Original Story & Illustration: Svetlana Chmakova
Toning Artist: Dee DuPuy
Lettering: JuYoun Lee
What They Say:
Schools may lock up for the night, but class is in session for an entirely different set of students. Enter the Nightschool, a school for the creatures that haunt dark corners and fill fiction novels—i.e. Vampires, werewolves, and weirns, a specific type of witch. Alex Treveney, a homeschool weirn, is content to study on her own until one night, her sister Sarah goes missing at the Nightschool. Within an instant, the world forgets her: everyone except Alex. Now, Alex is forced to enter the Nightschool as a student if she wants to figure out what happened to her sister. Yet things aren’t as they seem: will she be able to endure whatever she discovers in those haunted halls?
Content (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Svetlana Chmakova’s Nightschool is something of a legacy title for Yen Press. It was one of their earliest Original English Language (OEL) manga back when the publisher initially launched: old enough that it ran in their now defunct Yen Plus magazine in chpaters. However, soon after, Nightschool was compiled into volumes, starting April 2009. Over the course of its story, the work would be bound into four, wide-sized volumes, with a release schedule of two volumes a year through October 2010.
Nightschool is notable for being one of Yen’s top titles at the time, with critics -by and large- offering up a lot of positive praise for Chmakova’s series. In addition, The Young Adult Library Services Association put the first two volumes of the series on its 2010 list of Great Graphic Novels for Teens. Ultimately, Nightschool did serious numbers for a manga-esque series: it makes snes why Yen chose to honor it with new editions.
Now, a decade later, the four volume series is getting a second life as two two-volume omnibuses titled Nightschool: The Weirn Books, complete with gorgeous matte covers and color inserts. Fans old and new are being dropped back into the immersive world of Nightschool. Yet does this title hold up a decade later, especially when it comes to new readers? Let’s see!
Our story starts right on the cusp of nighttime at an everyday public school. A trio of students …until they encounter the school’s Day Keeper, a witch with the ability to seal the doors to everyone who doesn’t dwell in the night, which is critical since the rest of humanity doesn’t really know about what hides in the shadows. Exhausted, the Day Keeper retires to the hallways to wait for the new Night Keeper, a frazzled young woman named Sarah.
Enter Alex Treveney, a thirteen year old weirn, which is this universe’s witches. Armed with an Astral -this world’s version of a lesser demon that represents a witch’s soul- Alex tackles piles of homework…by herself at home. Depsite her sister Sarah’s desires, Alex keeps to herself, studying magic alone via tomes and textbooks instead of mingling with kids her age at the local Nightschool. It’s an interesting choice that really marks Alex’s character as being particularly lonely.
Luckily, for the most part, Alex’s life is pretty okay…aside from a few early volume hiccups, including her astral threatening blackmail in exchange for homemade cookies, and some strange events that hint at her being more than just a young witch. Still, cookies and rogue astrals aside, everything in Alex’ life is pretty routine.
Until her sister Sarah just…dissappears.
In an instant, the world forgets that Sarah Treveney ever was: all except for Alex, and a senior student named Ronee, who’s the queen bee of the Nightschool. Pictures with Sarah fade, and in moments, there’s no evidence that she ever existed aside from Ronee’s recent memories and Alex’s entire life.
What follows is Alex’s desperate fight to suss out what exactly happened to her sister, all while still being a teenager with pretty solid control over her Astral companion and a mysterious ailment that’s hinted at when she signs “no curses” on her Nightschool intake forms. While I’m an adult reader, I still found Alex to be an incredibly likable character: you really want to see her get her sister back no matter what.
Volume 1 -which actually contains volumes 1 and 2 of the original release- builds on this initial action, establishing the world of Nightschool and getting Alex into the actual school. There’s a good deal of action, but most of the story is focused on the rising action and developing everything arund Alex. Still, it’s very good setup, and shows that Chmakova knows how to handle a story that could easily get out of hand and start to sprawl. There’s also still breathing room for a few mysterious plot points: namely, why Sarah disappeared and why Alex is the way she is.
This first volume is full of nostalgia for original readers, and packed with 2000s-era lingo that’s part-nostalgic sigh and wholly good. Hunters are called “Buffies” after the famous Slayer, Vampires are “Nozzies” after the original on-film vampire Nosferatu, and characters have a slew of slang for one another in their aughts-era magical world. Rather than coming off as 2000s’ cringe, it just feels charming, and makes you laugh.
Additionally, Nightschool is a series ladden with latent diversity, and I don’t just mean with the spectrum of beasties and magical folk that inhabit this world. Chmakova has created a decidely authentic world, full of character across the ethnic spectrum that reflect our own reality. Most notable is how Chmakova draws Black characters: they look wholly natural, reflecting a wide range of natural hairstyles ahead of the natural movement of the 2010s.
New readers who didn’t grow up with this series might find it a bit cheesy, but it’s that cheese that makes Nightschool work so well alongside the dynamic storytelling and lush world of the Nightschool itself. Additionally, readers who have children or young people in their life might consider picking up vol. 1 and vol. 2 -which was released on June 26, 2020- as Chirstmas gifts for enthusiastic readers with a strong interest in manga and graphic novels.
Nightschool: The Weirn Books Vol. 1 offers a lot for nostalgic readers and new fans. With an engaging plot, eye-catching art, a diverse cast, and overall well-executed writing, it’s a solid OEL (Original English Language) manga title for both young and seasoned readers. Over the past decade, it’s aged quite well, though it still keeps its late 2000s-era lingo, which might be charming to some, and not to others. Still, it’s an easy recommendation as Nightschool demonstrates the power of OEL manga and Chmakova’s skills, even a decade later.
Content Grade: A
Art Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A
Text Grade: B+
Age Rating: T/Teen (Language)
Released By: Yen Press
Page Count: 384
Release Date: May 26, 2020