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Talking Perfection: A look at the rerelease of ‘The Drifting Classroom’

The definitive way to read Kazuo Umezu’s classic is here in the Perfect Edition.

Back in the days of middle school and high school, I was a huge fan of The Drifting Classroom. It was my favorite manga of all time at that point and I was such a fan that I even edited its Wikipedia page. The series is no longer my favorite nowadays, but I do still have a fondness for it.

Viz Media announced in early 2019 that they were going to do a special rerelease of the series. New translation, big omnibuses, and even a nice hardcover format. It would be the “Perfect Edition,” similar to the rerelease of Monster and 20th Century Boys in the past. With this release finally being out, I decided to give this book a good look over and see how it compares to the original release back in 2006.

What is The Drifting Classroom?

Created by Kazuo Umezu/Umezz in the early ’70s, The Drifting Classroom is about a Japanese elementary school disappearing one day following a large earthquake. No one knows where it went, leaving parents and family mourning their losses. However, no one died. They simply went… elsewhere. They have gone to a vast, lifeless wasteland of sand with no help or signs of rescue. What happens now when they’re all alone and things begin to fall apart? Sixth-grader Sho is about to find out.

The Drifting Classroom is an old school horror manga. Its storytelling, pacing, and writing are a bit dated by today’s standards, but it’s an interesting tale of survival as the situation keeps getting worse and worse for the kids. There are plenty of genuinely creepy elements and scenes in the manga, even more beyond what the first big book here has in store. It’s also very visceral and nasty with some truly ugly scenes involving children that may get under your skin. It’s not a pleasant experience, and the constant dark ways it plays out, some more confusing and baffling than others, can get exhausting. You just won’t see another manga or horror story like this again without it feeling to try too hard to push boundaries.

For those maybe interested in the series, here’s a very short review. If you are a fan of Japanese horror or are looking to see something from the creator who inspired other Japanese horror creators, like Junji Ito, definitely give this one a try. While dated (some elements don’t hold up well, like how the manga just expects you to accept anything and everything), it’s a freaky, eerie manga that still sticks with me to this day. Plus, its artwork is like nothing else currently out with its old school style, layouts, and detailing.

How’s That Presentation?

Let’s talk about the new rerelease itself and how it looks and feels. The original print of the 11 volume series was done in a paperback format with 5 x 7.5 inches for dimensions. It’s about the size of your smaller, normal size manga, like Naruto, One Piece, My Hero Academia, and others. The new release is a big, heavy hardcover with a bump in dimensions to 5.8 x 8.2 inches. That’s about the size of things like Beastars, 20th Century Boys, and Gangsta.

Usually with these scaling up, the manga tends to end up cropping some of the images and panels from what I noticed. It happened quite a bit with Monster’s Perfect Edition. It’s never really noticeable unless you’re looking for it admittedly, but still. Curiously though, that’s not the case here at all. The original release had some of the full art spreads trimmed a little, but now you get the full image here instead. Again, not very noticeable, but it’s rather nifty for sure.

There are other minor things to note as well. The barcode is just a sticker on the book’s back instead of printed into the cover like most boxes. There’s a new title font that is pretty neat, though I like the cruder style in the first print more. The paper stock the manga is printed onto here feels much higher quality than the original, even a touch thicker. It feels much more fitting for a Perfect Edition release than the original quality would have.

What’s New in the Book?

When I popped open this new edition, I was expecting mostly the same experience when I first read The Drifting Classroom all those years ago. Outside of a new translation and lettering, I figured it would be more or less the same thing, like Monster was. Not the case at all here. There are some big differences.

The biggest, most blatant one is the formatting and chapters. The Perfect Edition has different chapters; that is, things are rearranged from the original print in where chapters begin and where they end. For instance, in the first volume, the first chapter ends right around after Shinichi discovers his school had vanished. In the Perfect Edition, that whole opening is just considered a prologue and the real first chapter starts when Sho notices the chalk on the blackboard is shaking. It seems weird, but that’s when we get to this other point.

The Perfect Edition has new pages and panels in it. That may seem confusing and odd — where the heck is this new material coming from for a series from the ’70s? I believe this is because of how Viz edited the first version. They made their own chapters and cut some pages and material to make things flow better. For instance, that chalk shaking moment mentioned before. In the original release, Sho sees the chalk shaking, yells about it, and points to it. In the new version, Sho sees it, we get a cut to a new chapter, we have a new page where people are asking what he is talking about, and then he points to the chalk. So, it seems to me like this version is much closer to how series was first serialized back in the day. Thus, it provides a more faithful experience.

There are a few other minor things to note with this edition. The table of contents is moved from the beginning of the book all the way to just before the second chapter. There’s an odd inclusion of a table of contents for all of the chapters in each of the Perfect Edition releases placed towards the end of the first chapter, but not alongside the one at the end of it. The original covers and title pages for the series from when it was first being serialized in Weekly Shōnen Sunday (I assume) are included here as well. There is no About the Artist section or listing of his bibliography either like the very first volume either.

There has also been a change to the age rating. It is no longer considered M for Mature, but now OT for Older Teens. Why is that? We’ll discuss that in just a moment.

Translation and Lettering

Like with Monster: Perfect Edition, we have a brand new translation and even a new letterer for The Drifting Classroom. Instead of Yuji Oniki and Kelle Han, we have Sheldon Drzka and Evan Waldinger. Having a read a bit of both back to back, while also scanning some of the other volumes and certain bits, I would say the translation is about on par with one another. They’re both good, but have their faults. Drzka’s take may be a little stiffer in some parts and some of the phrasing doesn’t sound quite as right as it should. However, they’re both fairly close and you can’t go wrong with either.

Now about that rating and how it ties into the translation. The original manga got a rated M for its violence and its swearing, which there was quite a bit of. “B*tch”, “sh*t”, and “f*ck” were used a bit throughout the initial run, especially with the character of Princess and how she talked. In this new translation, most of the swearing has been cut. It’s still there from time to time, but it was severely rolled back. While the swearing doesn’t make or break this by any means, I do feel a few moments lose some punch without it. The scenes with the Princess jump out in particular, because while she remains as brutal as ever, toning her dialogue down felt like it removed something from her presence.

Lastly we have the lettering done by Waldinger. The original run had some great choices for font, especially with the sound effects and laughing. You could feel the power and madness emanating from these moments, like when the earthquake first goes off or one of the teacher’s laughing hysterically about their situation. The new version by Waldinger does a pretty good job and even has some new, improved touches, like a different font choice for when Sho is thinking instead of talking. Some parts are a little weaker, like the earthquake going off at the beginning. However, like the translation, the work here is on par with the original release and still fairly good in the end.

Worth Getting?

When all is said and done, is The Drifting Classroom: Perfect Edition worth your time? If you haven’t read the series before and were interested, I feel this is probably the best way to go about it other than grabbing the digital volumes. It’s a solid collection that has the first three volumes in full and most of the fourth as well.

For those who have read the original release or still own it like I do, that’s a harder call. The new additions of the extra pages and the better presentation are nice, but the manga is still mostly the same. There is just not enough here that it may be worth double dipping for if your copies are still in good condition.

Either way, The Drifting Classroom still remains a fine horror tale. It’s not perfect and is dated in some regards, but for those wanting a tense, nasty horror manga that isn’t by Junji Ito, this is one to check out. I think you’ll like what you’ll find here.

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