Thursday, August 30, 2007

Drifting Classroom: The insanity does not cease, and neither does the screaming

Drifting Classroom, volume 5
By Kazuo Umezu

So, to start off the look at this volume, how about some of the "Oh shit!" moments contained within?

Oh, shit!

Oh, shit!!


Each volume of the series is full of stuff like that, with young kids committing horrific acts of violence on each other. And then there's the external stuff, like kids being devoured by swarms of insects, or the gruesome demise of others from the bubonic plague. It's freaky stuff, and it's all delivered in the series' signature feverish, high-volume style, with characters seemingly screaming every line with their mouths wide open.

The metaphorical content in this issue (which I've been keeping an eye out for ever since manga scholar Matt Thorn left this comment on my review of the second volume) seems lighter than normal this issue, at least to my Japanese-history-ignorant eye. Other than the usual theme of competition taken to its extreme, we have a look at whether it's worth it to care for a sick child, which I take as representative of a kid who is struggling in his education. Should the school exhaust resources to keep the kid from dying (flunking out), or is there a point when they should give up on him? I suppose the spreading disease could also be a metaphor for delinquent children having a bad influence on others. It's always something to think about when I'm reading this series, although one could certainly choose to ignore it and just focus on the general insanity.

I notice I don't talk about the art too much, but it's pretty damn good. Umezu has such a unique style, full of motion lines and characters seemingly frozen in mid-action. He draws running characters almost like they're floating over the ground in a running position; it really adds to the surreality of the situation. He also uses a lot of black humor, which is necessary to keep this from being the most depressing story ever written. I love wacky moments like this one:

And he obviously goes for exaggeration, nearly always drawing characters at the extremes of emotion. So when a moment comes that makes the kids even more terrified than usual, he somehow exaggerates their expressions even more:

Beautiful stuff.

I guess by this point, if you're not on board with the series, there's no point in going any further. But if you're as enraptured as I am, the crazy story just keeps getting better. I've got to hunt down the next volume stat.


  1. I'm afraid I may have given you the impression that everything in the story is metaphorical; it isn't. The basic premise and setting--a classroom, with pupils, teachers, etc.--are certainly intended as bitter social criticism and allegory, but at its core I think it's basically like The Lord of the Flies, in showing how ordinary people--even (or perhaps most particularly) "innocent" children--can be turned into monsters by desperate circumstances. Still, the theme of intense competition, and how it defines whose existence is valuable and whose isn't it, is constant throughout the book, and while that theme is universal in the modern world, it was particularly salient in Japan in the 1970s, when classrooms were overflowing with Baby Boomers, all competing for opportunity.

  2. Well, crap. And here I thought I was being so smart. But I suppose even my specific examples that I was reading into the story can be generalized into what you speak of, especially "whose existence is valuable and whose isn't". Thanks for continuing to stop by and set me straight!