Title: Afterschool Charisma
Author: Kumiko Suekane
Publisher: Viz Media (Sig IKKI)
Volume: Volume 4 (ongoing), $12.99
Vintage: 2009 by Shogakukan, October 2011 by Viz Media
Genre: Drama, science fiction
When we last left off, all hell was breaking loose during the St. Kleio Academy school festival. A group of failed, renegade clones had launched a bloody attack on the school, and was attempting to assassinate the school’s clone students, with most of the terrorist clones going after, well, themselves. As clones are killing clones, clone Mozart, Pandora (Marie Curie’s newest clone), and Shiro are following school director Rockswell back to the school’s surface. They are greeted with a virtual war zone. Shiro and Mozart are clearly horrified, but the sadistic Rockswell is clearly taking immense pleasure in the suffering of those around him (specifically the struggling and dying clones). One of the clones has already been shot down by his older counterpart, while clone Elizabeth, alone and confused, tries to make it to safety. Napoleon continues a bloody battle with his terrorist counterpart, while Joan of Arc meets sympathy from her renegade clone, who also has a strong desire to live and break free of her destiny. The previous Joan quickly explains that her fellows want to wipe every last clone from the Earth, including themselves. However, they are spotted before they have time to get away. In the auditorium, Dr. Kamiya is approached by Kai, the older clone who looks eerily similar to Shiro…but at the same time, Kai appears before Elizabeth and declares his love for her. He also appears before the two Joans. Meanwhile, out in the courtyard, yet another Kai is performing the ceremony that was supposed to symbolically break Joan’s destiny by burning her like her original, but having her survive. Kai, of course, has no such intentions, and has tied both Joans to the stake. A fiery inferno erupts as Shiro watches in horror, Hitler watches enraptured, and Mozart bursts into heartbreaking laughter. As Hitler watches Joan’s destiny fulfill itself, he vows not to be a victim of his own destiny. As things finally begin to calm down, the school security finally manages to take one of the Kai clones into custody alive, while Mozart plays his sorrow out on the piano in his first real display of skills matching, and possibly even surpassing, his original. Elizabeth, Nightingale, and Ikkyu collapse in each other’s arms in relief, Freud goes to comfort a shell-shocked Shiro, and Himiko leaves to join the enemy. At the memorial service that follows, Shiro grows irritated at the flat out lies spewed forth during Director Rockswell’s speech, and laments that his friends have received such underwhelming respect for their lives, especially since they still have not received any real explanation for what happened that tragic night. With emotions running high, and strange questions about a certain clone floating around, Shiro grows increasingly agitated and paranoid. Hitler’s sudden, well…Hitler-ization doesn’t help, as the clone begins insisting that Shiro must be one of them, and his devotion toward the Almighty Dolly begins growing to frighteningly fanatical levels. Hitler also begins to fear a path without design, and decides to embrace being Hitler’s clone, insisting that he’s special and has been chosen for a great purpose. Darwin finally makes an appearance and stirs the pot even more when he begins to turn the failures and deaths of the previous generation of clones into an example of survival of the fittest and evolutionary theory. Meanwhile, Dr. Kamiya pays a visit to Kai, where we learn that Kai is not a clone of anyone of significant value, but for some reason he has multiple clones and multiple generations. Without a known original, with no preset path, no roots, and nothing to go on, Kai lives aimlessly and in regular confusion. Questions arise about Shiro during this conversation, though none of them are concretely answered. Curious about their previous generations, Freud decides to do a little research, but doesn’t find any immediate answers regarding just how many previous generations have been made, or what their fates were. In the student lounge, Shiro’s friends are watching Kai and Rockswell play a game of pool when Shiro walks in with Pandora. As Hitler desperately tries to convince the others that they should cling to their destinies, Shiro explains that normal people don’t have such a preset path to follow and don’t know their destinies. Hitler, who refuses to believe he is normal in any way, is shocked when Kai explains that he has no fate to follow, no original to emulate. As the others wonder why he is so different from the other clones, Kai decides to tell them about Project X.
Another intriguing volume of Afterschool Charisma. For a while now, we didn’t really have any knowledge of the previous generation of clones aside from clone Kennedy, who was assassinated in the first volume while running for office. Now we know there was at least one full compliment of clones previously, and it seems like after the graduation from St. Kleio, they were let loose upon the world with little to no guidance. From the current generation, we know that the clones are bought by rich donors, which makes it even more strange that they all joined up together to form a terrorist group. Something feels really off about that, not to mention the fact that the group was led by multiple copies of the Kai clone. This volume really shakes up the world of Afterschool Charisma. Though only two of our main characters died, the carnage was not insignificant, even if the list of dead included most of the terrorist clones. Many of the school’s clones were killed, as were a few of the normal human’s in attendance. The clones left behind are fairly well traumatized now, some more than others. Hitler has completely snapped, and is starting to take on more and more traits of his original, which can only mean bad things are coming. Elizabeth is reeling from her first real kiss, Mozart is finally breaking free of his original’s shadow, and poor Nightingale is being plagued with bloody nightmares. And, of course, Napoleon and Rasputin suffered severe physical injuries in the attack that will take some time to recover from. Our familiar group of students are also now struggling more than ever to make sense of their lives as clones. The previous generation believes they are all better off dead, and wants to end the twisted games going on at St. Kleio. However, the current generation, who has yet to face the outside world, clings desperately to life and holds out hope for a future of purpose. Yet now that they have seen what has become of their predecessors, and had their hopeless words drilled into their heads, they are less sure of themselves. How many “mistakes” and “failures” occurred before them? Will they, too, turn out to be failures? This has always been on their minds before, but only in so far as matching the potential of their originals. Now they are faced with finding their purpose in a world where there may be many copies of themselves wandering around. Just how many Freuds and Napoleons does the world really need, after all? Then there’s Shiro, who has his own problems to deal with. Kai’s identical appearance is the least of them, as he (or even the reader) still can’t get a straight answer out of anyone regarding who, or rather what, he really is. Even if he’s not a clone, there’s something off about him.
