Title: Afterschool Charisma
Author: Kumiko Suekane
Publisher: Viz Media (Sig IKKI)
Volume: Volume 5 (ongoing), $12.99
Vintage: 2009 by Shogakukan, January 17, 2012 by Viz Media
Genre: Science fiction, drama
Still reeling from the attack on St. Kleio Academy, the clone students are on edge as clone Kai begins to tell his strange story. Kai takes us back to his time as a student at St. Kleio. This Kai is friends with Freud (whose previous incarnation is just a hilariously pervy as the present one), Napoleon, and Marie Curie, but is particularly close to Elizabeth, with whom he is obviously on the verge of a romantic relationship. This Elizabeth longs to learn about the outside world and dreams of one day breaking free of St. Kleio. Life is fairly normal for Kai, aside from his being a generic clone (meaning he’s not a clone of a specified historical figure), but all that is about to change when another Kai clone of the same age is brought into the school. If ever there was a crisis of identity for a character, this is it. The two Kais are physically indistinguishable, but they immediately start showing differences in personality. Kai-2 seems fine being at the school, but Kai-1 is irritated by how they’re always compared to each other. When he finds his copy conversing with Elizabeth like they’re best friends, Kai-1 snaps and vents his frustrations out on Kai-2, demanding that the clone stop pretending to be him, and declaring that though they make look alike, they are not the same person. Before things get out of control, a certain familiar professor arrives and punches Kai-1 in the face, giving him a rather nasty cut and bruise. Realizing their friend is frustrated, Napoleon and Freud take Kai-1 to spy on Hitler, who is painting a portrait (of what I think is Brunhilde) using a half-nude Joan of Arc as a model. Eventually, for whatever reason, both Kais come to terms with their situation. This confuses the others back in the present, but it’s quickly brushed off when Hitler inquires about his previous incarnation that Kai knew. Hitler snaps when he learns what happened, prompting Kai to reveal how the Strikers (the name of the group of clones who attacked the school) first began, and what their mission is – to destroy the clones, because they shouldn’t exist. Director Rockswell shocks them all with his nonchalant response, but it’s an unanswered question of Shiro’s that really marks this scene. Kai interrupts the tense atmosphere to continue his story, picking up at the school’s expo during his time there. For a special surprise, Rockswell has brought the next generation of clones to the school, an adorable group of clone toddlers. The current batch of clones are introduced to their next generation, and even walk out on stage holding their own copies. After the historical clones give their presentations, the two Kais are brought up onto the stage for a special presentation. The school, or rather the company behind the school, has decided to offer custom made clones, and out walk three more Kais to prove the point. Then the auction of the clones begins, with most of the students going for astronomical amounts. Afterwards, the Kais gather together, and the ones from the lab all greet each other. The original Kai, obviously distressed by the whole situation, again attempts to assert his individuality, much to the annoyance of the other Kai clones. In a last ditch effort, he takes a nearby knife and slices out a gash across his face, finally making himself absolutely distinguishable from the others. The Kais are at last given their own assignment – to help research and develop the clones. As the volume wraps up, the truth about Shiro is at last revealed, and the last few pages end on quite a dark and foreboding note.
Just to reiterate – FOREBODING. Really, seriously foreboding. The last couple pages gave me chills. I enjoy this manga more with each volume. It can be a little silly at times (hello swim suit crotch shot), but it’s also incredibly dark and twisted, which I love. This volume explores a lot about what it means to be a clone, and in particular, a clone with other copies running around simultaneously. If one clone is a failure, a new one can be made to replace it. The first set of clones comes literally face to face with this reality when they are introduced to the group of clone toddlers. Not only can they be replaced, they’re holding their own replacements in their arms. It’s not quite as shocking as Kai meeting another Kai his age, but it does send crashing home the fact that they are not individuals, and they can so very easily be replaced if they don’t come out perfectly. They are, after all, bred for sale, and no one wants a “defective” clone. I’m really quite surprised that the clones aren’t more bothered by the fact that they’re being sold off, but maybe there just hasn’t been time for Suekane to explore that. Contrary to my initial impression, they seem to be well aware that they’re basically a product to be sold off to the highest bidder. So maybe they’re raised to expect that as their future, and so they don’t bother questioning it. The whole thing is rather sick, really. Especially when it comes to Hitler. The first clone of Hitler loves peace, and quite contrary to his original, believes that everyone has the right to joy and happiness. As he is being auctioned off, one of the prospective buyers comments, “No more of this nonsense about world peace. Good has its uses, but so does evil.” His intent for Hitler is clear. No one wants “individuality.” Why bother cloning historical figures if they’re going to have different ideals, I suppose is the general feeling. It’s certainly the way they’re treated inside the academy. Remember that Marie Curie, who wanted to pursue music instead of science, was made to “disappear.” Then there’s Kai. It is (I believe) purposefully difficult for the reader to tell them apart in this volume. In my summary above, I mention that the original Kai cuts up his face, but to be honest, I’m not absolutely positive. It’s hard to tell, and he does some things later that make me doubt his identity. It’s little wonder he’s a tad twisted. Remember that it was the Kais who led the Strikers’ attack on St. Kleio. And it was a Kai who burned both Joan of Arcs alive in the middle of the courtyard. There’s a little theorizing in this volume about the incredible possibilities of having another self around – double the mind power means double the research, etc. However, Kai quite clearly illustrates the downside as he struggles to prove that he is not the same person as the other Kais. What really makes me curious, is how all the Kais, along with all the other clones, got from Point A to Point B. What happened to them out in the world to make them want to destroy all the clones, including themselves? When they left the school, such a thing was not on their minds. Also, the Kais, as far as I can tell, were basically isolated from all the others who were sold off, as they stayed behind to work in the clone laboratories. How they all came together again, and changed so drastically, is quite the mystery. In fact, now that Shiro’s identity has been finally put to rest (at least for the reader), it’s the new big mystery, I’d say. I’m quite anxious to find out the truth.
Review copy provided by Viz Media.