Rena, Art Director:
I’m going to recommend a manga called After School Nightmare (Hokago Hokenshitsu). It’s an old one by Mizushiro Setona which finished in 2007, and admittedly it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I’ve known a few people who have been repelled by the strange themes or the art style and couldn’t make it past the first chapter, but if you’re not afraid of a little controversy give it a go (yes this is a challenge, accept it).
In a certain school there is a special class that must be passed in order to graduate. Held after school in the nurse’s office, classmates’ true identities are concealed behind canopy beds. Everyone falls into a deep sleep and meet in a connected dream where they must fight each other to find a ‘key’ that will lead them to graduation.
Dreamers take on a form representing their inner weakness, which may be as simple as putting on a skirt, or as abstract as just a hand with an arm. (There’s a giraffe at one point too :D) The result is an odd situation where your weakness is fully exposed to your classmates who basically become your enemies, but you can’t be completely sure who they actually are.
By far one of the most intriguing aspects of the manga was figuring out who took on what form and why. The dream forms will even change depending on the decisions made by the characters. Essentially they have to overcome their weaknesses in order to graduate. However once a person graduates, their existence is forgotten by everybody else.
The storytelling is excellent and takes the concept of identity much further than one would expect. It is a psychological romance that is not afraid to explore issues of gender, incest, violence and more. I won’t tell you it’s a pleasure to read, but it is definitely captivating.
Also, for those that do decide to pick it up, make sure to read the endnote after finishing the story. There’s some really interesting information that will definitely add a whole new sense of appreciation for the manga.