Title: Afterschool Charisma
Author: Kumiko Suekane
Publisher: Viz Media (Sig IKKI)
Volume: Volumes 2 and 3 (ongoing, $12.99 each)
Vintage: 2009 by Shogakukan in Japan, January 2011 and June 2011 (respectively) by Viz Media
Genre: Drama, science fiction
St. Kleio Academy is unique. Only the clones of famous historical figures attend this private and prestigious academy. The teenaged clones of Elizabeth I, Napoleon, Sigmund Freud, Mozart, Marie Curie, Adolf Hitler, Rasputin, and many more attend this secret school. The lone exception is Shiro Kamiya, son of the school’s doctor. Because he is not a clone, some of his classmates, notably Mozart, shun and resent him. As clones, the students are groomed in their originals’ skill sets – Mozart must compose music, Marie Curie must become a scientist. One of the school’s first and most famous graduates, a clone of John F. Kennedy, ran for President, but was assassinated at a rally in the first volume. His fate makes the other clones wonder if they are doomed to repeat the lives of their originals, no matter their own decisions. Particularly Joan of Arc, who is fast approaching the age at which her original was burned at the stake for heresy.
A new craze is sweeping through the school in the form of a tiny stuffed sheep called Almighty Dolly, a representation of the first clone (the sheep, Dolly), which has become a good luck charm as well as a sort of god that the clones have begun to worship. As the students become wrapped up in their new religion, a new face appears. Arriving via a helicopter sky dive is the school’s director, Rockswell, accompanied by his adopted daughter Pandora, who looks remarkably familiar. As if they students weren’t under enough pressure preparing for the upcoming school festival, now they have to contend with the bizarre Rockswell and his creepy affections. Along with the Almighty Dolly craze, several of the students attach their hopes and dreams to their bizarre deity. Elizabeth I wants to get married, Joan of Arc wants to live, and even Shiro is becoming a serious believer in Dolly’s powers. Some of the students, like Napoleon and Freud, are skeptical, however. Unfortunately, Shiro has little time to help his friends, as he is quickly assigned to entertain the energetic Rockswell. While being run ragged by Rockswell’s limitless energy, Shiro is exposed to a dark side in this otherwise absurdly cheerful man. Aside from some rather callous comments regarding the clones as less than human, when Shiro insists that the little Pandora is nothing like the Marie Curie he remembers, a frightening change comes over Rockswell, leading Pandora to abandon her surrogate father and attach herself to Shiro instead. Meanwhile, the clones begin setting plans into motion to break free from their destinies using the Almighty Dolly’s power. The worshipers, led by Rasputin, make plans to perform a ceremonial sacrifice during the expo, and plan to stage Joan of Arc’s death to prove Dolly’s power to change their fates. An anxious Napoleon offers to perform the ceremony so he can keep an eye on Joan, even as Mozart arrives to laugh at their foolish attempts to alter destiny. When the guests start arriving for the expo, Shiro, Mozart, and Freud are introduced to a peculiar looking personal guest of Rockswell’s – a man named Kai, a clone who bears an uncanny resemblance to Shiro. This, quite obviously, launches Shiro into a spiral of confusion, especially since he can’t get a straight answer out of anyone. It’s not helped by Mozart’s crazed pleasure that Shiro might be one of them. Things really aren’t helped along when a mysterious group intent on wiping out the clones parachutes onto the campus grounds over night, and a dead body is found nearby the next morning. The expo is not canceled, but is simply altered to occur in one location, which unfortunately backfires when the auditorium suddenly erupts in explosions during the students’ presentations. As chaos ensues, the clones begin to exhibit some strong personality traits reminiscent of their originals, even as they learn some disturbing secrets about themselves.
My hopes for this series have been met. I was really intrigued by the first volume and hoped that it would prove to be an interesting series. I am satisfied, and I hope for great things in future volumes. Some fairly sinister things are revealed in these volumes. With the reappearance of Marie Curie and Rockswell’s treatment of her, it’s very clear how the clones are viewed, at least by a certain faction. Doctor Kamiya and Kuroe, for example, appear to value the clones as individuals. Kuroe especially, who genuinely cares about the clones and wants them to be healthy, happy, and successful, and disagrees with the idea that they’re disposable and replaceable. Director Rockswell, on the other hand, clearly sees the clones as commodities, disposable if they have any flaws, and worthless if they’re not exactly as they should be. Indeed, they are sold like commodities, which is the true purpose of the school’s exposition. Doctor Kamiya becomes more of a mystery in this volume, with his tendency of not expressing his emotions, his clinical outlook, and the way he both cares for and brushes off his son Shiro. Rockswell is quite easy to read, however, though it’s not clear whose side he’s on. He seems to have a connection with the group out to kill the clones, but it’s unclear whether he’s aware or not. It’s a little hard to believe he’s ignorant of the connection, but then again, he seems far too caught up in the monetary value of the clones to want to destroy them. The clones themselves are subtly changing, for better or worse. When all hell breaks loose, Florence Nightingale lives up to her original’s purpose and rushes back into the crumbling auditorium to save whoever she can. Napoleon, whose original admired Joan of Arc’s skills as a warrior, finds himself drawn to the strong young woman. Hitler, who I before described as oddly benevolent, ends the third volume with a frightening expression on his face as he watches the fires burn, zealously gripping his Almighty Dolly. However, while some seem to be exhibiting traits of their originals, others, like Ikkyu, a Buddhist monk who uncharacteristically loves comedy, still can’t manage to embody their original’s lifestyle. I haven’t mentioned the identities of the group trying to wipe out the clones because I don’t want to give that surprising twist away, but it really kicks the story up another level. As does the new mystery around Shiro, though I’m sure Rockswell will be all to happy to completely ruin the poor kid’s life. If you were waiting for the series to become more than just an interesting concept, get ready for the series to show some true potential with these volumes.
A copy of Afterschool Charisma volume 3 was provided by the publisher for review.