Back in 2009, Viz Media teamed up with a monthly seinen manga magazine by the name of Monthly Ikki, snatched up a couple of their titles and released their own special online version of the magazine. Viz had their own separate website where they would throw up a chapter of a manga from the Ikki magazine every week and kept doing so until a completed volume was fully out and then remove them — a way to entice readers in checking out what kinds of manga they had to offer.
While the site is no longer around (same with the magazine in Japan now sadly), one of the titles that was released was called Afterschool Charisma. Besides Children of the Sea, it was my favorite of the mangas Viz put chapters out for and helped me grow to love their Signature imprint. But with the manga having come to a close in Japan as of this past November, I believe it’s time to look back and see where it all began in Volume One. Is it good?
Afterschool Charisma Vol. 1 (Viz Media)
Written and Drawn by: Kumiko Suekane
Translated By: Camellia Nieh
It’s sometime in the distant future (but not too distant) and our setting is the very private school known as the St. Kleio Academy. The school holds quite possibly the smartest and most influential students ever within its walls. You see, the school is home to clones of the famous and infamous historical figures that influenced and changed the world, such as Sigmund Freud, Napoleon Bonaparate, Elizabeth Tudor, Mozart, and even Marie Curie. There is a lot of pressure on these clones to live up to the example that their originals had.
Shiro Kamiya has it just as bad, but in a different way. You see, he’s the only non-clone in the school and he constantly feels inadequate compared to his fellow students, isolated (even if he is friends with quite a few), and also has to live up to the pressure that comes from being the son of one of the staff involved in the cloning process. However, he and the rest of the clones may have a bigger problem to worry about: the clone of John F. Kennedy, the first successful graduate of the school, is assassinated by a mysterious group and the question is raised about whether or not the rest of the clones are doomed to follow their originals’ path or fates much worse.
I have actually read up to volume 5, so it’s rather interesting to come back and a take look at the very beginning of this manga. While there are some dark moments and fascinating discussions on fate and predestination that come alongside being a clone, the series starts off very similar to a high school dramedy. While these characters are clones, they are also teenagers and there’s a lot of familiar elements from other high school mangas and shows in the first volume: young romance, the drama of being an outcast, a scene with the guys ending up in a room with the girls changing, etc.
As such, the first volume of the series feels like it is struggling to find itself early on. Is it a high school dramedy focusing on clones with an edge to it or is it science fiction drama with some rather deep thoughts and a slight upbeat and comedic tone to it? The series does end up making a choice and it does work out, but if one was to read only the single volume, they may be off put by the tone. However, the flipside to that is that the light-heartedness and familiar tropes do prove as an access point to readers who may not usually be into this kind of story; they get into the school drama and comedy parts at the start, but find themselves getting attached to the characters and the dark mystery playing out in the background.
That’s where the ultimate strength of the first volume (and future volumes) lies: the story. The main story is cooking and developing in the background of the first outing, with readers not really seeing or even learning all that much. We barely know a thing about this mysterious group that carried out the assassination, but we know it’s something big. There’s enough there to grab our attention and make it all so tantalizing. Then there are the brewing subplots and they are just as enthralling; the whole situation with Marie Curie leaving the school to study music, the mysteries going on with Shiro’s father, the sort of “cult” of the Almighty Dolly (a group of students who pray to receive the “luck” that Dolly the Sheep had) and the meeting Shiro’s father has with the other higher ups of the school and how they strangely don’t seem to care that much about the assassination.
Our main character, Shiro, is blandish and typical judging from his first appearance. He’s your stereotypical good guy/teenager, trying to be nice, feeling a lot of pressure, feeling like he’s on the outside looking in, and having moments where he cracks or can’t handle situations. However, all of the problems he has are pretty legitimate given the setting and the people he’s around. He’s a kid in a school of clones. While he shares a few similar problems, he can’t fully relate or grasp the full scenarios and pressures they are put under, namely trying to live up to the accomplishments of their clones’ past lives. That being said, he really doesn’t come into his own or really start developing that much until the third volume.
