What time is it? Kazuo Umezu time! From the creator of Scary Book, Orochi: Blood and Reptilia comes a sci-fi horror series aptly named The Drifting Classroom. Set in the early 1970s Japan, The Drifting Classroom is an intense story of survival in a post apocalyptic world. When the grounds of his school are suddenly transported into the far flung future, Sho and his classmates must somehow manage to keep their sanity about them in the face of starvation, murderous teachers and panicky underclassmen.
The story of The Drifting Classroom unfolds in a very dark, heavy atmosphere with plenty of tension and unease. Gone is the formulaic storytelling of Umezu’s 1965 Reptilia in which Character A finds Monster A and then spends the rest of the chapter running and hiding from said monster. Following the success of the dramatic and beautifully rendered 1969-1970 suspense thriller Orochi, Umezu continues to show great maturation in both writing and story concept.
Perhaps the one area in which The Drifting Classroom falls short of stellar is the artwork. The character design of The Drifting Classroom is retro, but enduringly fun. The characters have four expressions – “unbridled joy”, “open mouthed screaming or yelling”, “brow furrowed concern”, and “crying”. Classic Umezu. Classic, but un-evolved. While Orochi: Blood departs from Umezu’s usual backgrounds in favor of creative scene framing techniques and highly detailed but cool mansions interiors, The Drifting Classroom is a step backwards to his earlier stories resplendent in motion lines. To be fair the scenery is much improved from both Orochi:Blood and Reptilia and shows a greater grasp of interior and natural exterior settings. This comes into play in many ways, not least of which is to show the contrast of the alien scenery around the transported grounds of the school.
The appeal of The Drifting Classroom has resulted in numerous reincarnations of Umezu’s manga… some better than others. It’s been translated into two movies so far: Hyōryū Kyōshitsu (1987) and Drifting School (1995). In 2002 it was also reinterpreted into an 8 episode Japanese TV drama titled The Long Love Letter.
Originally published in Weekly Shonen Sunday between 1972-1974, at present all 11 volumes of the manga are available in English from VIZ Media via their Signature line. This is a series worth owning if you are a fan of the survival horror genre ala Dragon Head and Lord of the Flies. It’s well drawn, minus a few shortcomings, has a lot of atmosphere, and some really great twists in later volumes. Well worth the $9.99 / volume price tag.