School Judgment: Gakkyu Hotei
ENOKI Nobuaki (story), OBATA Takeshi (art)
Shounen – Comedy, drama, mystery
3 Volumes (complete)
To help solve the educational crisis, Japan has set up the School Judgment System. Whenever a crime or a problem happens at a school, two transfer students take on the roles of prosecutor and defense attorney. But perhaps the only thing more mysterious than the mysteries are the two lawyers themselves…
The idea was awesome. The actual manga was not.
When I first heard of School Judgment: Gakkyu Hotei, I thought it was going to be Ace Attorney Junior. It some ways, it is: a pair of… interesting attorneys face off in a dramatic courtroom showdown that usually results in a twist ending. The biggest difference between the two is the protagonist, the public defender. Abaku definitely isn’t a pushover like Phoenix/Ryu, as the former likes to challenge authority. (His hobby is “ronpa”, basically playing devil’s advocate.)
Interestingly enough, author Enoki tells his readers to not consider School Judgment as a courtroom drama. Instead, he considers it a mystery, most likely because witnesses aren’t really cross-examined. Yes, the ultimate resolution occurs during the trial, but episodes of the manga focus on gathering evidence. Sixth grader Abaku tries to put the pieces together behind an incident at school in order to defend his client. (Although he often knows who did it, proving it is harder work.) The prosecutor (usually a classmate) presents their case to a judge, and eventually the truth behind the case is revealed. Most investigations and trials take two or three chapters to wrap up, and Abaku directly addresses the reader in between to give readers hints as to the identity of true perpetrator.
Of course, a deeper mystery lies afoot. The School Judgment System was started after a major incident, and Abaku himself hints to his first client and eventual sidekick, Tento, that he is staying at this school for a reason.
As I mentioned, I thought this would be a kid’s version of Ace Attorney. This is definitely not a children’s manga though.
Let me repeat that.
THIS IS NOT A CHILDREN’S MANGA!
The trials in School Judgment are reminiscent of violent crimes, just on a less disturbing scale. The first chapters are called “The Suzuki Murder and Dismemberment Case”, and the victim is a fish. The visuals do show Suzuki chopped up, so if you’re not the fisherman/fisherwoman type, it’s a bit unsettling. The opening chapter also shows an image of The Bloody Classroom Session that involves actual people as the victims, and a later incident involves a candy that functions very much like an illegal drug.
School Judgment sounds like something a lot of readers Abaku’s age and younger would like with its snarky protagonist who challenges teachers, the power to turn slides into offices, and a school where one period a week involves watching two kids argue instead of having to do homework. But School Judgment should not be given to young children. This is a Jump series, but it’s definitely not one targeted at its youngest readers.
Of course, you might expect that with its vocabulary and explanations of the legal system, but let me segue to the my biggest issue of School Judgment: it had a lousy editor.
“A lousy editor?” you might ask.
Yes. Editors are the often underappreciated, non-credited authors of manga, serving to guide mangaka on the path to developing a great piece of work. As a work gets more popular, they tend to be more hands-off, but for a newbie like Enoki (who doesn’t appear to have written anything since School Judgment either), a good editor should have pointed out what would work and what wouldn’t work in a Shonen Jump series.
Let’s start with this:
Enoki writes, “Due to an overwhelming number of negative reactions such as revolting and sick, he is the second character whose screen time got cut.” Well, DUH! Weekly Shonen Jump is incredibly popular with female readers, and that’s why you see a lot of pretty boys in the magazine’s series. What, no one could have seen an ugly old man as a five-year-old toddler wouldn’t be a hit? What, did Enoki and his editor one day dream of seeing little Yoichi figures and keychains on kids’ shelves? The Judge in Ace Attorney is a lovable buffoon. This… this is just…
Putting The Boss Baby‘s ugly, creepy prototype away, let’s discuss the characters. As I mentioned before, Abaku is more of a dark hero, a Holmes who is not the gentleman type. When someone falls into his trap, he grins more like he’s an evil villain rather than the protagonist. Tento balances out the rough Abaku with his quiet, sensitive personality. A rather typical lead pair. In true Ace Attorney style, various other students are introduced as witnesses and defendants, but perhaps the most eccentric characters are the prosecutors.