The clones, like Napoleon and Florence Nightingale, don’t have much to them at this point with some exceptions. We learn enough about them that you get an idea of their character (though Napoleon and Ikkyu kind of blend together at this point) and get enough of their insight into their situation so they aren’t bland or forgettable. For instance, we get a scene about Elizabeth pondering her fate, worried she’ll end up an old maid by herself like her original or Joan of Arc and her breakdown she undergoes towards the end (it’s rather subtle and doesn’t need any explanation to know why she is so concerned). It’s not a lot at this point, but they certainly do develop later on.
The clones with the most character and development with them are Mozart and Hitler (no seriously, someone thought it was a good idea to clone him) . Mozart comes across as a complete and utter asshole in the book from his first appearance, from the way he sees Shiro and talks to Marie in a flashback. He’s really not likeable, but as the book goes on, you start to see layers to him. The guy is under enormous pressure constantly to live up to his original like the rest, but it affects him much differently than others and it’s breaking him slowly. It’s never spelt out that he’s cracking and instead done more subtly, with the previous talk about pressure the characters themselves have and his interaction with his music teacher. As for Hitler himself, he’s a very upbeat and friendly individual, reaching out to Shiro on his first day and trying to cheer him up at several points. However, while he’s really a sweet guy, he feels isolated more than anyone at the school because of his original and feels it is his punishment. He comes across very sympathetic and easy to understand.
The most interesting and heavy theme that resonates throughout the manga is: are these characters doomed to follow the fate of their original (like with Kennedy’s assassination) or can they possibly break away from it and forge their own path (like with Curie leaving the school to try to become a musician)? Plus, again, there’s the constant reminder and pressure to live up to their originals’ greatness. Does it break them or can they overcome it? These questions and thoughts ring throughout the book and are what drive a lot of these characters’ hopes and fears. They’re brought up in discussion quite a bit but it never feels heavy handed and you fully get where all of these characters are coming from. There’s no real clear answer at this point and their future is cloudy, but it’s all presented in a way that makes you want to know.
Writing-wise, the book is well-done, although I have a few gripes: the pacing goes by too quickly in the first chapter, glossing over the whole Kennedy assassination reaction (given how big it was, you think the book would have lingered on the immediate reaction of everyone a bit longer), but it does improve as time goes on. The dialogue is also pretty good, with some strong, memorable lines. The only exceptions are Marie always being referred to as Marie Curie, never her first or last name like Elizabeth or Freud are, and the same thing applies to Joan of Arc whenever she appears. It feels odd and a bit too formal in areas personally. Finally, there’s the whole historical angle — although these characters are all famous historical figures, to get the most out of this series, you may need to do a little research. There are several subtle nods, references, or in jokes to these characters’ historical past, so brushing up on these elements will fully enrich the reading.
Then there is the artwork for the book and it’s decent; very anime-ish with the big eyes and facial reactions/expressions, plus some strange fanservice bits with the female students (definitely feels out of place more as time goes on) and characters with similar faces (for both male and female). It’s not bad by any means, but it may not look like much to someone if they just quickly glance through it. However, the layouts are genuinely good and are solid at conveying emotion, mood, and tone with the angles and shadows. When something needs to be shocking or dramatic, the art is more than able to convey it well.
Is It Good?
Afterschool Charisma Vol. 1 is a decent start to what eventually becomes a great and surprising manga. While the tone and focus of the book isn’t nailed down yet (there are some silly antics that feel almost out of place at points), the storytelling and writing are well-done. While I do recommend the book, I would suggest getting this and the second volume together to get a better taste of the series/see how it evolves over time. It’s definitely worth your time.
Afterschool Charisma is available from Viz Media. Ten volumes of the series are currently available to purchase, with two volumes left to go (both currently unknown when they’ll be released). The series has currently wrapped up from what I have heard, with no word on what the writer/artist will be doing next.