The tenth volume of After School Nightmare marks the end of the series and finally offers some answers regarding Ichijo’s mysterious experiences in the dream class. Readers who’ve stuck with this fascinating series through all its earlier twists and turns will not be surprised to discover that Mizushiro has a final shocking revelation up her sleeve.Reading the final volume of a beloved manga series is always a slightly scary proposition. A strong ending can redeem a weaker series, while a weak ending can retroactively ruin everything that’s come before. (Kare Kano, I am looking at you.) I won’t spoil the story (or the entire series) by detailing the secrets revealed in this final volume in my review. However, I can happily report that this ending, while not quite perfect, does not leave a bitter taste in my mouth.
The main revelations of the volume are centered around events in the dream world: we learn more about the class, the school, and most importantly, Ichijo. That said, my favorite moments of the volume are actually a series of small but warm character interactions. One of the great and pleasant surprises of the series is the way it treats its supporting cast. Although the series is ultimately Ichijo’s story, both Sou and Kureha are fully developed characters; Kureha’s growth is a particular joy to me as a reader, as she transforms herself from a broken and frightened girl into a symbol of strength. These last three chapters are full of great moments between Ichijo and Sou, Sou and Kureha, and Kureha and Ichijo that show the reader how far the trio has come from the characters introduced way back in volume one. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that several of those moments are funny enough to make me laugh out loud. (Three words: Black Rose Princess. It will make sense when you get to it.)
The last major twist of the series is so daring that most readers will want to reread the entire series to see if it really was hinted at all along. I haven’t done my own reread yet, but I can definitely remember several things that suggest that it was. While I wish the final pages offered a little more resolution for a certain character, it gets the most important thing right: Ichijo’s final understanding of identity, gender, and self does not feel like a copout, nor does it leave my inner feminist want to throw the book against the nearest wall.
Go!Comi has done a great job with this series since day one, and this volume is no exception. I’ve particularly valued the cultural notes as the end of each volume; the note hear sheds some very welcome light on the final twist. (Don’t read it until you’ve finished the volume! It will give away the entire story!)
In a time when so many manga series are content to cover familiar and easy ground, After School Nightmare is a real treat: a very original mystery with intricate plotting, complex characters and ideas, and gorgeous art. Both this volume and the series as a whole are highly recommended.
Review originally published at MangaLife.com