wAug 16, 2008

After School Nightmare, volume 1

I never know how to mark spoilers for the first volume of a manga series. Because, obviously it spoils the first volume, but it's impossible to talk about the series at all without "giving away" the premise of the series! I choose to un-cut because I think a lot of people on my friendslist will find this interesting, even those who don't normally read manga.

Ichijo Mashiro is a popular boy who plays on his school's kendo team. But the very first pages of this manga show him standing in the shower, staring at the blood from his first period on the ground. "No way," he breathes, but as we read on, we learn that it is way: Ichijo is a boy from the waist up, and a girl from the waist down. He has spent his life behaving as a boy, and kept this secret from everyone he knows.

Until now, anyway. Ichijo is forced by a mysterious teacher to stay after school for a class needed to graduate. In this class, a handful of students interact in a dream world where each of them struggles against their biggest fear, and competes for a key. The students appear to each other as manifestations of their fear. One student has two giant holes in her body: one in her face, and one in her chest; one student has turned into a long, sentient hand. Another walks around in a suit of armor, challenging his classmates for the key. Ichijo appears as he normally would....except that he is wearing a skirt. To his horror, he realizes that this dream world is not just a dream....everyone remembers everything afterward, and because his classmates can see his face, they all now know his secret.

Manga will often use ambiguous gender as a trope, but this is one of the few I've seen that actually shows the protagonist grappling with with different gender identities, and what they mean to him (or her; Ichijo is certainly a "he" in volume 1, but it remains to be seen where his heart will take him). It is clear that right now, Ichijo's view of gender is very warped.

Ichijo says, Guys are stronger. Guys are sturdier. Guys have more freedom. Guys have fewer weaknesses. That's why I want to be a guy. I focused on being like a guy so I would become one. But....when I lost to Sou...I knew it was because I'm a girl. Even though I trained so hard to become strong....I lost to a slacker...because of my body. It's really amazing how distorted everyone can get. ... This body I walk around in is the most distorted thing of all. That's why I didn't turn into anything else in that dream. Because this body is uglier than anything I know.

Of course, this is Ichijo's view of men. In the dream world, he learns that his classmate Kureha was raped on her way home from school at the age of 5. Why is it that men do nothing but hurt? she asks. If only they'd all just die....

Still, despite watching Kureha's nightmare, Ichijo still longs to be a man: I want to become a man with a steady heart. Beautiful and unwavering...I want to be a dignified man.

It will be interesting to see how Ichijo develops throughout the series. To defeat his nightmare, I'm assuming that he will choose one gender over the other. In the first volume, he seeks an open heterosexual relationship with Kureha, but it's clear (from their passionate kiss) that he and Sou have homosexual feelings for one another....or, at least, the feelings will be homosexual if Ichijo remains male.

I enjoyed this volume thoroughly, but unfortunately, it's wildly popular. I think I had this on hold at the library for a month before I got a hold of it. Oh well; future volumes will be something to look forward to.

Look, an online preview!

Questions I have right now: What does it mean to "graduate"? Will Ichijo become accepting of his body, and of what it means to be a strong woman, or will his view of gender remain warped? How come he thinks he has to be a woman to be with Sou, or a man to be with Kureha (who ironically hates men, and considers Ichijo the "only man she can be with," because he's not really a man)?

My all-time anime favorite Revolutionary Girl Utena makes me feel a lot safer. She would have a lot to say to Ichijo's "I wish I could be dignified and strong like a man." Women can be like that, too!

I try to keep track of what manga I consider "safe for kids" because I get a lot of people asking me "What series are okay for my 7-year-old daughter?" It's probably not something I would hand to my 9-year-old niece.

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scribbled mystickeeper at 11:58 AM

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