January 14, 2011

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Nightschool Volume 3

Written by Svetlana Chmakova
Illustrated by Svetlana Chmakova
Yen Press

The wolves are literally at the door of the Hunters, keeping them on the run even as their friends continue to die, bit by bit. Meanwhile, Alex and her new allies probe the school to try to find a clue to her mother's disappearance. Can there be a common link in a mysterious teacher with an agenda of his own? Time is running out for all involved with the Nightschool.

I have to admit that I didn't think this volume of the series was quite as good as the first two, though I'm still enjoying the series quite a bit. I think it suffered from trying too hard to set up conflicts that will happen in future chapters without keeping enough of the action set in the here and now. There's some great battles in the early going, with the Hunters up against their many foes, but after that it falls off into the mysteries of the plot and my mind started to wander a bit as we peeked into the dark alleys of the nightschool and the motives of Mr. Roi. I'm certainly interested to learn more about both the school and this teacher who reminds me a bit of Metron (a Jack Kirby character who values knowledge over helping his fellow man), but I wish there had been more going on as the manga progressed this time.

There's certainly a lot of things to be answered before this series ends, and I wonder if there's enough time to do so, given that the manga is already finished in its serial run in Yen Plus. We're not really any closer to getting the answers than we were in volume one, which is another thing that I think weakened this volume a bit. By now, I should be able to start putting the pieces together, especially if we are more or less at the halfway point here. I'm still not sure about the hunters, about whether Alex will end up as a danger to the world, what role the seer plays in all of this, and why Alex's mom had to be taken out of the picture. Open questions are usually a good thing, as they keep the reader interested. I'm just a bit concerned because we went through a full six chapters and I don't feel like any of my questions were closer to being answered. Hopefully the next volume will give me a bit more.

It may seem a bit odd that I'm being this critical yet listed Nightschool on my Favorites list for 2010. I really do like Nightschool and it's because I like it so much and am so invested in the story that this trade concerned me. When Chmakova started hurting her main characters, I immediately stood up and took notice. I care about what is going on, and that's part of what makes a good manga series for me. If I wasn't invested in this world and finding Alex's mom or deciphering the secret of these ancient evils, then I'd care less that we didn't move forward as much as I'd hoped here. As it stands, I'm eagerly awaiting the next volume to see just what does happen. That's what makes this manga a favorite and makes it a story I highly recommend to others. I just want to start moving towards resolution in the next few chapters of volume four.

Thematically and artistically, Chmakova is still as strong as ever. The story continues to use elements of typical manga without slavishly copying them or trying to cram as many tropes as possible within the pages. The opening action scenes feature shonen ideas but avoid the lack of clarity that sometimes plagues pages with action lines or odd-angled panels. Day to day school drama is set within the context of the world but has the cute touches of a shojo. We have the fish out of water (Alex) who gets in with the cooler kids, but here it's to save her mother's life, not to get a boy. Chmakova neatly blends things, just like a good creator should. There's nothing wrong with familiar ideas--if you make them work for you.

Nightschool continues to be a great manga, even if I didn't think this volume did all that it needed to in order to pull its weight within the overall story. If you're unsure of whether or not you'd like an OEL manga, give Nightschool a try. I think you'll be glad you did. This is a series that can completely change your mind on whether you can make Japanese-style comics and not be from Japan.