Manga-ka: Tamio Baba
Publisher: CMX Manga
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: February 2010
Synopsis: “Toyama, a tall and beefy detective, goes undercover as a fifth-grade teacher. The previous teacher was discovered on the ground outside of her condo and rumours say she jumped… or was she pushed? Toyama is determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, but it seems like he has a more pressing task at hand: his rowdy students. One student, Makoto, is a little strange and his eccentricities make him a prime target for billies. Makoto can actually see the demons inside people, which manifest themselves as visions of horrible monsters. Will this strange student be able to help Toyama?”
The premise of Deka Kyoshi is a little odd, or at least not as clearly established as perhaps it should be. Toyama is a police officer who has gone undercover as a homeroom teacher at an elementary after his department has reason to believe the students are being targeted. How they come to this conclusion isn’t exactly established but it does come on the heels of a teacher’s suicide. Toss in a kid with some kind of psychic powers and a string of strange but socially-grounded occurrences with the kids, and you have a series that doesn’t feel like it’s got the best grasp on its audience but still has some substance for a variety of readers.
The story rushes into its own premise from the get-go, not really stopping to solidify its basis before leaping into the classroom. What makes Toyama qualified to teach a class of students is also never really brought into question, nor are the facts behind why the police force believes the kids are in danger enough to take such measures. This wouldn’t be such a distracting factor if it wasn’t for Toyama repeatedly bringing it up. At least in terms of third-party knowledge there’s numerous in-the-shadow appearances from a mysterious figure watching over the incidents that keep plaguing the school through this first volume, planting the seeds for future plot developments.
Makoto, the young student with a particular ‘gift’, is a bit of a confusing element. He immediately becomes attached to Toyama, which isn’t all that odd in itself though it does scream too-easy plot convenience. Makoto sees people’s inner demons as physical manifestations surrounding their bodies. It isn’t really clear if he’s able to see something other-worldly, or if he’s just crazy – either way, his ability to see these things tips him off to people approaching dangerous moments in their lives that Toyama is then able to intervene upon before it’s too late. These issues include bullying, puberty-related self-esteem issues and shoplifting – all poignant as looks at issues facing individuals in society but when meshed with a supernatural tip-off, feels a little conflicted in its focus. Do we feel driven to read on by the emotional duress or the conclusion of their resulting supernatural effect?
Toyama is a very passionate character, especially on issues that obviously mean the most to him such as bullying. His nobility and conviction makes him a compelling character but he still feels like he’s missing a lot of necessary substance to sustain our assumptions regarding his morale. Some of his outbursts feel a little too unfounded, even for a first volume. Yes, it’s nice to have someone who fights against a societal problem so feverishly, but there definitely feels like there’s something in his past that’s fueling these outbursts. It isn’t a flaw that the first volume hasn’t played all its cards on the table but much like Toyama’s repetitive cries regarding the threat against the children, the plot still fills a little hollow unexplored.
The art of Deka Kyoshi is more function than flash but it gets the job done- it’s very simple and sparse on unnecessary details. While this simplicity is a strong element in the storytelling, making situations really easy to follow and characters easily distinguished, it does clash somewhat with the story content. The artwork gives the book a very child-targeted look, one that doesn’t at all betray the dark content that occasionally occurs. That said, the artist is able to maneuver between quaint at-school scenarios and grotesque psychological-demons-brought-to-life in smooth-transition.
This first volume of Deka Kyoshi is a fairly intriguing start to the story. The focus of social issues facing children and young adults keeps it grounded in reality while the supernatural elements give it a special little spark that could make or break its intrigue factor in volumes to come. There’s still a lot of ground the story has yet to cover, and will need to in order to fill in some much needed areas, but for a first volume there was plenty introduced without feeling over. There’s still a lot to learn about Toyama, Makoto and the shadowy figure overlooking the school and Deka Kyoshi has offered up its share of reasons to care.
Review written May 7, 2010 by Lissa Pattillo
Book provided by CMX Manga for review purposes