By Dean Goranites
The Tonawanda News
— Fans of horror, suspense, and obscure fantasy, take note — you may have overlooked “The Drifting Classroom,” and if so, you have made a big mistake.
Published as a serial from 1972 through 1974, “The Drifting Classroom” has gone more or less unknown in the United States despite it’s numerous awards, for two reasons: It was published in Japan, and it is a manga.
For those unsure, manga is a japanese storytelling medium not unlike our comic books or graphic novels. Because of this, and perhaps sometimes rightly so, manga is often disregarded and criticized for its lack of literary and artistic merit, not unlike the plight well written graphic novels see stateside. Somewhat like video games, mass audiences are still trying to come to terms with the artistic merit manga can, and has, offered.
While “The Drifting Classroom” may only carry a cult following in the United States, in Japan, Author and artist Kazuo Umezu is a superstar of horror, often compared to the likes of Stephen King and George Romero. “The Drifting Classroom,” which runs over a series of 11 books, has won a number of prestigious awards in the country, such as the Shogakukan Manga Award, which is one of the biggest honors in manga publishing, having been awarded annually since 1955.
The story revolves around a japanese school, which has mysteriously and suddenly vanished after a large explosion is heard town-wide. While the townspeople assume the school has been destroyed in some sort of bombing attack, the assumption is far from the truth.
Instead, Sho Takamatsu, a sixth grader, and the rest of his school, have been transported to someplace alien. Whether they were warped to a distant planet, hurdled into the future, or something else entirely, Sho and his classmates have no clue. All they know is the school has been transplanted into the middle of a barren desert, there are limited food supplies, and hundreds and hundreds of children are so scared, they’re on the brink of a mental breakdown.
What follows is a thrilling, suspenseful, and often terrifying ride, as the adults attempt to manage the problem. Perhaps pulling a page from William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies,” it’s not long before the children begin erecting hierarchies of their own, bullying becomes commonplace, and the true nature of the people trapped starts to become apparent.
It’s this infusion of humanity that makes “The Drifting Classroom” stand out. While the concept of a disappearing school sent someplace bizarre is enough to attract a reader’s interest, it’s the social interaction between teachers and students, friends and enemies, underclassmen and upperclassmen, that pulls the story along at a breakneck pace. And if all that isn’t enough, Kazuo Umezu makes sure to throw in a number of twists in each book. You won’t be able to finish the series without dropping your jaw at least once per issue. The twists become addicting, too – don’t be surprised to find yourself finishing each in a single sitting, hungry for the next.
While it’s easy to write off a story like “The Drifting Classroom” due to the author’s choice to tell the story via manga, this isn’t one to pass up. All the makings of a classic tale are here, and one could make the argument that when it comes to horror and fantasy, “The Drifting Classroom” is a masterpiece. At just under $10 a book – much less if you purchase used through Amazon – don’t let this one drift by.
Dean Goranites publishes weekly video book reviews at unleashthis.tumbler.com and can be reached through Twitter at unleash_this.
• WHAT: "The Drifting Classroom"
• BY: Author and artist Kazuo Umezu
• PUBLISHER: Viz Media
• GRAGE: B+