When we last left Ichigo and the gang, the Soul Reapers were finally overcoming the Espada in battle, and it looked like they were finally going to be able to return home with Orihime. Unfortunately, just as things were calming down, Orihime was again captured and taken back to Las Noches, volumes of effort and battles made moot (hooray). Aizen opened a portal to the World of the Living, prepared to take his Arrancars through and destroy Karakura Town, then destroy Soul Society. Fortunately, Soul Society anticipated the attack, and had Urahara build a replica of Karakura Town for the battle to take place in. Several captains and assistant captains were already in the replica, ready for battle. Rather than jump right into the battle (and honestly I’m rather thankful for the change of pace), Kubo takes us on a trip to the past, starting 110 years ago in the Soul Society. Some familiar faces appear here, as our friendly neighborhood Visoreds were former high ranking Soul Society officers. We’re first reintroduced to Shinji Hirako, Captain of Fifth Company, and his Assistant Captain, Sosuke Aizen. On this day, the Captains of the Thirteen Court Guard Squad are gathering to witness the official promotion of the new Captain of the Twelfth Division, Kisuke Urahara. His Assistant Captain, Hiyori Sarugaki (another Visored), is none too thrilled about his appointment. Annoyed that her Captain is a former member of the Secret Remote Squad of Second Company, and viewing him as lazy and incompetent, Hiyori has no intention of showing her new Captain respect. In an attempt to show his Assistant Captain a little something about the type of man he is, he invites Hiyori to accompany him to the Maggot’s Nest, a secluded and locked down facility where dangerous, retired, or criminal Soul Reapers are kept locked away. Deep within the Maggot’s Nest, Urahara leads Hiyori toward the only “prisoner” who is kept locked away i his own cell.Urahara believes that with the proper outlets, even such a dangerous person could become an asset, and this particular asset is none other than Mayuri Kurotsuchi. Urahara makes Mayuri and offer he can’t refuse – the chance to join his new project, the Research and Development Department…and the chance to become Captain of Twelfth Company if Urahara were to die. Meanwhile, Yoruichi Shihoin teases a hardworking and quite young Byakuya Kuchiki, and Aizen introduces himself to a young new officer named Gin Ichimaru. Nine years later, strange deaths are occurring in the Rukongai, as residents are vanishing, their clothes oddly left behind, as if their Konpaku aer unable to maintain the form of a living person. Ninth Company, led by Captain Kensei Muguruma and Assistant Captain Mashiro Kuna, is sent out to investigate and are immediately met with an enormous hollow, attacking a young Shuhei Hisagi. Nearby, Kuna finds several Soul Reaper outfits lying empty and intact, with obis still tied and socks still in sandals. To investigate, Urahara sends out Hiyori, unaware of the real danger lurking behind the scenes. When both Kensei’s and Kuna’s spiritual pressure suddenly disappears, the Thirteen Companies are placed on high alert. Captains Rojuro Ohtoribashi, Shinji Hirako, and Love Aikawa are immediately dispatched to the scene. Also sent along are Kido Corp Lieutenant Hachigen Ushoda and Eighth Company Assistant Captain Lisa Yodamaru. Back at the battleground, Hiyori, Shinji, and the other members of the advance squad are fighting off a hollow-fied Kensei. One by one, the others start turning into hollows, as well, and those left desperately try to avoid destroying their friends. As the situation becomes more and more hopeless, a traitor is revealed.
I enjoy Bleach‘s crazy battles as much as the next person, but the Hueco Mundo story line has been going on for several volumes now. They first entered the desert of Hueco Mundo in volume 27. That’s a lot of battling against Arrancars. This glimpse into the past is a welcome diversion, and it’s quite fun to see some familiar characters before they became the people we’ve known for so long now. We’ve known almost since the beginning that Yoruichi was a Captain in the Soul Society, but Urahara’s real role wasn’t always clear. Of course, what’s really going on here is the introduction of the Visoreds before they became Visoreds, and the origin of Aizen and the start of his plan to destroy Soul Society. I wondered why, since this happened 100 years ago, Aizen was able to parade around as a Captain for so long without anyone figuring out what he was up to. The fact that every Soul Reaper fighting him became either a Visored or was expelled from Soul Society probably helped, but it still baffles me how he managed such a colossal betrayal. The look into Soul Society’s “prison” system is pretty interesting. Urahara admits that many of those incarcerated in the Maggot’s Nest are not actual criminals, but are considered too dangerous to be allowed to roam free. Members of the Thirteen Companies are basically members for life. They can take a leave of absence, and can even be expelled, but they are not allowed resignation. Those who choose to or are forced to resign are taken to the Maggot’s Nest, where they are kept indefinitely. According to Soul Reaper custom, anyone who has the skills to be admitted into the Thirteen Court Guard Companies is incredibly dangerous, and therefore not allowed to remain in a position where they could interfere with Soul Reaper missions. There’s not a ton of action in this volume, as the focus is more on past events and showcasing characters in the past (as well as a few fan treats), and as I’ve mentioned already, I’m totally fine with that. Kubo handles this down time well, and presents an interesting glimpse into the past. The only trouble I had with it was personal. Because I read so much manga and so many titles, it’s hard for me to keep characters straight, especially in a series like Bleach, which has so damn many of them. It’s even harder to remember who belongs to which of the Thirteen Companies, past and present. Regular readers and hard core fans will have no problem, but more casual readers may become confused or not catch some of the references.
Review copies provided by Viz Media.