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Review: Deka Kyoshi, vol. 1

Police detective Toyama has been given a tough new undercover assignment: teaching a fifth-grade class! Their teacher was killed under mysterious circumstances and the police believe that the students are in danger as well. Toyama soon discovers that one boy, Makoto, has the ability to see what others cannot and his horrific visions may be the key to the problems haunting Toyama’s students.

Deka Kyoshi, vol. 1
Tamio Baba
Age Rating: T+/16+
CMX/Flex Comics, November 2009, ISBN 978-1-4012-1890-4
162 pages, $9.99

Baba’s manga is more than it first appears, though the T+/16+ rating could keep it out of middle school libraries. In the first volume nothing is too violent or too adult for a middle school audience, so I am assuming that the rating comes from more mature subject matter in volumes to come. The strength of Baba’s story comes from an acknowledgment that older elementary school students and middle schoolers are dealing with issues like bullying, puberty, cutting, divorce, shoplifting, and peer pressure. All of the students in Toyama’s class are struggling with a problem of one kind or another and none of those problems are treated as minor issues. Whether it is the student whose body is maturing faster than she is ready for or the student whose family problems have stressed her to the point of wrist cutting, all issues are dealt with sensitively and seriously. But, at the same time, Baba doesn’t make the mistake of being overly sentimental. This is a horror title, so there are lots of scenes of scary monsters–the visual evidence of a person’s mental turmoil or internal demons–and plenty of action as go-get-’em Toyama tries to help his students as best he knows how, occasionally bumbling, but helpfully guided by school nurse and voice of reason Reiko Narita.

The art is as much of a surprise as the story. As seen on the cover, Baba’s character designs are fairly cartoonish. Though this lowered my expectations at first, in the end I came to see this as a strength. There is no confusion about who are adults and who are children. Everyone is clearly the age they are, but there is also a nice variety of body types and both physical and mental maturity levels, just as would be found in a real fifth-grade classroom. The horror images are scary without being overly graphic. The monster that appears when Toyama’s eyes are first opened to the bullying going on in his classroom is a terrific example of symbolism. The other monsters range from being generically hideous to specific to the problem being faced by the child in question. All get the point across to the reader without belaboring it.

If your school library allows T+/16+ titles, then Deka Kyoshi volume one is a strong start to the series. It addresses problems faced by middle school and high school students everywhere, without being preachy or too babyish for teens. Baba is obviously aware of and sensitive to the problems of adolescence. Teens should identify with at least one of the characters and the horror elements should make the story popular.

This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © CMX/Flex Comics.

Snow Wildsmith About Snow Wildsmith

Snow Wildsmith is a writer and former teen librarian. She has served on several committees for the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She reviews graphic novels for Booklist, ICv2's Guide, No Flying No Tights, and Good Comics for Kids and also writes booktalks and creates recommended reading lists for Ebsco's NoveList database. Currently she is working on her first books, a nonfiction series for teens.

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