So here is the end. How was it? Well, a satellite lands from outer space and an arm and half a face strangle the crazy delivery man, but I must say I kind of disagreed with how things turned out. One one hand, I thought it was kind of anticlimactic. On the other hand, there’s something that’s even more terrifying about what happened. Let me tell you, that would have never have happened had I been in their shoes. Of course, I probably would not be alive anyway if I was in their shoes, I would have succumbed to… the decapitation flood or something like that long ago. There is some closure though, and I liked that Sho’s mom got a momento… and there was even a little hope from the future.
There’s an essay in the very back of the book about Drifting Classroom. While I liked it because it was completely ludicrous, the essay suggests that the story unfolds as a series of very realistic children’s nightmares, things that adults forget to fear as they age. It explains that Umezu is still tormented by these things, and he depicts it in an extremely serious way. The beauty of Drifting Classroom is that it goes over-the-top without being self-aware. It never jokes around about what happens, and nobody ever points out how insane this stuff is, which is I think why it succeeds. I laughed at some parts, but if I had read it when I was younger, I probably would have never slept again. Those Alvin Schwartz “Scary Stories” books cost me a lot of sleep as an 8-year-old (which I loved, apparently, because I read them all over and over again), and they’re extremely tame compared to this.
There’s another short story included in the back called “The Wish,” which, in case you were wondering, is coupled with “Snake Girl” on disc 2 of the Kazuo Umezu Horror Theater DVD series as it was released in the US. I was surprised to see it, because I thought that story was in the book “Negai.” Actually, this story probably IS in that book given the fact that they share a name and Mokume is on the front, but I digress. It’s… kind of Umezu’s version of Pinocchio, where a little boy builds a friend out of trash and wishes as hard as he can for him to come to life. His dad suggests wishing on a star, but his friends say that the best way is to harness cosmic energy, which works for me. The dummy (which is really terrifying-looking, among other things it’s got nails for teeth), never comes to life despite the boy’s earnest wishes, and he makes other friends at school. He throws his friend, named Woody (or Mokume) away so that it doesn’t scare his real friends. The wish comes true and Woody comes to life. It’s terrifying. I promise. It’s way better than anything that we got to see in the English version of Scary Books, and it’s drawn in the same tiny panel style as the stories in those collections.
Drifting Classroom has permanently moved Kazuo Umezu into my good graces. I’m really looking forward to Cat-Eyed Boy now, even though I know I won’t like it as much (I suspect it’ll be about the same quality as “Reptilia,” which people should buy so that IDW releases more manga). I would have a hard time recommending it, because it’s really not for everyone. It’s admittedly a little light on… well, plot. Kids get blown into the future and bad stuff happens, and no explanation is really provided until the end. But the bad stuff is just not to be believed, and it’s just so extreme and amazing that anyone who’s looking to be shocked and disturbed in ways they didn’t think possible would do well to read it.
I liked this volume for the shades of other things that showed up. A more concrete connection to “Lord of the Flies” was made when the two warring groups of kids went up against each other for real. The functioning amusement park the children went to was very much like “Westworld” or “Futureworld”, and they were chased by dinosaurs like in Jurassic Park. The latter references are all irrelevant since that all came out long after Drifting Classroom, but the fact that it’s all here is very awesome.
So yes. This volume is all about the kids fighting against one another. The food runs out and things get desperate, and when the girl bully comes back and tells them there is a paradise at Mt Fuji, both groups set out together as a poison gas cloud descends on the school. A ravine they are forced to jump thins their numbers some more, but they eventually wind up at Mt. Fuji.
They find a spaceship there, which really worried me until I found out it was just the amusement park. I was even more worried when there was a robot version of what appeared to be Marilyn Monroe, and one of the students groped it, then it began chasing them (Westworld style, like I mentioned), and activated all the robot dinosaurs.
Yeah, yeah, robot dinosaurs, cavemen, etc. Lots of stuff happens, cannibalism is involved, and… Sho admits to dynamiting the school. Something like that. A computer tells them to go back to the school if they want to get home. Of course they listen to this malfunctioning computer from the future, or at least Sho does.
I may have shed tears of pure joy while reading this volume. My favorite moment of the series came at the beginning of the volume. The spider-mutants begin attacking the school, which has been heavily fortified by the delivery guy. This means nothing to the spider-mutants, who spin webs and get into the grounds anyway. The delivery guy sends out his specially trained male army, who simply dive from an upper-story window and fall to their deaths, missing the spider-mutants or doing no damage each time. When this doesn’t work, he steals all the food and drives off in his van. There is a perfect panel of him leering back at the school while driving off.
