Reviewing and discussing on the more interesting horror manga I’ve read recently, “Zekkyou Gakkyuu”, or “Screaming Lessons” by Ishikawa Kei. More within.
I stumbled across the manga after reading some pages of the chapter, “Friendly Apartment Complex”, and immediately finished the manga in one sitting. While it did achieve horror through the sheer contrast between its cutesy, shoujo-style illustrations and its grim endings, the manga disappointed me numerous times due to its constant breaks away from its overall theme.
What is its overall theme, you ask? As the title implies, the stories serve as perhaps a twisted version of Aesop’s Fables, each tale with its own moral and ending. Each tale seems to tell us a simple concept or lesson that children should know: don’t waste food, be grateful to your parents et cetera. Even though the initial concept is novel, interesting and carried consistently throughout the first volume, Ishikawa seems to deviate from this and slowly move onwards to random, even cliche tales of horror or even sappy shoujo endings.
Admittedly, expecting Ibitsu-style horror from such a cutesy horror manga is a bit too much to ask for. However, it’s not unfair to say that as much as Ishikawa attempts to stay focused on the theme of her comics, the links she builds get more and more tenuous, to the point where they seem almost arbitrary. Furthermore, the stories become less and less ‘horror’ manga altogether. In Volume 2, Ishikawa continues to attempt the same format of story. This is where it gradually seems to lose its focus: while chapter 9, “Kasako-San is Coming” is a short tale of the existential horror of the demons within us all, Chapters 10-11, “The Truth about Yomi” become a cheesy, cliche tale of school bullying, a theme seen throughout the manga itself. Chapters 12 , ” The Endless Game of Tag” and 13 “Shii-chan’s Diary” are similarly cliche, with the ‘moral’ being stretched to the point where it seems almost random and utterly pointless. Chapter 13 and Chapter 10 become much more ‘shoujo’ than ‘horror’ at all, with time skips and reversals and even explicit deus ex machinas for a happy ending.
Speaking of horror, a peeve I have with Ishikawa’s work is that it can’t decide on how to project horror onto the audience. What kind of horror is being aimed for? While at times Ishikawa chooses to incorporate grim endings to teach the readers the moral of the story, for instance in Chapter 3 where the protagonist and her doll, who she feeds, switch bodies forever, she suddenly switches to a kind of despairing horror which uses human nature as its medium. The manga becomes less a series, and more an anthology. Consistency in writing is a virtue, and same goes for manga writing. Why the constant deviation from your central theme?
As such, even though the concept of the manga was novel and interesting at first, I’m afraid its inability to be consistent in its delivery really dropped its value in my eyes, and I’d give it a 3/5 tops. For a manga titled after its core concept/gimmick of being nothing but moral lessons, the ideas for lessons seemed to run dry halfway through the manga itself. Ishikawa attempts to stand between two stools: attempting to write horror while teaching beneficial lessons, but she finds herself slipping between them. I guess the manga would do better if it focused more upon one aspect rather than attempt to achieve both at the same time, at the same levels.
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