain to be answered. Sou's sinister older sister Ai, who shows up in the dream world as a creepy loli-Goth moppet, says that Mashiro is right, that the armored knight in the dream world is Sou - but that doesn't explain why the handsome captain of the kendo club - a kind boy with a father and mother who are pressuring him to take over the family business - sees an identical suit of armor outside his father's board room on a home visit. And I don't think we've yet found out which student manifests in the dream world as a collection of grabby hands at the end of ever-growing, infinitely flexible tentacles. And what's the deal with the black crescent moon that some of the students see outside at critical points in their lives? What actually happens to the students who "graduate"? And what will happen to Kureha, who seems to have found her inner strength at last, but refuses to graduate because Mashiro hasn't yet?

It's all very strange and involving.

 

Comments

( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
smillaraaq
Nov. 14th, 2008 12:50 pm (UTC)
You definitely need to see Revolutionary Girl Utena at some point, if you're enjoying trying to figure this out...
chomiji
Nov. 15th, 2008 02:16 am (UTC)

Well, I'll either have to order them or borrow them, 'cause I never see them in stores ... .

smillaraaq
Nov. 15th, 2008 07:04 am (UTC)
This is another one where you should stick to the anime -- the manga is shorter and just doesn't have the sheer weight of surreal, psychosexual symbolic head-scratchy goodness.
chomiji
Nov. 17th, 2008 02:53 am (UTC)

> sigh <

smillaraaq
Nov. 17th, 2008 03:57 am (UTC)
Oh, I can loan you the manga if you want a little taste of it -- but really, this is very much another one like Samurai Champloo or Wolf's Rain where the manga is ultimately somewhat disappointingly short and shallow when compared to the depth of characterization that's built up over the course of the anime. (5 tankoubon vs. 39 episodes -- not counting the movie or single-volume manga adaption of the movie, as that's one of those really oddball remix sort of series that sort of redoes the entire 20-hour show into an insanely condensed and even MORE surreal two-hour film -- I really wouldn't recommend watching/reading those unless you were already very familiar with the original works because without that familiarity it will make little sense...although with that familiarity, the weirdest bits of the movie can leave you just sort of blinking and shouting at the screen...)
meganbmoore
Nov. 17th, 2008 04:19 am (UTC)
I read all the manga before watching the anime. (Didn't realize there was one at the time.) I'd say that the manga would give you a good taste of whether or not you'd like the anime. I thought the first arc (13~ eps?) of the anime was brilliant, but didn't like the subsequent arcs as much, and the last was just too weird for me.

But I agree about the comments comparing it to Wolf's Rain and Samurai Champloo mangas, where neither were nearly as good as the anime. (Wolf's Rain is actually the anime that got me watching anime, and was my favorite until I saw Princess Tutu last year.) Though the difference here is the the Utena manga actually came first, making the anime probably the only anime ever to actually be better than the manga it's based on. (Anime based on manga tends to never be quite as good, but there's often an even larger gap with manga based on anime.)
smillaraaq
Nov. 17th, 2008 04:30 am (UTC)
The Utena manga and anime were actually created simultaneously, but animation naturally takes longer to produce so it didn't start airing until a year after the manga came out.

(And if you liked it before it got really, really strange, I would yet again suggest that you really should check out Rose of Versailles -- imagine Utena with less psychosexual surrealist headscratchy stuff and more real-world history and political intrigue, and that's pretty much BeruBara in a nutshell. If you can get past the very, very 70s animation, it's a massively influential classic.)
meganbmoore
Nov. 17th, 2008 04:40 am (UTC)
Ah, my mistake. (And, IIRC, the manga and first anime arc are roughly the same story, though I think the manga also had the anime's ending. It's been a while since I read it.)

The problem with RoV is that I never seem to find subbed copies that aren't streaming. And actually, I can't even remember if I've found those.

Unrelated, but I keep forgetting where we are on the bracelets. Had we settled on stones/extra price yet?
smillaraaq
Nov. 17th, 2008 04:59 am (UTC)
It's been a while since I last read/watched that, but yeah, that sounds about right -- they sort of skip from the initial duelist arc right to the ending with Dios and the castle and all. It's not bad, but I really liked all the weird stuff in the middle...

