Afterschool Charisma Volume 1 by Kumiko Suekane
My favorite Sigikki titles are Afterschool Charisma tied with House of Five Leaves. House of Five Leaves isn’t out in print format yet, but I really enjoyed the first print volume of Afterschool Charisma. Shiro’s father is a scientist, and as a result he goes to a unique private high school. All of Shiro’s classmates are clones of famous historical figures, and as the only person there with a father, Shiro stands out. The story opens as Clone Marie Curie is experiencing a crisis of faith. She’s supposed to be studying science to model herself after the original Marie Curie, but Clone Marie Curie just wants to play music. Shiro’s childish faith in his parent leads him to ask his father if Clone Marie can study music instead. Overnight it is announced that Clone Marie is going to transfer to a music school and she’s never seen again.
There’s an increasing amount of tension within the school, especially after the political assassination of their most famous graduate. New security guards patrol the halls, and the clones have trouble managing the expectations placed on them for being copies of famous people. Clone Napoleon is experiencing a growth sport and Clone Mozart is an elitist jerk. I wish the female characters were a bit less traditionally feminine but their character traits are funny, as Clone Florence Nightingale has a tendency to burst into tears and clasp people to her ample bosom. Shiro’s planted in this high school as an ordinary guy with adjustment issues, who may eventually realize that his father isn’t as benign as he thinks.
The most delightful character in Afterschool Charisma is Clone Freud, who skulks around the school observing people with his pageboy haircut tucked behind his ears. While it seems that Shiro might not really want to wake up to what’s going on in his high school, Freud is on the case doing research and then quickly filling up his computer screen with pictures of naked women if it looks like he might be observed. Clone Freud also provides an acerbic counterpoint to Shiro’s blind optimism. When Shiro mentions talking to his father too many times, Clone Freud just stands there with an unholy expression on his face saying “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” I’m looking forward to seeing if Clone Freud and Shiro eventually team up if they discover the truth behind the organization sponsoring the high school.
Suekane’s art is probably the most conventional and commercial of all the Sigikki titles. The illustrations wouldn’t look out of place in a more mainstream manga, but I think the combination of the accessible art and off-kilter high school story works well. While the hints of something sinister at the school are one plot element, Suekane adds an additional layer by showing the societal aspects of a bunch of cloned high school students. How they relate to each other individually and as a group is interesting, as Shiro turns to different friends when he needs help and towards the end of the volume observes the birth of a unique clone religion. Thinking back over the volume after reading it, it is pretty amazing what Sukane was able to pack into the first few chapters of Afterschool Charisma. I’d read this manga for Clone Freud alone, but I’m intrigued by the story and looking forward to seeing what happens to the clone teens. With so many skilled leaders and tacticians from history trapped in high school, it’ll be interesting to see what would happen to the human race if the clones finally graduate.