Can someone's fate be predetermine when you take nature out of the equation?
Author/Artist: Kumiko Suekane
Translation/Adaptation: Camellia Nieh
What They Say
St. Kleio Academy is a very exclusive school. To enroll, a student must be the clone of a famous historical figure. Wolfgang Mozart, Queen Elizabeth, Sigmund Freud, Marie Curie, Adolf Hitler '" with such a combustible student body, it's only a matter of time before the campus explodes!
The only non-clone at St. Kleio Academy, a school dedicated to the clones of great historical personages. Shiro's father is a professor at the academy. Why is a regular kid taking classes at the school? Nobody seems to know for sure.
Afterschool Charisma is part of Viz's Sigikki imprint and shares the larger trim size and attractive packaging of that line. The glossy cover features Shiro against a backdrop of black and silver line art of some of the other characters from the series. The title also shares the same silver ink and runs across the cover in large ornate letters. The summary text and author biography are tucked inside the covers on the French flaps.
The book leads off with a few non-glossy color pages illustrated with a muted pallet.
The artwork is clean and well drawn, although the youthful cast falls into the usual manga trap of looking generically pretty. It's also a safe bet that they look nothing like the younger versions of the real life persons they represent (especially the nude ladies, I doubt Florence Nightingale was that well endowed.) Identifying the characters with their counterparts is left up to the dialog. The adult characters fair better, with JFK bearing a decent in-style likeness to the real man and the other adults having more variance in their designs.
There is a nagging strangeness to how characters address each other in the dialog. It's probably the fault of the original Japanese text, but several times characters are addressed by their full names. Marie Curie is always addressed by her full name, for inexplicable reasons. I can't understand why in an English speaking setting Mozart wouldn't simply be 'Wolfgang.' If everyone was being addressed by their last names I could understand, but it doesn't work that way. It's weird and distracting.
The plot of Afterschool Charisma might seem familiar to anyone who ever saw an episode of the cult animated series Clone High. Clones of famous historical figures are brought up in school together by a shadowy government organization intent on using their inborn strengths. The two series even share some of the same famous figures. Where Clone High used this entirely for comedic purposes, Afterschool Charisma takes a slightly darker approach.
The main character is Shiro, the only non-clone enrolled and the son of a professor at the school. Because of his background the other students constantly remind him that he can never understand the pressure and scrutiny under which the clones live, a pressure which manifests in a crisis of identity for many of the students. Each is expected to expand on the life works of their originals and sometimes to achieve what they could not. It's a classic case of nature versus nurture.
The story starts off flippant, and there is a level of teenage immaturity that you would expect in a story about high school students. But there's pettiness and bickering, cliques and bullying from people that you wouldn't expect. The author can get away with all of it without accusations of being unfaithful because no one really expects a human clone to behave the way its original did '" nobody except the people who created them. And when Marie goes against the professor's demanding expectations she'disappears.
The author doesn't try to hide the obvious plot elements. Kennedy's fate, for example, is obvious, and I doubt that any reader is questioning Marie's fate. Shiro's father seems both sinister and sincere, but it's clear that none of the staff has the students' best interests in mind. Shiro tries to fit in, between the popular and unpopular, becoming friends with the school's most unusual clone student, a gentle and withdrawn copy of Adolph Hitler (cloned for the sole purpose of punishment for his original's sins, he says).
As the tension mounts, the stressed students turn toward creating their own secret society to manage their fears. It's both oddly funny and at the same time creepy and unnerving. By the end of this volume, this tension finally takes its toll on a student, leaving Shiro stunned.
Afterschool Charisma claims its premise and runs with it. Its portrayal of familiar historic figures is weird and sometimes juvenile, and yet it all fits surprisingly well in context. I'm curious to see if any of these students will be able to escape their fate, which may either be an early death or a life not of their own choosing. With an outside force threatening the students, along with the pressure to carry out their duties coming from the inside, I foresee the situation becoming complex and dangerous. I'm looking forward to reading more.