School Judgment: Gakkyu Hotei Vol. 1 - Manga Review

To stem education collapse, Japan has implemented the revolutionary new “Classroom Arbitration System” to settle disputes. In this new series from the artist of Death Note, it’s all up to ace defence attorney Abaku Inugami to ronpa his clients off the hook when he is transferred into Tenbin Elementary’s sixth grade class.

The Lowdown

Facing issues with corporal punishment and educational collapse, the Japanese government introduced the revolutionary “School Judgment System” into elementary-schools across the nation. Of the children, by the children, and for the children, this system uses “Classroom Arbitration” to provide justice to the classrooms. At Tenbin Elementary, a shocking murder happens - the class pet is found dead, and the accused is the meek 6th grader Tento Nanahoshi. Arriving as transfer students to take on the case are two child lawyers: the self-dubbed Pretty Prosecutor Pine Hanzuki, and ace defence attorney Abaku Inugami. Armed with a love of ronpa (argumentand a determination to bring the truth forward, Inugami argues his way through a series of trials to get his clients off the hook.

Who Is It For?

If you’re a fan of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney or other detective mystery stories, you’ll want to look into School Judgment.

How Was It?

If you’ve every wondered what would happen if something like Phoenix Wright or Law and Order was mixed with a shonen battle-manga, School Judgment is the entertaining answer to that question. The premise is undeniably compelling as trials are used as the battlegrounds here, and this volume includes four interesting “cases” to anchor its narrative as Inugami defends his various clients. These cases are centred around various school-related issues from the spread of contraband “candy-powder” to peeping photos, linking in nicely with the school setting to create a cohesive feel to the entire story. I particularly enjoyed the bombastic tone that this volume had because of the way it complemented the dramatic nature of the trials and last minute revelations, and I found myself on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen next. It felt like this series understood how far-fetched its entire premise is but embraced it all the same, imbuing the story with an infectious energy that really helped to keep the plot interesting.

While I enjoyed the majority of the cases in this volume, it felt at times like this volume could have done a much better job plotting out the cases in a logical manner. The first case, “The Suzuki Murder and Dismemberment Case”, follows Inugami defending Tento from accusations of murdering the class fish. The first chapter of the volume sets out the relevant events of this case, doing a good job introducing all of the characters and painting a compelling mystery to solve as Inugami attempts to prove Tento innocent. Inugami also breaks the fourth-wall at the end of the chapter, dropping hints and inviting the reader to figure out the mystery of who killed the fish. However, the resolution to this case was fairly underwhelming because it didn’t come together in a logical manner, and there were a few plot elements seemingly pulled out of thin air to get to where the author wants to go. This made it feel like the author felt like he was being more clever with the story than he actually was, and this was a little bit unsatisfying especially in that first case.

Thankfully, the other two cases resolved in this volume are better in the sense that they try to do a bit less, and this helps to keep the plot on track. The set up was interesting in each of these cases, but I was never felt like I was wowed by the resolution to any of them because the actual explanation provided for each lacked a bit of dramatic punch. Although I really enjoyed the theatrical manner with which they were presented, I would have liked it if the story was able to provide a suitably dramatic climax to accompany these cases and provide a satisfying close. That said, for those looking for a light mystery story, the cases found here will still be enjoyable, and I hope that as the series progresses we’ll get to see some more compelling mysteries.

The way that the series handled Inugami as its protagonist was interesting to see, and I felt that this was one of the more unique parts of the volume. Although Inugami is the main character, he feels purposely distanced from the reader because we only see him through the eyes of other characters. This was an interesting take that actually worked fairly well in complementing the dramatic tone of the story, because it felt as though I was watching a television show at a distance from the story rather than seeing things through his eyes. However, this meant that we never got to see too much characterization from him, and although there were rumblings of a deep, dark past for him I would have liked to have seen a little more of his thought process to fill in the logical gaps in the cases effectively. The rest of the characters aren’t particularly memorable aside from their character designs (more on that in the next paragraph), but I enjoyed that they felt well rounded in a sense that reminded me of a television serial, with each case relying on different characters and characterizing them as things went along.

School Judgment is drawn by acclaimed artist Takeshi Obata (of Death Noteand Bakuman), so it won’t come as too much of a surprise that the art in the series in gorgeous. Character designs are distinctly memorable, and I really enjoyed the way that Obata was able to alternate back and forth between a more cartoony look before dialing up the detail in the more dramatic scenes to complement the theatrically present in the court room as this story proceeds. As always, his characters are extremely detailed, and I really enjoyed the variety in character design because each character drawn in a way that conveyed their personality effectively. If I have one complaint about the art, it was that there were a few pages that felt extremely busy because of the sheer amount of text. However, I have to applaud the fact that this never made for a confusing read because of the logical page layouts as well as Obata’s ability to draw around the text without too much problem. Put simply, if you’re a fan of Obata’s other series, you’ll love the art here just the same.

Final Thoughts

School Judgment is an entertaining read which tries to deliver a compelling mystery in the very interesting setting of the school courtroom. The sheer bombast that this series had was fun to witness, and I enjoyed watching the cases play out even if they never really wowed me with their resolutions. Takeshi Obata’s artwork was fantastic as per usual, creating a memorable set of characters as well as portraying this series’ inherent theatricality in a thrilling way. However, it felt like this volume was heavy on the flash and lighter on the substance, making for an enjoyable read but not one which I came away fully satisfied with.


School Judgment: Gakkyu Hotei Vol. 1 was translated by Mari Morimoto and published by Viz Media on February 2nd, 2016. Authored by Nobuaki Enoki and drawn by Takeshi Obata, the series began in 2014 and ran for three volumes in Shueisha’s Weekly Shonen Jump magazine. Volume 2 will be published in English on April 4th, 2016.

Verdict:

B

Date of Publication: February 2nd, 2016

Translator: Mari Morimoto

Author: Nobuaki Enoki and Takeshi Obata

Publisher: Viz Media



Matt

Matt is a broke law student by day, broke law student by night, and one of the co-founders of Taykobon in his dwindling spare time. Although his favourite series tend to be shonen adventure series, he also has a soft spot for slice-of-life shojo romances. He enjoys following the manga industry, and is a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Blue Jays in other nonexistent spare time. 

Favourite series: Bakuman

Favourite author: Io Sakisaka