A police detective and a sensitive youth team up to protect the students in class 2 from a mysterious boy who seems to know everyone’s secrets.
Writer/Artist: Tamio Baba
Translation: Sheldon Drzka
Adaptation: Sheldon Drzka
What They Say
Police detective Toyama goes undercover as a fifth-grade teacher to a rowdy class in order to discover the truth about the previous female teacher who apparently jumped off the roof of her condo. The students are keen at first to lay the blame on their strange classmate, Makoto. But Makoto has the gift/curse to see people's inner demons, which are often expressed through horrible images. When these hallucinations melt away or disappear, the problem is solved. Will Makoto have a vision about his former teacher, or will Toyama have to solve this case on his own.
For this CMX/Flex release, CMX has chosen to use the same artwork as the Japanese release of Deka Kyoshi. This is a shame, because the awful cover designdoes a great disservice to the manga, which I enjoyed a great deal. The front cover features detective Toyama holding a gun and student Makoto smiling on top of a background that is meant to look like a teacher’s attendance book. The colors on the front cover are overly bright, with a pastel blue and a neon green, which gives a very amateurish feeling to the art. The back cover features the girls from class two and a pair of handcuffs, along with the content blurb, Teen Plus rating, and CMX Flex logo. The cover artwork does little to explain what the manga is about or capture our attention, and the pictures of cute smiling schoolgirls juxtaposed with a 16+ age rating and a pair of handcuffs sends mixed messages about the manga’s content and target audience.
Aside from the cover, CMX did a good job with the presentation of this volume. The manga is presented in right to left format, with a full-color introduction page and table of contents. The volume is shorter than most, with only 156 pages and five chapters, each with a title page of character art. At the end of the five chapters is a special two page bonus comic, a preview of the next volume, and an address at which fans can contact Tamio Baba. I think the address is a great addition and I hope other manga publishers will include this information so that fans can communicate their appreciation and support. However, it is unfortunate CMX did not include any liner notes, as nowhere in the volume is the title “Deka Kyoshi” translated or ever explained.
What is most immediately striking about the art is the character design for detective Kohei Toyama. With his long black hair and sideburns, he appears similar to characters from 70’s mangaka such as Go Nagai or Masami Kurumada. Character designs are simple and stylized, but still very attractive, with clean lines and very expressive faces. The designs for the demons and monsters that Makoto sees are varied and creative, with detailed jaws, tentacles, and hair, which contrast strongly with his simple, friendly character designs. Each demon’s design is suggestive of the emotional state it represents, and the monsters are creepy without being gross or frightening to the target audience.
Page layouts are nicely varied, with overlapping panels and artwork flowing from page to page, drawing the eye naturally forward. Dynamic panels are used to increase suspense and tension when characters are driven to stress and panic by their demonic tormentors. Due to the large number of panels on a page, many do not contain detailed background art. However, Baba does render an elaborate cityscape or school building to set the scene when there is a change in location.
The translation is very good and sounds natural throughout. There are some unusual font choices for signs and buildings, where the lettering appears to be handwritten rather than printed or painted. The largest problem is the small text used for character asides. At one point I had to squint to read the text, which needs to be either larger or thicker to improve legibility. Sound effects were completely redrawn in English, but look very natural and do not distract from the art.
Over the Spring holiday, a teacher at Fuka Elementary school was found dead beside her apartment building in an apparent suicide. However, an anonymous comment on an internet message board suggested she was under so much stress that she was “due to take her life before long”. Additional posts suggesting that the students may be at risk lead the Yamanouchi Police Department to send Kohei Toyama, an earnest but overeager giant of a man, undercover to pose as a replacement teacher. Other students suspect the class outcast, Makoto Miyahara, of either killing the teacher, or driving her to her death. His habit of constantly lying about seeing monsters and demons in the school apparently proved too stressful for Mrs. Shimizu, it is suspected. Toyama’s sense of justice causes him to stand up for Miyahara when he gets picked on by a group of bullies, and Miyahara soon starts following the detective like a lost puppy dog. The boy tells detective Toyama about how he can see negative emotional states as synethesias, a neurological phenomenon in which one sense expresses itself in the form another sense. The most well known example is the ability to see music as color. In Miyahara’s case, anxiety, fear, anger, and depression appear in the form of monsters or demonic possessions. Much to his joy, Toyama tells him that he believes that he isn’t lying.
After school one day, Toyama drops his police badge in the library and Miyahara discovers it. Makoto initially feels betrayed, and believes that Toyama suspects him of being the murderer as well. Miyahara confronts Toyama with the information, calls him a liar, and runs off. Crying and alone, Miyahara is soon ambushed by a bully who appears as a giant insect. Toyama comes to his rescue and manages to scare the bully into returning to his human form. From this point, the two form a partnership: Miyahara finds students who appear to be possessed by demons, and reports them to Toyama, who investigates and tries to resolve the situation. Unfortunately, these incidents are becoming more frequent due to a student dressed all in black, who seems to know which students are under stress, and how exactly to push them over the edge.
Most of the volume is episodic: A new student is introduced, we learn a bit about their problems, and then the mysterious evil boy humiliates the student, causing a new demonic synethesia to appear. Makoto, detective Toyama, and the friendly nurse Narita-sensei intervene in the student’s life, pulling them back from the brink of despair, allowing them to put their life back together. However, the final chapter starts tying these smaller incidents back into the larger plot: one student says he’s seen the ghost of the suicide, Shimizu-sensei, on the roof of the school at night. Hunting for the ghost, the students recall how supportive Shimizu-sensei was when they came to her with their problems, and how they all feel guilty for causing her death. Was Shimizu sensei murdered? Who is the mysterious student in black who enjoys seeing people suffer? And most importantly, what does he want?
I’m afraid Deka Kyoshi is suffering from a bit of an identity crisis in this country, due to its content. In Japan, the themes of despair, violence, and budding sexuality are not considered inappropriate for elementary and junior high school kids. However, for this country, CMX has rated it appropriate for readers 16 and up, and classify it as “drama and suspense”. However, those reading Deka Kyoshi expecting a mature and thrilling crime drama like Monster or Oldboy will be disappointed. That it does not have a clear target audience in this country is unfortunate, because I enjoyed Deka Kyoshi a great deal. It doesn’t do anything new, and this volume is largely formulaic, but it’s incredibly fun.
It’s hard not to like the bumbling Toyama, so eager to do good that he bumps his head on the doorframe as he rushes in to confront a bully. Miyahara, tormented and isolated, nonetheless burns with the desire to help his fellow students. Each episode follows the same story arc, but the problems and demons are varied enough that it doesn’t get stale. It’s also clear that Baba is using these episodes to develop the characters and raise questions about the larger mystery of the teacher’s suicide.
As much fun as I had with Deka Kyoshi now, I really wish I could have gotten a hold of this manga when I was 10. It has just enough spooky and edgy content to feel transgressive and daring without being scary or truly inappropriate. I recommend that any parents with children who like ghost stories or mysteries flip through this volume and see if there’s any content you feel is too mature, as I think the Older Teen rating is based on criteria that are far too stringent. Kids are more mature than we often expect, and it’s clear that Toshio Baba understands this. Recommended.