Drifting Classroom Vol. #01 - Mania.com

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  • Art Rating: B
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Text/Translatin Rating: A
  • Age Rating: 16 & Up
  • Released By: Viz Media
  • MSRP: 9.99
  • Pages: 195
  • ISBN: 1-4215-0722-4
  • Size: B6
  • Orientation: Right to Left

Drifting Classroom Vol. #01

By Josephine Fortune     December 29, 2006
Release Date: August 08, 2006

Drifting Classroom Vol.#01
© Viz Media

Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Kazuo Umezu
Translated by:N/A
Adapted by:N/A

What They Say
In the aftermath of a strange earthquake, an entire elementary school vanishes, leaving nothing but a hole in the ground. While parents mourn and authorieties investigate, the students and teachers find themselves somewhere far away... somewhere cold and dark... a lifeless, nightmarish wasteland in which their school stands like a lone fortress. As panic turns to terror, as the rules start to fall apart, a sixth-grade boy named Sho and his friends must fight to survive in an alien world...

Part horror, part science fiction, The Drifting Classroom is a classic can't-put-down manga series from horror manga master Kazuo Umezu.

The Review
Violence against children is always pretty disturbing.

My first instinct is to say the cover design is slightly garish and offputting, but we are talking about a very old horror series here, and I do kind of like the somewhat sickening mix of green, black, and red. Plus, the original Japanese covers were about a hundred times worse, which seems to consistently be the case with many of these horror series. This is one of the few manga currently running in the "Viz Signature" series, but it's definitely more of a content classification, as the inside is treated just like any other Viz manga. We get a title page, a table of contents, then the manga starts off right away. At the end of the volume, we get a pretty generous teaser for the next volume, followed by an extremely nice seven-page "About the Author" section, which contains a huge bibliography with a generous number of his series summarized and with illustrations. I don't have Orochi with me to compare, but the bibliography is probably very similar to what appeared at the end of that volume when Viz published it several years ago. The publication info appears at the very end just in front of all the ads. Given the size of Viz's catalog and the number of various series that were of note and/or extremely popular, it's odd that I've only seen this treatment before in "Phoenix" and "Orochi: Blood," but both instances were some of the most copious articles on artists I've ever seen in any manga, and granted we're talking about two very noteworthy men in those cases... it just seems odd that they don't often do this practice.

The translation was quite good, there were no grammar or spelling errors that I noticed and everything read very well in English. On one hand, I translating this series may have been very difficult given the language nuances have probably changed a great deal over the past 30 or so years, but this series hides its age well, so perhaps there weren't as many problems as I imagine. The sound effects are translated with overlays. I prefer this method since he doesn't have that many sound effects and they are often small and not as much a part of the scene as in other series, plus I hated the way Dark Horse treated the Scary Books sfx, so this is much better than that.

Kazuo Umezu has a somewhat claustrophobic art style. He crams many tiny panels into a page, and though there are several instances here of double-page spreads, he seems to average about six panels per page, with some page counts jumping up to eight. Sometimes entire scenes get crammed into these panels, complete with backgrounds fleshed out with lots of line work, so it can get pretty full, which suits this type of series. His drawing style is rather straightforward with no real stylistic flourishes to speak of, but playing it straight for a series like this is a good thing since he also does a good job of making these rather average-looking people's faces twist in terror, hysterics, or whatever other horrible situation the plot may call for. One notable thing is that while all his characters have a rather normal people look to them, his character designs are highly distinct from one another, so there's never any question between characters, which is a pet peeve of mine with other artists.

After getting into a big fight with his mother about his messy, childish habits, Sho goes to school one day to find it... sucked into another dimension. Actually, Sho's tardy friend was the one who found a smoking crater where the school should be, and we see that the people not sucked into the other dimension think a gas main exploded. This begs the question about what will happen at the end of the series, and that's an interesting thought to keep while reading future volumes. But at the school, the staff and students find themselves surrounded by a desert wasteland. It seems that anyone who steps foot onto this wasteland dies. The grade school students understandably get frightened and unruly, and the staff in turn gets rather frightening and unruly with them, harming them in rather disturbing ways to keep them in line. The volume is mostly aclimating us with this situation and explaining the rules of the universe and what the characters are doing there.

I definitely love horror manga, and I'll take it over other genres any day, but psychological horror (which is what Umezu seems to specialize in) is not my thing. It seems like this series and Dragon Head are doing a good job of convincing me otherwise, though. The single most frightening thing in this volume is how deranged the adults get, and as they are the ones with the power over the children, this sets the stage for some truly disturbing and gut-turning stuff down the road. The volume does close on a disturbing cliffhanger, but one of the single most unsettling moments is when a teacher makes an example out of a student by breaking his own glasses and plunging them into a little boy's arm. As I said, most of what goes on is exposition, with the children and teachers discussing the scenario and plenty of chaos as a result all around. Things aren't too organized at this point, but pandemonium is a good way to start things off. The only criticism I had was the rather slow start in the first couple chapters, which depict a rather tedious feud between the main character and his mother. This makes you feel even worse later on, because they had a bizarre "Gift of the Magi" exchange unknowingly and it makes both parties feel worse and gives a more urgent reason for Sho to want to come home.

No characters other than Sho have really distinguished themselves yet. At this point, there are more scenes with children than adults, and I think having the adults as a slightly menacing force that the children have to deal with throughout is a great setup. Sho is making for a good, strong main character so far, but doesn't have too much depth as of yet and is at the moment a rather average little boy. It'll be interesting to see more personalities emerge as the series progresses.

I went into this series slightly apprehensively, and after the first volume, I can easily recommend this to anyone who's seeking a good, absorbing manga to read. The child-adult conflict is turning out to be interesting and wonderfully upsetting so far, and seeing how both adults and kids handle being removed from regular society and isolated in a world of their own with absolutely nothing else for them to reference is a wonderful premise. Given this manga's age, it amazes me that it is still to this day so shocking, but I love every minute of it. I have no idea where the series goes from here, but I can't imagine it staying isolated for too many volumes. I also have to applaude the extended bibliography included in the back detailing Kazuo Umezu. That was quite a nice and unexpected extra on Viz's part.


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