If you do torrents, I found the quite-decently-done fansub here -- if you have trouble with those I could see if the zip is small enough to fit on MegaUpload or something. Alas, nobody's done more than a partial scanlation of the manga, which is so much prettier...WHY IS IT NOT LICENSED? You can get legit copies of the damn thing in French or Spanish or pretty much anything you like BUT English... *sighs and headdesks*

As for the bracelets, last I heard you seemed mostly settled on amethyst briolettes for your mom, but hadn't picked stones/colors for the second one. Did you want me to send you a hard-copy bead catalogue to flip through for ideas? The online ones are all so massive and jargony that it might be easier to just browse through pictures until something grabs you.
meganbmoore
Nov. 17th, 2008 05:07 am (UTC)
Maybe CMX will eventually license it? They seem to like grabbing the most obscure and random titles. (Not that I object.)

Yeah, I liked the amethist biolettes. Jen will probably like something similar, but with red stones, or possibly red stones more like another I remember you showing me, where the dangles were each several smaller stones. For the chain, both would prefer something like silver. (Mom prefers it, but likes almost any metal...Jen's fine with anything but yellow-gold, which she hates. Myles teases her with it just to see her "eew" face. She'd probably also need a sturdy clasp, due to the kiddo and his grabby hands.)
smillaraaq
Nov. 17th, 2008 05:43 am (UTC)
It does seem like a natural for CMX, although you know how I fret about the prospects of their current run of 70s titles... Still, I'd think it would have better sales prospects than a cult classic like Eroica -- I know lots of serious manga students and 70s-shojo fans have been griping about its unavailability for years, and it's heavy enough on plot and intrigue and comparatively lighter on romance that even guys who aren't scared off by the shojo-sparkle art can get sucked in by the story and characterization.

(I'm not kidding about the sparkles -- if you do ever watch the anime, be warned, it's NOTORIOUS for those. It gets better halfway through the series when the art direction changed, but the first couple dozen episodes are really, really, really sparkly even by 70s shojo anime standards, which is saying a lot.)

And hmmm, sounds like it's probably best to stick to sturdier real stones or thick glass rather than something more fragile like lead crystal for the red, then...maybe a heavier chain than the lighter silver we were looking at for your mom, since it has to cope with wee grabby hands? Or is she more one for something relatively light and dainty?

This page will give you some idea of the sorts of shapes and sizes and different shades of red that are available -- if you want to stick with silver chain, I personally tend to think that looks better with the darker garnet reds rather than the really bright orangey ones, the undertones in those typically go better with yellow metals IMO. If you want something opaque or semi-translucent there are a lot of different stone beads in various red shapes that could work, if you're thinking something a little more delicate or sparkly then Czech glass would also be pretty sturdy.
meganbmoore
Nov. 17th, 2008 06:13 am (UTC)
I have the torrent going now, and it seems to have a fair number of seeders, so hopefully it'll go fast, though it'll probably be a bit before I watch it. I have catsitting, most of Saiyuki Reload: Gunlock left, as well as 6-7 episodes of season 2 of Farscape. (And my DVD player seems to have given up the ghost on top of that.) I've also been watching bits and pieces of a sageuk (period korean drama) that's pretty good, but the subs are bad, making it hard to watch more than 10 or so minutes at a time. It's actually fairly strange for me to be alternating shows, as I'm usually a binge-viewer.

Jen can be partial to dainty, but she's more partial to things that stand a chance of surviving her son. (He actually isn't bad compared to most kids his age in that regard, or even a little older, and is an amazing stickler for staying clean, but he's still a toddler.)

Glancing through, these ones caught my eye, though you'll know better than I how sturdy they are, and how they'll look with silver:

http://www.firemountaingems.com/details.asp?PN=H203570GL
http://www.firemountaingems.com/details.asp?PN=H205087GB
http://www.firemountaingems.com/details.asp?PN=H203731GL
http://www.firemountaingems.com/details.asp?PN=H203245GB

ETA: Regarding CMX: I suspect most titles with them are safe, once they start them. The are owned by DC, which is owned by CW/WB/whatever-it's-called. The average manga, I think, outsells the higher ranked comic, so the poorly selling manga likely matches their midlist. They have a lot more behind them to help carry the manga line, I think, than most other publishers, who only have anime/manga and associated items to offer.

Edited at 2008-11-17 06:18 am (UTC)
smillaraaq
Nov. 17th, 2008 08:40 am (UTC)
I'll be very interested to hear what you think when you get around to BeruBara -- I know it's a lot older than most stuff you've watched, so the animation quality and art design are definitely dated and a touch creaky, but the storytelling is great, and there are bound to be a TON of scenes where you'll be going "a-ha, so that's where $MODERN_SERIES picked that up from". It starts a little slow, but there's essential character-establishment going on there that makes all the intrigue that comes later all the richer.

