Monday, February 25, 2008

Drifting Classroom: Children are evil

Before I start, I have to link to Jog's latest column on the Savage Critics, in which he discusses the work of horror mangaka Hideshi Hino. After reading that, I feel that my latest mission in life is to track down and read Hino's Panorama of Hell. Wow, it looks fucking insane, in all the best ways.

In other news, I see that Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan will be doing a new six-issue Demo series for Vertigo. Awesome. I loved the first series (even if I was a couple years late getting to it), so I'm all for more of it. Wood is one of my current favorite writers, and Cloonan is a current favorite artist, so I'm stoked to see them do more work together.

Okay, on with the show:

The Drifting Classroom, volume 6
By Kazuo Umezu

Behold, the face of childhood evil:

Man, that is one creepy-looking kid. That's right there on the first few pages of this volume, and it makes me sorry I had gone so long without reading this series. At first, I had forgotten what was going on at the end of the last volume, but I got right back into the swing of things; the kids stuck in their horrible future wasteland were all dying of bubonic plague, and that mean kid had led a group of troublemakers and trapped our heroes in a building with a plan to burn them to death. Good times.

Man, every volume of the series is full of that sort of delightful awfulness, with kids exhibiting the worst humanity has to offer in terms of distrust and murderous impulses. This volume veers a bit from the formula though, spending over half its length in the present day, following protagonist Sho's mother as she tries to figure out how to send a cure for the plague to him in the future. It's as crazy as everything else in the book, as we see her pursue her goal of helping Sho, shoving aside anyone in her way, to the point where people think she's gone nuts:

Interestingly, there are a few scenes where she is confronted by the mother of another of the missing children, who blames Sho for her son's disappearance. But Sho's mother shoves her aside and refuses to listen to her, giving her the same treatment she has been getting from everyone else. I'm not sure if this is supposed to represent anything, but it stuck with me. Is it a comment on how even those with noble goals can be single-minded, ignoring the plight of others? Maybe Umezu will do more with these characters in future volumes.

Also of note in the "Sho's mother" chapter is a harrowing scene in which Umezu shows that the ruthless, violent attitudes and actions of the kids aren't exactly a deviation from the norm. While she is at a baseball game planning to confront a famous player (it's a long story), her actions cause a giant brawl to break out, with fans and players rushing the field in a near-riot:

Key dialogue: "Kick the shit out of her!" Oh, Umezu, how you give me pleasure.

I know Matt Thorn said I was trying too hard to find metaphors in this series, but I've got another one that hopefully isn't too far off base. We learn that the plague was caused by a couple of diseased pet squirrels that a diplomat brought back from the United States. It sounds to me like a representation of fear that the influence of foreign cultures is corrupting the younger generation. Or maybe Umezu just hates squirrels.

In addition to the myriad deaths by plague here, we also get to see some drownings, accidental decapitation, and quicksand-related tragedies. That Umezu gets pretty innovative with the means of juvenile death. I don't know how he's going to keep up this carnage for another five volumes, but I can't wait to find out.


  1. I actually just finished reading this on saturday-i've been taking these slow, as they're turning out to be the most consistently rewarding comics/manga/anything i've read in a while. Totally support any and all comments made: the baseball sequence, Sho's mother--never saw that coming. Moments like that, put together with the kids weeping and begging forgiveness as they use Sho as a human bridge to escape the mud and water are what makes me stop reading Classroom and wish that more writers had his batshit level of imagination. Its like reading the rantings of a paranoid schizopherenic who's craziness doesn't stop them from constructing a cogent narrative.

    Or, as i told my fiance, it's like eating a shitload of cookies but not feeling remotely sick. Good to know there's someone else out there who's enjoying this series roughly around the same time as I am.

    (Oh, and the last page--the little girl's hand being RIPPED off by the tidal wave? Jesus. Fucking brilliant.)

  2. Yes and yes! I've got volume seven, but I haven't cracked it yet. I need to take these slow; too much Umezu might warp my mind permanently.

    Oh, and speaking of significant others, I've told my wife about this series, and she wondered why I would ever want to read something like it. So maybe she already thinks my mind is warped...

  3. I've been trying to slip a volume of Drifting Classroom in with the ladies copies of Nana, but she keeps pointing out that they don't appear to have anything in common. I'll let you know when/if that changes.

  4. Oh, thanks for the kind words...

    Yeah, this one's my favorite volume so far... haven't found the new Vol. 10 yet. I tend to like the Sho's Mom parts of the series the best... her and her lil' kid sidekick, and how she slowly drags her poor sane husband into her insane world of all-consuming HOPE... man. The other kid's mom has to figure in later... Umezu's gotta have a trick up his sleeve with her.

    Umezu's 'message' with the series becomes way clearer in Vol. 8, btw... that's another one that kind of strays from the series' path, but in a fun way...

  5. Oh, I know, it's so bizarre to see her throw herself around with such conviction, and even though we know she's right, she seems so crazy. Like when she's screaming at everyone about the memorial to the children and throwing all their flowers on the ground, interrupting them while they're just trying to grieve for their lost children. That's a great way to put it: "her insane world of all-consuming HOPE". Awesome.

    Man, I gotta get to volume 7 now, so I can go grab number 8. Between this and Monster (and Nana, Yotsuba, etc.), it's like I'm on manga crack.

  6. I'm slowly making my way through Monster--finished volume 4 earlier tonight on the subway, and y'know i love some nana. Is yotsuba all that and chips as well?

  7. Here's my review of the first volume of Yotsuba. It took me a little bit to get into it, but the rampant cuteness and goofy comedy won me over. It's one of those series that seemingly everybody on the internet talks about, so I think I had built it up in my mind as something different than what it was. But it's a nice, gentle, character-based comedy, with some really nice, clean artwork. I would definitely recommend it.