Svetlana Chmakova, best known for her OEL manga Dramacon, returns to U.S. comics with a supernatural fantasy title that manages the near impossible -- it easily distinguishes itself from that other manga about vampires who go to night school as well as that other teen novel series about vampires. I, for one, am incredibly impressed by the fact Nightschool builds its "urban fantasy" world successfully on its own terms and never once feels derivative (certainly high praise considering how popular this subject has become recently).
While Nightschool offers three interlocking narratives in its first volume, it is a young, isolated "weirn," (a particular breed of witch) named Alex, that ties the plot together and drives the emotional center of story. Alex actually doesn't go to the nightschool where her older sister, Sarah, also a weirn, works. The nightschool is where "demons get their diplomas" according to the text on the back cover, but the charm of underlying premise of werewolves, vampires and witches being instructed in "fundamentals of spellcasting" is overshadowed by dangers that clearly lurk in every corner of this supernaturally-saturated world.
There are dark hints that Alex's powers may not be entirely under her conscious control and that she has isolated herself out of fear from what could happen if they are unleashed during situations of high stress. One wonders what happened to Alex and Sarah's parents...and if Alex may be in some way responsible for their absence (or maybe I'm just really, really dark to think like that...) Interestingly, Alex is not entirely alone -- she is constantly accompanied by an animalistic astral projection, which can sometimes be her friend or her guardian depending upon the situation she finds herself in.
The entire first volume takes place over the course of a single night -- Sarah heads off to work at the nightschool, while Alex sneaks out into the city at night to practice spells, and each encounters extreme danger. Sarah from an unknown force that has infiltrated the school, Alex from a band of truly terrifying "hunters," who have magical powers but hunt down other supernatural beings that pose a threat to innocents ("innocents," one presumes can be regular old humans or other supernatural beings with no malicious intent). However, in the encounter with the hunters, it becomes clear that the thing that goes "bump" in the night may be Alex herself.
I'm loathe to discuss the first volume's plot in much depth -- the interlocking narratives dovetail perfectly and I'm looking forward to the second volume to see how Alex deals with the danger facing herself and her sister, as well the danger she herself might pose to others. The art, while clearly manga influenced, always maintains its own distinct identity. Chmakova does a beautiful job moving from playful or contemplative moments to abrupt and tense confrontations between antagonist forces. She has a wonderful sense of composition and flow, and the story's art and writing carries the reader along with great confidence and a flair for the spectacular.
Review Copy provided by Yen Press.