The Drifting Classroom
Writer/Artist: Kazuo Umezu
Number of Volumes: 11
Available on MangaFox: Yes
What It’s About
In the aftermath of a strange earthquake, an entire elementary school vanishes, leaving nothing but a hole in the ground. While parents mourn and authorities investigate, the students and teachers find themselves somewhere far away… somewhere cold and dark. A lifeless, nightmarish wasteland among which their school stands like a lone fortress. As panic turns to terror, as the rules start to fall apart, a 6th-grade boy named Sho and his friends must try to survive in a hostile new world.
The Drifting Classroom is classified as a Shōnen manga and is geared towards young men, 8-18 specifically, though with swearing and violence that’s a little too graphic to children, The Drifting Classroom is a bit of an oddball in the genre. Shōnen manga usually revolve around action and male protagonists. Here’s a direct quote about this genre:
“…often portray challenges to the protagonist’s abilities, skills, and maturity, stressing self-perfection, austere self-discipline, sacrifice in the cause of duty, and honorable service to society, community, family, and friends.”
That’s literally The Drifting Classroom to a tee, but in an alternate reality. Sho and his friends are in a constant struggle with everything around them. The environment and animals of this desolate area they were transported to, the lack of food, adults going crazy, kids dying–literally everything goes wrong while nothing goes right. At one point, kids start coming down with the plague! That’s just some rotten luck right there. They have to adapt or die. They try to grow up to suit the world they now find themselves in, but with no experience or practical knowledge, they find themselves struggling more often than not.
The greatest strengths of The Drifting Classroom are that you’re never going to be able to guess what’s going to happen next and that the mysteries are very rarely solved. It leaves you feeling as disoriented as the kids as you fail to predict what’s going to happen. It creates a heavy atmosphere of dread but your morbid curiosity makes you keep turning the pages. By the end, you’ll be so deep in the kids’ misery you’ll feel physical pain when you have to stop reading to go and do something else!
Unlike a lot of horror that wraps up (or at least tries to) all the questions viewer’s might have come the end, The Drifting Classroom is left open and ambiguous. The kids come to their own conclusions about how they got where they are, but it’s never said in any certain terms. Considering this was made for a young, male audience, it’s amazing how subtle is it. But it’s also a brilliant way to create a horror atmosphere without doing anything overtly scary. By never giving any concrete answers in regards to what the hell is going on, you’re left as helpless as the kids in the story.
Also, I feel the need to say that while I don’t think anything overtly scary happened, I’m crazy desensitized and can usually tell when something is coming. The Drifting Classroom did leave me feeling tense though, so that’s a great testament to the horror in the series!
Even though The Drifting Classroom will keep you guessing as to what malady is going to befall these kids next, the structure of the first few volumes is very repetitive. Something bad happens and divides the kids, some kids die, the death bands all the kids back together to solve the problem, until something else inevitably drives them apart. It could be mushrooms that mutate kids that eat them or it could be a giant bug monster crashing through the gates to terrorize them, or it could be that they’ve run out of drinkable water. The circumstances are always different, but the structure is very much the same.
Though, this never-being-sure-what-they-want-or-what-to-do attitude speaks volumes for the fact that these are children. The adults are quickly killed off and the oldest among the children are twelve. The inability to stick together comes from not having any authority figures to tell them what to do, but as each volume passes, you’ll begin to question how many more times Sho will be elected leader, betrayed, and then re-elected when shit hits the fan.
Were we all this stupid at eleven years old?
Give it a Chance/Leave it Be
While it’s over-the-top action and repetitive storyline might put more casual readers off, if you’re looking for a tense, atmospheric thriller, look no further than The Drifting Classroom. It’s so different from the children-without-authority model we’re used to with Lord of the Flies and the implications of human nature presented within the eleven volumes of this series are nerve-wracking. You’ve seen the apocalypse, but not like this, and you’ll be over-thinking every little detail that’s never explained for a long time after you finish this series.