The Drifting Classroom is the kind of manga that likely inspired generations that came after it. Originally published in 1972, the horror series is very good at capturing scary moments that stick with you. Viz Media has released a 744-page omnibus reprinting this week complete with a new translation by Sheldon Drzka and is edited by horror novelist Molly Tanzer. Many may have already heard of this disturbing series, but if not this is a perfect time for you to get uncomfortable with childhood trauma. It sounds unwelcoming I know, but it is the season for scares!
The plot of this manga is quite a mystery, so much so I want to avoid spoiling anything, but know that nearly ever chapter seems to have some revelations about what is really going on. The basic premise is that 862 students and faculty of Yamato Elementary School suddenly leave a crater where the school once was and soon after the students and staff realize what has transpired chaos ensues. It takes a good 500 pages to find out what has happened and even then it defies logic. There is a mix of dark fantasy afoot here of the sort you might find in The Twilight Zone.
You’re going to appreciate the length of this manga, so don’t let the size turn you away. It takes its full length to really deliver on the mysteries, horror, and disturbing twists and turns to make it feel like a magnum opus. The book is filled with twisted acts of violence and reveals, many of which feel particularly horrific from a child’s perspective. The children in the narrative are elementary school age up to 6th grade and yet they endure violence as you’ve never seen. By the end the children make up their own government of sorts, endure alien creatures, and try to wrap their heads around the hopeless situation they are in.
A disturbing and scary manga that will stick with you
This is likely going to be a controversial read after you see children shot, stabbed, and ripped apart throughout the volume. The horror isn’t focused on gore, but rather on the perspective of a child enduring a world gone mad. Early on in the story, the teachers at their school lose control as they can’t comprehend what has happened. Series creator Kazuo Umezz makes a strong point through the story’s protagonist that an adult’s point of view must be certain and can’t waver from logic and thus that is why the children can maintain composure and the parental figures cannot. Seeing these parents lose their minds, allow survival to take over rather than the protection of the children, and generally act like crazy people is a disturbing sight to see. Umezz also makes sure to show how one person going crazy is scary enough, but when a crowd loses their cool and a teacher has trampled a focus on the damage done to the trampled person’s face is quite clear. The horror at work here is particularly scary because it’s easy to see society falling to shambles when a few folks lose their cool.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this manga, but I’m glad I read it. It’s a classic to be sure and a horror story like no other thanks to the main characters largely being children. It also seems incredibly important as we live in a world where those who are supposed to be in charge to save us from climate change and war seem crazy themselves and not looking out for anyone but themselves. This is also a good science fiction story in its own right thanks to one of the most riveting twists I’ve seen in some time.