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Fangirl Friday: A School Frozen in Time, by Naoshi Arakawa

Volume 1

** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK FOR MY READING PLEASURE **
Copy received through Netgalley

~

A School Frozen in Time, Volume 1, by Mizuki Tsujimura
★★★★☆
234 Pages
Content Warning: deals with suicide, memory loss, psychological horror, self-harm, depression

A School Frozen in Time is a YA series (15+) with a psychological thriller reminiscent of classic Japanese horror. Character heavy, with an intricate plot and some mild horror and bloody scenes.

Eight kids show up at school, a few months after another pupil committed suicide on campus, to find themselves trapped and alone. The school is deserted. People can enter, but no one can leave. Gradually, they discover time has stopped at a specific moment – all phones, watches, clocks display the same time – and items appear/disappear. As they begin putting pieces together, they realise they all have one common problem – no one can remember who committed suicide.

As the students begin searching for clues to reclaim their memories, and theorising over possibilities, there are a lot of theories and creepy moments. While being scared for teens, it’s definitely psychologically based, with only a few bloody scenes. The plot tackles a few sensitive issues that are explored with care but without shying away – depression, self-harm, memory loss, guilt, fear.

The main character of this story, Mitsuru, goes on a journey of at first being just another secondary character, then stumbling upon a spark of memory that causes him to remember who died. We revisit his memories from the time of the death, without seeing who died or why, and when we return to the present – Mitsuru is gone! Leaving behind a bloody trail, and a phone with the mysterious message of warning for his friends “I remembered”.

I utterly LOVED the suspense, the mystery, the uncertainty. The concept the kids come up with, that one of them might be the dead kid pushing the others to remember them – and the unexplored possibility it wasn’t suicide, or that these kids might have been responsible in some way – really intrigues me. It’s so original and I can’t help but keep coming up with possibilities.

For me, I wasn’t initially a fan of the art. I think it may be because I’m more used to adult manga, which tends to have a very refined, sometimes flower, often romantic style. This is probably really well suited to the YA market, though, and it wasn’t hard to follow. All the characters were clearly identifiable, so though there were eight, I never felt confused about who was in panel or speaking. They all had clearly defined personalities, style parameters and looks, so it was easy to spot them at a glance.

I originally thought the story would take up to eight volumes, presuming that each character would get one volume, but I read somewhere that it’s completed in Japan already at four volumes, which is kind of a relief. I’m looking forward to reading more and four volumes means I have less time to wait to find out what happened. I’d love to read the original novel, but I see it’s not available anywhere in English. I hope they decide to translate it in the future, as I’d be interested to see if the manga is faithful or if there are extra interesting scenes in the novel.

At the moment, I’m preparing myself for two endings – 1) what I now call the “Lost” effect, of everyone having been dead from the start, 2) they all wake up/escape the school to find that the suicide never happened, or they’re all alive and unharmed. I still think there are multiple options for the student’s death: 1) suicide, 2) emotionally pushed by others, or 3) murder covered up as suicide.

I can’t wait for the next volume to find out more.

Volume 3

Much darker than the other volumes, it also dips into more students lives, and their fates. One is implied to be a teen prostitute, caring for her younger sister. Another harbours feelings of guilt for abandoning a friend who was being bullied, and killed themselves because of it. We still don’t know who is keeping them trapped, or what the final outcome will be. Its dark, teen horror, with multiple mentions of suicide and bullying. Underlying all of that is an intriguing mystery. Volume 4 is the final one and I can’t wait to see how it all comes together for the big reveal. I have my suspicions, but I’m keeping them to myself for now. This is one twisty series and you never know what might happen next.

Volume 4

Wow! What a touching, poignant ending to the series. It was perfectly plotted, evenly split between all members of the group, and came to an incredible conclusion.
It deals with some pretty terrible, tragic events with sensitivity.

In a few weeks, I think I’ll re-read the whole series from beginning to end, just to get a feel of what it’s like when binge-read, as often it’s better that way.

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