Meanwhile, Sho and company have been stopped outside due to the fact they’ve been spun into webs. They figure out that they can escape by stripping naked, and Sho hops the barb wire fence (catching his naked leg in the process) to plead with the mutants to leave them alone. He passes out in the process.
That would have been fine with me, but Mr. Umezz wanted to really impress me. The second half of the volume blew that totally out of the water. SHO GETS APPENDICITIS AND THE CHILDREN PERFORM AN OPERATION.
THEY HOLD AN INCISION OPEN WITH THEIR HANDS AND PULL OUT HIS INTESTINES.
AT ONE POINT, THE DOCTOR GETS WOOZY AND THE NURSE SPITS IN HIS FACE TO BRING HIM BACK.
No anesthetic, as you can imagine. That just wouldn’t be very realistic. Gamo (who I thought had died at least twice) suggests boiling cigarettes from the faculty lounge and using the nicotine, but there just isn’t time. They simply cram a hanky in Sho’s mouth. Afterwards, they do blood transfusions with a syringe from every student with a compatible blood type.
In between those two awesome events, the children have divided themselves into two factions who begin to war. This is going on outside while Sho’s being operated on.
The delivery guy is back to himself, and starts beating the shit out of kids again. Because he needs to feel like a big man and have an army of children he can bully and sacrifice to his whims, he drops Sho and his close friends at the bottom of the well they were digging and leaves them since they are the leaders of the rest. Luckily they’ve dug down far enough in the well to hit the underground train system.
More mutants are running around down there, along with ghost trains which aren’t really explained but are running along the tracks anyway. There is a suggestion that the mutants are mutated humans, and that the children might not be as far into the future as they thought. The children watch a film in secret courtesy of the mutants that explains that the series may have some sort of fucked-up environmentalist message behind it. “DO YOU WANT THIS TO HAPPEN TO YOUR KIDS?! THEN STOP POLLUTING!” That this may be the moral to the story just makes it that much better for me. It would make me mad in any other series, but it just makes Drifting Classroom better because it seems totally unrelated.
They find a man in the underground system that was living off canned goods. This lasts about two pages as he drops over dead from a heart attack and the children move on. I love these really random, one-and-done moments. There’s a lot I don’t mention, which is why I say I can’t really spoil the series. You just have to read it to know how awesome it is.
Another one of these moments happens when the kids are trying to flee an erupting volcano. Sho shouts to get down, and the one kid who doesn’t quite understand and remains standing is blown away in another one of these amazing panels that only Umezu can draw. Such panels perfectly depict terror like no other artist.
Unfortunately, the flood doesn’t last very long, but somehow it causes mutant mushrooms to sprout and basically ruin most of the rest of their food. Some resort to eating the mushrooms. The official consensus is that everyone should stay far away from them, but you can tell who eats them because they turn into mutants and run away. There’s a wonderful 2-page spread of these children wearing masks (which is a real what-the-hell moment) and attacking the ponytail girl.
The kids begin worshipping a “God,” which happens to be a scavenged bust of Sho’s mom someone found in the art room. This is later destroyed and replaced with a one-eyed mutant statue.
A lot of this volume is just the kids turning into mutants. The other kids try to protect them and talk them out of it, but the mutant kids just can’t be turned back. There’s a wonderful scene at the end of the volume which utilizes the power of friendship to its fullest to try and turn someone back from being a mutant. At the end, the children gather in the gym as their school is attacked by one-eyed mutants, the same mutants the children are morphing into. They come for the stragglers, mostly, but the kids do what they can by fighting them off with spears and whatnot through the windows of the gym.
I really, really hate reviews which just consist of a summary instead of what the reviewer actually thought of the manga, and the only times I’ll give summaries are when the events speak for themselves. With Drifting Classroom, I feel a little bad that it seems like I’m giving nothing but summaries, but really, I don’t have anything to say other than things get more and more insane, and the effect of the incredibly improbable situations is best conveyed by simply explaining the situations themselves. My opinion is simply that I cannot believe that Umezu kept thinking of this shit, and somehow kept topping himself for off-the-wall, impossible scenarios for all of the 11 volumes of the series. It’s incredible to me, and I really mean that.
Also, I thought about putting spoiler warnings at the beginning of these, but know that what I describe only scratches the surface of whatever’s going on in the volume, and I really don’t think it’s quite possible to spoil this series to the point that reading it would be pointless. It’s an experience.
