Story & Art: Kazuo Umezz
Translation: Sheldon Drzka
English Adaption: Molly Tanzer
Lettering: Evan Waldinger
Design: Adam Grano
Editor: Joel Enos
At the end of the world, will the Drifting Classroom abandon all hope, or search for a brighter tomorrow?
What They Say:
The students of Yamato Elementary School have been through hell and back. After a mysterious explosion sent them into the not-too-distant future, the students and staff have faced the wraith of a post-apocalyptic Earth. A complete lack of resources, strange mutated plants and monsters, internal strife and faction-forming; slowly but surely the Yamato student body have killed and been killed.
Sho Takamatsu leads the remaining students to the best of his ability, but this future hellscape is cruel and unwavering. It’s one obstacle after another as The Drifting Classroom barrels toward its conclusion. Will Sho and his classmates find any respite in this horrific future, or is this the end of human life as we know it?
Content (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
With Volume 3, The Drifting Classroom comes to an end. Clocking in at just under 800 pages, this hefty final volume looks lovely next to the first two books, finishing the color gradient with a bold yellow cover. From page one to its final moments, The Drifting Classroom remains a roller coaster ride of suffering (these weighty books would have made handy weapons for our vicious little grade schoolers).
Last we saw Sho and his allies, they had been left to die in a dried-up well by the only remaining adult and iron-fisted dictator Sekiya. With seemingly no escape, the students find an entrance to an underground subway. Within the underground labyrinth, Sho and company will uncover the truths of how this dreaded world came to be.
If it wasn’t apparent by now, The Drifting Classroom has some clear messaging about its apocalyptic scenario. What could have caused the mass extinction of life and desert landscapes that surround Yamato Elementary? The answer may be unsurprising – Earth had been destroyed by none other than the hands of man. The cycle of nature had taken its course – as civilizations continued to pollute and eradicate the environment, the Earth responded with world-wide droughts, shifting tides and massive earthquakes. As humankind teetered on the edge of extinction, the only remaining lifeforms would mutate into hideous creatures, fitting of the wasteland they brought upon themselves. Sho and company would find the remnants of these post-humans living in the underground tunnels.
Nowadays, it isn’t uncommon to find a plethora of media that pushes this narrative. You see it in books, movies, television – most post-apocalypse stories now are self-inflicted rather than caused by some outside force. But The Drifting Classroom brought an unprecedented message to manga readers in the 70’s. There were no heroes in this story, no slapstick gags, no pulling punches. Umezu’s graphic imagery and pitiable characters had one thing to tell us – don’t let our world come to this. This doomsday forecasting was relevant then, and it remains relevant now.
The most blatant usage of these doomsday themes come in the latter half of Volume 3, when Yamato Elementary’s remaining students must flee the smog-covered school and stumble upon an amusement park. The park is themed around time, with sections representing the past, present and future. Ironically, the future section of the park has been destroyed. As Sho and his faction stand hopelessly in the rubble of the future, Otomo and his faction have overtaken the “present” section of the park. Otomo was Sho’s right-hand man at the beginning of The Drifting Classroom, but their persistent despair has split them apart. Otomo and his faction represent the desolation of present-day man, as they hoard resources and meet every challenge with barbaric violence, going so far as to turn their weapons on one another.
Within the destroyed Future park, a single computer remains. The autonomous computer claims that a bright future lies ahead – deserts will turn to green, the seas will return and life will prosper once again. Of course, the computer’s speculation is impossible to accept in their current circumstances. How could such a paradise exist beyond such desolation? But as the computer suggests, there are an infinite number of futures to be made possible.
The students return to Yamato Elementary for the final arc of the series. Sho and Otomo reunite for one last mission. They believe they’ve found a way to return to the present day. I was never a fan of the time-paradox shenanigans between Sho and his mother, and their plan to return to the past is no less convoluted. Despite its wonky execution, The Drifting Classroom presents one final, compelling challenge to the students of Yamato Elementary. Its been their goal from the beginning to return home, and now they somehow have the means to do it. But what would returning home accomplish? The folly of man was beyond salvation and the present world was doomed to fail. But here in the future, despite all the hardships and trials the students faced, they persevered. From the desolated Earth, new life would begin to grow. They were living proof that humanity could continue living, that a bright future was not out of the realm of possibility. The students of Yamato Elementary were prepared to pioneer said future. Salvation was no longer behind them, but straight ahead, as they carved a new world atop the rubble of the old.
The Drifting Classroom Volume 3 is no less of an agonizing journey than the previous two books, but it ends on a surprisingly optimistic note. It’s clear to me why Kazuo Umezz is held in such high regard after completing this evocative series. I can only imagine the influence it had over readers 50 years ago, so I’m grateful to VIZ for re-releasing it to a modern audience. The Drifting Classroom’s powerful imagery and important themes make it a must-have for your manga collection.
Content Grade: B+
Art Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A
Text/Translation Grade: B
Age Rating: Teen+
Released By: VIZ Signature
Release Date: June 16th, 2020