Writer and Artist: Kazuo Umezu
Publisher: Viz Media
What's it about?
This is a superbly spooky horror tale. Leading the cast is Sho, an 11 or 12 year old boy who attends Yamato primary school. One day the school disappears and is replaced by a gaping rock and sand filled hole. From the perspective of those inside the school there is a different scenario - to the students and teachers it seems that the outside world has disappeared.
Cut off from everywhere the children and adults soon panic. Phone lines are down, radio stations don't work and no one can understand what has happened. Some scream, some cry, some fight. All are despairing.
What's good about it?
From the very first page there's a real sense of foreboding and unease. It's scary, it's creepy, it's hair raising. What more could you want from a horror story? There's no monsters in this book, instead the fear lies in the unknown and our imagination. The suspense is built up and built up until we reach the final page, and there's a cliffhanger, and you want to read more, and more..
Which leads us to..
What's bad about it?
This is the first volume of an 11 volume series. Nothing is rushed and Umezo takes his time to immerse you in world of the drifting classroom. This means that the end of volume 1 doesn't supply you with answers, which would be frustrating, if the other books weren't so readily available (and cheap).
What's the art like?
The art is what makes this volume stand out. The dialogue is important, but most of the effect is gleaned from the artwork with the narration providing a little extra insight into events. Umezo's characters are drawn simply whereas the background is far more detailed. This encourages the reader to identify with the protagonists and believe in the world they inhabit.
The character's emotions, actions and even their speech bubbles are drawn in such a way as to make you feel agitated and uneasy. It's a discordant and jarring effect, and you never quite relax while reading it.
Like many other manga, this book is presented in the original Japanese format, so you read back to front, and right to left. For more information go here and scroll to the bottom of the post. If you don't like that explanation, there's also one in the front (back) of the book.
As for what to read next, why not try the other 10 English language volumes of The Drifting Classroom or other books from his bibilography, helpfully listed at the back of the book, along with a couple of prose pages about the author.