At the beginning of this volume, Sho once again improbably communicates with his mother. Well, this is after he saves a bunch of students from a burning building. Anyway, he asks for a cure for the bubonic plague, and most of the volume is spent with his mom complying to his wishes. He specifically requests that she put the cure into the mummy he found, and all he gives her to go on is the fact it has a scar on its wrist and he found it in the basement of the hospital. With that, Sho’s mom sets off.
You’d think that this might be an impossible task, finding a mummy with a scar on its wrist in which to conceal the cure for the bubonic plague, but she tries as hard as she can. Amazingly, she narrows the suspect down to a still-alive baseball player, who happens to be Sho’s hero. In an act of sanity, she takes Sho’s friend to a baseball game to see him, which might be where she makes the connection.
Well, getting the cure for the bubonic plague gets her kicked out of every pharmacy she can find, and contacting the baseball player proves impossible until she injures himself to get admitted to the hospital to speak to him. Things just… work out from there.
The students pray for rain, and in yet another unbelievable situation, the students singing makes it rain (the story tries to come up with a scientific explanation for this, like the fire from the school combined with the voices from the students affected the air, but the technical justifications sound just as likely to me as anything else that’s going on). The rain causes a flash flood which decapitates students, rips their arms off, and suffocates them in quicksand mud.
Marry me, Kazuo Umezu.
I’ve read most of this series now, but I’ve fallen behind on writing about it.
I’m still very impressed with how extreme this series is. Within the first few pages of this volume, a little kid kills himself by smashing himself in the face with a rock, then a few pages later, all the kids fall to their knees and cry when they announce “I’m home” after walking through the school’s gates.
Most of this volume concerns the plague. One of the kids gets sick, and the kid who wants to be a doctor when he grows up diagnoses him with a liver problem without much time to live. Further analysis reveals that the kid has the bubonic plague, and Sho and others who have touched the kid willingly exile themselves from the others. Unfortunately, some younger kids kindly changed the sick victim out of his underwear when he messed them up, so the plague spreads anyway. Those left in the school don’t know this, and they round up anyone having to do with Sho, even if they hadn’t recently had contact with them, and lock them in a room together.
Elsewhere, Sho and company find a mummy in the basement of the hospital. When the mummy sits up, we are treated to one of the best panels in the series of all the children screaming. The mummy isn’t alive though (apparently he sat up due to “gas escaping,” which is a really weird detail to add). Sho and company use it to gain access to the school by scaring the shit out of the guards, then the rest of the volume is them trying to help the other kids out of the classroom where they were locked while everyone else who’s left alive succumbs to the Bubonic Plague.
I love you, Kazuo Umezu.
The volume starts off right away with an impressively sexist remark from Gamo. Things slow down a bit as a government system is established at the school and defense systems against the monster are put into place. It was like the story was taking a breather. It wasn’t boring or out-of-place, and I was actually quite thankful for the break in between crazy, nonsensical violence. I wouldn’t have believed Drifting Classroom capable of such level of sanity and pause, but there it is.
To make up for it, the students are immediately attacked by the crab-monster. They try to fight the monster off with axes, but the monster wasn’t having any of that. They also try to keep the monster out with their school’s emergency shutters on each floor (and dude, I didn’t go to any school K-12 that was less than 80 years old and none of them had emergency shutters… fallout shelters yes, emergency shutters no, I’m very jealous). The monster fought his way through. Death looked imminent, until Sho realized he could knock all the little kids out with choloform and then pretend to be a chair, and the monster would leave everyone alone.
That alone would have been enough for me for one volume, but it just doesn’t stop. Later, they find out the true nature of the monster, which makes less sense than anything that’s happened so far… and yet the kids called it out by logic, saying that the monster and the grass just couldn’t exist since there wasn’t any food or water anyplace else in the desert. And, you know, you would think that the series had run out of disturbing imagery, but it just keeps cranking out more. When the monster disappears, it leaves behind the bodies of the kids it ate.
Haven’t had enough crab-monsters yet? Don’t worry, there’s micro monster babies to deal with next time.
I think I’ve finally seen enough that I can divorce what’s going on with reality and not feel bad about the kids anymore. It’s just too insane to feel any pity or remorse… or guilt, really, which was my biggest problem. Now I can read completely guilt-free! Bring on the flesh-eating monsters!
I think the only explanation we’re ever going to get for Drifting Classroom’s events occurred in this volume. At one point, Sho holds an assembly and one of the little kids asks him what happened to all the adults. Sho said the adults all died because they weren’t willing to accept the weird situations like the kids were. So there you have it, any weird situation that comes up won’t ever be questioned by any of the characters, which I think is a great device.
