Written/Drawn by Setona Mizushiro
What’s in it? Internet Chatting, Troubled Teenages (And a troubled adult), Real-Life Drama
First Volume Impression
In the mind of Rika Saginuma, the world is coming to an end: she’s been dumped, she’s been injured, and her former team mate, Kako, has taken her place in both her ex’s heart and the track team’s spotlight of admiration. Rika hides her feelings behind a bland smile, but deep inside she despairs over what she’s lost. Eager to avoid others, she goes to the school’s computer room to kill time. Joining an online chat where everyone is complaining about teachers and tests, Rika types “I wish this place called school would just disappear.” To her surprise another occupant, Polaris, agrees, and goes a step further: “Let’s blow this school to pieces.” A slight unease settles over the conversation, and other occupants dismiss Polaris’ comment as the babblings of someone secure in her online anonymity. Rika’s not sure if she believes Polaris can or will do it, but when Polaris drops hints about a special online chat, Rika finds herself wanting to join.
In a hyper-sensitised, post-Columbine world, TOKYOPOP’s newest offering is bound to raise eyebrows in America with its premise: blowing up a school. This fondest wish of schoolyard verse became a horrifying reality less than a decade ago in what was considered a safe, suburban surrounding, and American high school has never been quite the same. Metal detectors and random locker searches have become standard practice throughout the nation, and loud-mouthed bravado can result in expulsion instead of simply detention. Since August 20, 1999 there has been articles, exposes, documentaries and docudramas about the rise of school violence, and now TOKYOPOP brings us the first English translation of a manga that tackles the issue. X-Day is by no stretch of the imagination a story specifically about school violence, but I am pleased to see how Setona Mizushiro employs the subject in the unfolding of the plot.
Set in Japan, the story begins with high school senior Rika. Injured and dumped, she shows a brave face to the world, but recedes mentally. The same face that smiles at classmates becomes blank and cold when she thinks no one is watching. The little things that go unnoticed by others are eating away at her, and she withdraws from the people around her and the activities she once participated in. The more she tries to convince herself that none if it hurts, the more depressed she becomes. Well-behaved and well mannered, Rika’s not the type to expose her inner feelings for fear of being viewed as pathetic. However, when an online chat room offers her the opportunity to unburden herself without revealing her identity, Rika makes an off-handed statement that quickly spirals to darker places. Kindred spirits echo her response, and soon an improbable quartet is formed for the sole purpose of destroying what they believe is the source of their misery: the school.
I think most people would consider the transference of blame to the school a rather irrational jump, but I believe that the point of X-Day is to examine why people do things that seem totally inexplicable to others. It is an interesting and unsettling look at how things are not always as they seem, how even the popular kids can feel lonely and alienated even when surrounded by friends and caring adults, how people can miss the signs that someone is in distress, and how it’s not just teenage girls that suffer from such things.
It is also an interesting look at how technology has changed our society. In X-Day, a desktop and a LAN connection offers both heaven (a chance for an upperclassman, an underclassman, a gothic lolita and a biology teacher to join together and share their pain without being exposed to the criticism of their peers), and hell (the information they’ll need to reduce the school to rubble). What they do ultimately is left for volume 2, but there’s absolutely no assurance that it won’t be apocalyptic. The same World Wide Web that offers an outlet for frustration, inspiration, happiness and every other emotion teenagers succumb to also offers the tools with which they can hurt one another. That is the inherent freedom and danger of being only a screen-name, and I believe it is for this reason that Mizushiro incorporates a great deal of on-screen-chat into X-Day.
There’s definitely more wordage and less pictures than your average manga, but it’s not without purpose. The stingy treatment of background details reinforces the feeling of isolation, and Mizushiro effectively transitions from the smiling, hallway-façade to Rika’s true feelings with a minimum number of panels – to show that it’s not a case of split personalities, but one hiding beneath the other.
A balance of good art, fair writing, and a few twists make X-Day volume 1 worth reading at least once and volume 2 worth waiting for in my opinion. It isn’t the most fabulous translation offered by TOKYOPOP (the printing is nothing to rave about, nor are there any special manga-ka extras or interviews) but it earns my respect for being a decent treatment of a topic that most comics publishers would avoid as well as being an original storyline among all the similar ones that can be found floating around the manga industry.