Halloween Horror: School Zone Volumes 1-3

If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2013! You can find all my entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

Written by Kanako Inuki
Illustrated by Kanako Inuki
Published by Dark Horse Comics

A school full of rumors of ghosts, horrible deaths, and creepy mirrors is the site for visceral and psychological horror as author Kanako Inuki puts her characters through a brutal, three volume horror manga that's a hidden gem in the Dark Horse manga stable.

I picked these up awhile ago and was just waiting for October to read them. Anyone who's been along for the ride for the past few years on this blog know that I'm a big fan of horror manga, because, with no comic code to hinder them, Japan's creators have the edge on the horror market by never having to stop and wonder if it's going to have trouble from an angry parent.

This is no exception. Reminding me a bit of The Drifting Classroom, Inuki immediately makes it clear she's got no reservations about taking the kids who make up the main cast and doing terrible things to them, starting by having one of them tormented into jumping off a roof. The first volume alone features multiple instances of sheer horror, with the worst probably seeing a policewoman ripping her own head off at the behest of a ghost.

Part of why School Zone works so well is the ability for Inuki to go from normal, cartoonish looking characters to sheer monstrosities just by turning the page. The kids are always wide-eyed, but they're just caricatures to start, looking a lot like Hino's work or that of Barefoot Gen. It's a very comical style, but once the scary stuff kicks in, they start screaming in terror and the monsters look like distorted versions of themselves (a great visual trick), with features twisted up, limbs distorted, mouths engorged, and other tricks. A girl shrinks to the size of a doll, grows a third leg, and chases a poor boy to the brink of madness. It's terrifying because the effect is magnified by the way the figures don't look entirely human to begin with.

There are countless moments of horror images in this series. Duffel bags become the heads of screaming children. First grade students disappear into the shadows, ending up living out life as a street sign. Backgrounds morph into shadowy figures, adding to the terror. Adults are hapless to help, wailing in pain and despair along side the children. Inuki's backgrounds are veiled in blacks, shadows, and vague shapes that heighten the menace.

As the story progresses, things look worse and worse, as the truth of the school's secrets begin to be revealed, linking to a world where spirits are trapped, causing increased pain and rage and bringing it all to a boiling point even as we approach the denouncement. The dialogue is shrill and harried, which fits nicely with the storyline and plot. If there's a problem, it's that the ending feels a bit abrupt, but I was pleased we got an ending. Sometimes manga series peter out more than they end.

School Zone is dirt cheap on Amazon used, and anyone who is a fan of horror and manga (or someone wanting to try it) should definitely grab this short, three volume series, assuming they don't mind seeing characters with necks twisted, body-less limbs reaching out from the corners, and other scary stuff. This one deserves a spot on your shelf with Uzumaki, Kurosaki Corpse Delivery Service, and other great horror mangas.