But you know what’s not typical Ace Attorney? The amount of ecchi and fanservice:
May I remind you that these characters are 12? And we have a grown man (appropriately called Lolimatsu) getting excited over being whipped by that girl? Plus we have girls in bikinis who look ready to audition to be gravure idols and another who wears a partially unzipped bodice, partially unzipped short shorts, and carries a whip.
Come on, editor. You didn’t suggest making School Judgment: Gakku Hotei something the whole family could enjoy? Or age up the characters so that being whipped is less disturbing? Seeing manga characters whack each other on the back of the head or plowing a baseball into their face is funny; seeing what looks like a dominatrix who can still order Happy Meals at McDonald’s is just… yeah…
Why couldn’t the editor recommend something more family-friendly, a fun mystery series or courtroom drama that kids Abaku’s age would want to emulate?
Okay, but maybe you can get all that. What about the actual mysteries?
First, one or two of them are based in the Japanese language. Notes and explanations are provided, but I doubt many English readers are going to be able to solve the puzzle without knowing Japanese. Fortunately, this case is one of the shortest, but this section will still be pretty dull for many readers. The third volume also includes Enoki’s original School Judgment prototype (complete with a cast who look like they’ve stepped out of the world of Dragon Ball or Dragon Quest), and this takes up almost a third of the final volume. Just FYI.
Subtracting that, the manga isn’t as episodic as it might first appear. The final chapter didn’t even make it into Weekly Shonen Jump, so although School Judgment lasted longer than Enoki originally planned, the ending does feel rushed. One or two cases probably should have been cut to make room for a smooth transition to the ending, but that would have required meticulous planning. Despite having a whole class, a couple of students make return appearances later in the story. Prosecutor and magical girl anime fan Pine eventually steps aside as new challengers come to face Abaku, so that helps shake up the story a bit. The cases are split between those resulting from bad intentions and good intentions gone awry. As you would generally expect, a bit of dramatic license is taken, as Abaku just doesn’t try to raise reasonable doubt but actually reveal the culprit. A few are a bit of a stretch, but that happens in a lot of mystery stories.
Probably the best part of the manga is the art. I’m not going to really talk about it much because no one should read this as their first Obata manga. It’s no wonder why Obata is so in demand: he’s just that good. Whether flipped-out teachers, pretty girls, or old men, he can draw them all with powerful, accurate precision. It’s a little different from some of his other works, with larger sclera around the eyes and wild hair styles. Of course, you already know my feelings about all the fanservice, but I can’t argue about it from an artistic standpoint. Pine’s outfit, spotted hair, sharp eyes — everyone has their own little trademark, and this makes all the characters easy to recognize and visually unique. Plus all the characters’ movements are full of impact. Look at Abaku and Tento’s body language below. They’re full of confidence:
At times, the manga even adds horror elements, with one perpetrator complete with a big snake-like tongue and bug eyes. The manga is a visual stand-out, but it’s up to you if you want to see this level of artistic ability being used to draw big busomed 12-year-olds.
First, in case you’re not sure, yes, the female lead’s name is pronounced the same as the tree. It’s written 鳳梨 (houri, pineapple) but given the reading of パイン. It’s written the same way as the Final Fantasy X-2 character’s name, but her name should not be pronounced that way. Anyway, that helps explain Abaku’s joke about calling her a pineapple.
Honorifics are not used. “Mr./Miss” are used for classmates. Lolimatsu’s “hime” is replaced by “young miss”. As I mentioned, a couple of the cases or references rely on Japanese. More interestingly enough, the art isn’t retouched as much as most Viz Media manga. Text on blackboards are left alone if it’s unimportant, and even the Japanese way of tallying is left alone. I do prefer manga art to be left mostly alone, so I was impressed that VIZ didn’t go out of their way to redo all the art.
Obata would have been better off hiring Enoki to write the Perfect Crime Party manga from the Bakuman. series.
Obata has had a bunch of manga published by VIZ Media: Death Note, Platina End, Hikaru no Go, Ral Grad, Bakuman., and the manga adaptation of All You Need is Kill.