Because I thought things couldn’t get any more insane than last volume, this volume strives to beat it and succeeds. Most of the first part of the volume concerns Sho communicating with his Mom in the past (sometimes via telephone) so that she can bury a dagger in the wall of the hotel he’s struggling in. He digs said dagger out in the future and escapes his predicament. It took me awhile to figure out that’s where things were going (for a minute I thought his mom was going to enter the past), but I was in total disbelief when I finally figured that out. His mom makes for a great raver. She runs all over town in her nightshirt, not paying for things and throttling people in hotel rooms when she thinks she might be able to help Sho. At least he comes by it honestly.
There are some weird gag characters drawn in this volume. One is a strangely cartoony boy who tries to bite into a can of pineapples, and the other is Gamo. My roommate was very fond of Gamo, and spoke of him often. I can certainly appreciate Gamo’s value as a gag genius character who criticizes everyone in a very adult way and comes up with weirdly logical explanations for things like… time travel and whatever.
What else happens… a boy who had been attacked by the homicidal teacher crawls through the desert and dies at the gates of the school with a leaf clutched in his hand. Everyone is touched that he went through so much trouble to let them know about an oasis, and the escaped crazy lunchroom delivery guy does the kids the favor of escorting them there against their will, beating the crap out of them the whole way. They find a crab-monster who eats kids instead of fruit, except the crab-monster is kind of bad at eating kids.
Because the lunchroom delivery guy was locked up all volume, and the crab-monster is bad at eating kids, to make sure that there is enough punishment for the reader of Drifting Classroom, a female bully is introduced in the last chapter who administers brutal beatings to anyone that talks to her. Right when she is snapping a kid’s fingers one by one though, the population of the school is distracted by suicidal first graders who start jumping from the roof of the school.
I’m… ah, still not used to the violence against children, though I can certainly appreciate the value of this series. I love it for its unprecedented level of insanity, and I love it even more since it was actually meant for a ten year old boy to read alongside… I don’t know, whatever the equivalent of Detective Conan was back in the early seventies. I love you, Kazuo Umezu.
In the unlikely event that someone wondered why I wasn’t reading this series, I was waiting for the last volume to come out. I hadn’t read volume 2 when 3 came in the mail, and I decided to abstain and marathon Drifting Classroom when my roommate started throwing random story tidbits at me that just… couldn’t possibly make sense in any context whatsoever. I needed the whole story all at once.
I’m not sure if I will ever get over the shock of the violence towards children. It’s hard to take when an adult goes from room to room beating the shit out of little kids for their candy. On the other hand, the fact that this is even happening is ludicrous enough for me to divorce this from real life in every way, so it’s not like I’m offended. Part of me does wince whenever a little kid is run over by a car or something, though.
Those two violent items mentioned above weren’t even major points in the story. They were just passing events. That’s right: there are much better things to focus on in Drifting Classroom.
The most amazing pages of sequential art and story I’ve ever seen occur in the middle of this volume. There’s a long scene where Sho figures out that his house is gone. There is a page of Sho screaming for his parents. On the next page, the scene abruptly cuts back to the school, and we can see there is some sort of lunar eclipse, and in the confusion, a bunch of kids fall down the stairs. On the next page, the scene cuts to a teacher who is laughing and can’t stop. There are five panels of this man laughing. On the next page, in the aftermath of the laugh, one teacher decides he can’t take it anymore, pulls a straight razor out of his pocket, and slits his own throat. On the next page, there is a reaction, and then one of the teachers begs someone to tie him up. Yes, that was only five pages. There are nine volumes of this to go.
I mean, I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be funny or not. If it’s not funny, it is at least one of the most insane things I have ever seen. Surely I can appreciate it for that.
When I hear people going over the plot of the volumes of Drifting Classroom, it seems like things don’t fit together. I thought I would try to adequately explain the plot as it unfolds, but it’s just not possible. The general thrust is… the lunchroom delivery guy rebels and is subdued. There is a gun involved. It randomly appears (I’m fucking serious about this, A GUN APPEARS OUT OF NOWHERE), a joyful little kid fires it off, and the same little kid is killed when the lunchman gains possession of the gun. Later, the students figure out that they have landed in the future when they uncover a memorial stone with all their names on it from when the school disappeared and they died in the past. After some more deaths and memorials, Sho and a few other people, including a homicidal teacher, are sent out past the school grounds to find water. Being sent anywhere with a homicidal teacher never did anyone any good. Oh, also? You remember how that kid dropped dead when he left the school grounds last volume? Turns out he was sick and died of illness, not of some force outside the gate. You can roam around out there all you want.
But… the verdict? Awesome, definitely awesome. I like it much better already than anything else I’ve read by Kazuo Umezu.