The Drifting Classroom, Vol. 1–3
written by Kazuo Umezu
In Japan, Kazuo Umezu is to the horror genre what Stephen King is to it in America. He’s a highly respected mangaka and his work has spooked readers for generations. Getting lost in The Drifting Classroom shows why he’s so popular.
The Drifting Classroom doesn’t start out with horror. It lets the horror tale descend, slowly, gradually. There’s no boom where the reader goes, “Oh, that’s scary,” but instead the creepiness builds up—along with the anticipation.
The main character, Sho, is a sixth grader, but that doesn’t mean this series is intended for children. On the contrary, it’s aimed at adults. Sho and his mother exchange nasty words when he doesn’t get his way, and he runs off to school, threatening never to return.
He doesn’t realize he may get his wish.
There’s a terrible earthquake of some sort. When it’s over, parents and locals rush to the elementary school only to find it is missing.
Meanwhile, the teachers and elementary school students peer out and discover that their school is in the middle of a wasteland. Venturing out, they discover a plaque dedicated to them in honor of their deaths at the school.
But they’re not ghosts. A teacher commits suicide, proving they can still die. Another teacher seems to snap, killing other authority figures at the school and going after the children. A deranged deliveryman, desperate to have the food for himself, wields a knife against anyone who challenges him.
Sho is the one who figures out what has happened (or what seems to be the case so far, anyway). Somehow the school has been transported into the future, so far into the future that when they do find plants and animals, these things are unrecognizable to them. Between when they got to school and now, evolution has had a lot of time to work.
Sometimes we flash back to the parents, especially Sho’s mother, who is hysterical and believes she hears Sho talking to her. Others think she’s crazy, but we, the reader, know that Sho really is saying the words that she hears.
Umezu does a good job at going for people’s fears. What happens here of course isn’t realistic, but he’s delving into primitive, subconscious terrors. The Drifting Classroom is labeled with Parental Advisory tags for explicit content, but it’s really not that explicit. It has a few gory images, though for the most part, the fear comes through implication.