School Judgment: Gakkyu Hotei (Viz)


CREDIT: Viz Media

Review: 4.5/5 – Courtroom Drama was Never Like This
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.

Without revealing too much about the Bruce Wayne side of my existence, when I’m not writing reviews or reading comics, I earn my living working in the legal profession. So any time a book or program comes out involving courtrooms, judges, and lawyers, I always like to compare the reality of my chosen field to the fantasy portrayed in these other mediums. You almost have to expect some liberties to be taken by a creator to make the story more interesting, but often these efforts make the story too fantastical to be taken seriously by anyone who works in that field. The same is probably true of every cop drama, construction site, or emergency room that shows up in the pages of a comic.

The creators of School Judgment manage to do an end run around all that by setting their courtroom drama in an Elementary School, with students serving as lawyers, and pre-schoolers (work with me here, people!) serving as judges. Crazy as that scenario might sound, it works. In the not-too-distant future, bullying and crime has threatened Japan’s educational system to the point of collapse. To combat this, the government set up the School Judgment system, allowing schools to act as their own judiciary, trying and sentencing those caught on the wrong side of the law.

Abaku Inugami is a young transfer student gifted in the art of “ronpa” – the technique of turning ones arguments against them – called upon to defend a number of students guilty of various crimes against the school. Because it’s an elementary school, these crimes usually involve something as seemingly innocent as cheating on an exam, or the destruction of a beloved school mascot, but the story-behind-the-story holds much graver overtones. Abaku was the sole survivor of a mass execution at his previous school, for reasons as yet made unclear. While this first volume is a collection of individual courtroom drama vignettes, there is a much sinister story being told in the background.

The stories themselves function as mini-whodunnits, offering astute readers the opportunity to take a minute to figure out the solution to each case, however far-fetched it might be. Whether the presented solution confirms the reader’s suspicions or seems to come from out of nowhere is pretty much left up to the individual reader. Or they could just be read straight through without that investment on the reader’s part and still manage to be just as entertaining.

It doesn’t hurt to have Takeshi Obata (Death Note, Bakuman) on art chores. Every character is dynamically and expertly rendered, from Abaku’s first client Tento to his rival Pine Hanzuki, a magical girl wannabe attorney for the prosecution, complete with magic wand. Obata’s ability to cover both the innocence of childhood – these are little kids, after all – as well as the grimness of whatever mystery lurks in Abaku’s past, make this book another strong entry in his already amazing portfolio of work.

School Judgment: Gakkyu Hotei is a must for any fan of courtroom drama, debate, or really anyone who just likes a good argument. The book takes a group of elementary kids and has them deal with a very adult situation, and manages to do so with just enough believability blended with charm to make it work. Playful for the most part, but with enough dark overtones to keep readers wanting to find out the whole story, School Judgment is well worth your time.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow
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