X-DAY begins like your average shojo manga. Its heroine, Rika, is suffering from regular teenage problems. A leg injury has left the former track star mentally incapable of rejoining her team, and the girl who urges her to reconsider turns out to be the same girl that stole her boyfriend when her back was turned. Rika's heart is broken and no one understands her.
Things take a different turn, though, when she goes to the computer lab and logs on to one of the school's chatrooms. A stray comment she makes inspires one of the other participants, Polaris, to make cryptic references to blowing up the campus. While most dismiss Polaris as an idiotic joker, she leaves some clues about how to find her if anyone is interested in discussing it further.
Normalcy has left the building.
Once Rika cracks the code, she ends up as part of a quartet that would have nothing in common if it wasn't for their common goal. One of them is even a teacher! The other three each have their reasons for wanting to see the school leveled to the ground, but Rika still hasn't sorted out what she is doing there. Is it just a broken heart? Is it something more? Do her new companions offer her something she needs?
X-DAY is a refreshingly serious book in a normally light genre. Mizushiro's characters are complex, and their motivations never stem from a singular source. Like real life, they are full of conflicting feelings. X-DAY isn't a simplistic take on the phenomenon of school violence, never boiling it all down to who was the bigger misfit, who was picked on more. The group may not even follow-through, because one suspects the real goal is finding something to fill the empty spaces in their lives.
Mizushiro's art leans towards the more realistic side of manga. Her characters have the large, expressive eyes that are a cliche of Japanese comics, but in the case of X-DAY, they are used to convey more sadness than they are the giddy excitement associated with a lot of manic romance books. Much of the backgrounds are wide open, only tightening up in order to bring the characters closer together, visually bringing the story's thematic structure to life.
With the glut of manga currently on the market, it's easy to miss something that's truly different. X-DAY stands outside the pack, much like the protagonists it portrays. Don't make the mistake of not noticing.
Jamie S. Rich has edited comic books for ten years, over half of them as editor in chief at Oni Press. In 2000, he published his first novel, Cut My Hair, and is currently exploring his second. When it's done, he swears his website, confessions123.com, will make a lot more sense. In addition, he has written film and music criticism for various publications, and has worked on scripts for far more Tokyopop manga translations than he cares to count.