Fair warning, there are a couple of kind of sort of love triangles going on there, but I think they shouldn't be too annoying because it's not so much one of those "I can't choose between these two characters because my mangaka can't think of any other way to add conflict" situations. It's more Character A is longing for Character B but feels he can't say anything about it because she's above his station. Meanwhile Character B is in much the same situation with an unrequited and unspoken crush on Character C, who outranks her AND is also desperately in love with Character D, who C has dedicated her life to serving. (Oh, and D is also married, to add to the complications, although they are French royals so there are affairs going on all over the place...)

And that probably makes it sound like a total soap opera, but really it's not; the romances are just a part of the whole, if anything the story is really ultimately about duty and devotion, be it to people (platonic and romantic alike), country, or ideals of justice; it's driven by the conflicts between these varying personal and political loyalties.

As for beads, yeah, those are the sorts of reds that I was thinking of. Stuff like the fire-polish facets are nice if you want something with a more symmetrical design like your mom's piece with the briolettes, the pressed glass assortments are great if you want something more like the multi-part dangles with a variety of sizes and shapes but some unity in color. The only one there I'd veto are the faceted teardrops in the last link -- those are lead crystal, and the top-drill style makes them particularly fragile, you can shatter the pointy end where they attach without too much force. They're OK for necklaces or earrings but I'd be very cautious about using them for a bracelet even if grabby toddlers weren't involved.

So the last big question there is, what wrist size would she need? I'm probably going to end up buying bulk chain rather than prefinished bracelet blanks -- more selection and I need to customize the clasp anyway -- so it'll be easy enough to adjust if she needs a size smaller or larger than the "average" 7" chain.

You're probably right about CMX, but I can't help a little fretful paranoia there: Eroica was one of the tops of my list of titles that I spent years dreaming of English versions, so it'd be a huge disappointment if they ever dropped it.



meganbmoore
Nov. 17th, 2008 04:51 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that kind of romantic entanglement I usually don't mind as much.

The 7" chain should be fine for her, and I think I like the first and third links best, so whichever.
avierra
Nov. 14th, 2008 12:55 pm (UTC)
Oh, this sounds really interesting, sort of Alice in Wonderland-ish (except Alice wasn't a hermaphrodite, of course. ;) )

Do the awake students all have the dream world experience? Do they have mutual dreams? That is, is Sou appears in Mashiro's dream as a knight, is he a knight interacting with Mashiro in his own dream?
chomiji
Nov. 15th, 2008 02:24 am (UTC)

LOL ... and I don't think anyone ever implied seriously that Alice was supposed to be getting through her psychological issues by means of her dreams!

I guess I've explained it badly ... they all actually seem to be going - mentally - to a shared dreamscape. Yes, they all remember the same incidents. And actually, it's not a very nice place ... sometimes they attack each other. It's rather like a sinister video game: they each have a necklace with three huge beads on it that function as "lives" - whenever one of them takes serious physical or emotional damage, a bead breaks. When all three break, the student is cast out of the dreamscape and wakes up. The aim is supposedly to find a key, with which you can unlock a certain door and "graduate." According to Ai, you need to find the key inside someone else's body after you defeat them. But she's not exactly a reliable informant, and in fact, I can recall at least 2 cases in which a student got a key in the dreamscape by other means.

When Mashiro is in the dreamscape, he's usually female, complete with the boobs he doesn't have in real life (modest ones, actually, especially by manga standards) although sometimes there are two of him - one of each sex.

meganbmoore
Nov. 16th, 2008 08:16 pm (UTC)
I've been trying to work up the courage for this one. I've had it recced to me from sources diverse enough to make me really curious and it sounds interesting, but it also sounds more than a little on the weird side.
chomiji
Nov. 17th, 2008 03:12 am (UTC)

It is very weird. And as I said, Mashiro plays out pretty much as a gay guy, which isn't your favorite type of protagonist. On the other hand, the only two characters who seem to have "solved" the dream challenge without being abusive are female, and you might like Kureha (although she has the sort of traumatic background that aggravates you, I think), who is one of them. I just found a review of vol. 7 on Oyceter's site, and she and a bunch of others who prefer strong female characters were squeeing over Kureha's development as a character by the end of that volume.

Kureha (fantasy-type image from a manga issue opening)

meganbmoore
Nov. 17th, 2008 03:20 am (UTC)
I don't have a problem with gay/bisexual guys in fiction, just with how most pairings in manga code as m/f, and how they often see to be there as fanservice. (As in, interested in guys to provide fanservice.) With the trauma...well, again, (not knowing the exact trauma and only guessing) it's not trauma or type of trauma itself, but how it usually gets used as a shortcut.
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