I love sci-fi and Classmate was a nice reminder of just why. It’s about living in a virtual world without realizing it, memory manipulation and robots that are programmed to believe they’re human. They’re all concepts we’ve seen before (since it’s impossible to do anything truly original these days) with a few spins to it that make it unique and exciting. The full name of the series is Classmate, Kamimura Yuuka wa Kou Itta and it’s made by author Sakurai Tsutsushi and artist Kawakami Masaki.
Shirasaki is bored with his high school life. Every day it’s the same thing over and over and it seems one of his classmates shares his attitude. Yuuka is always goofing around and talking absolute nonsense loudly to everyone in an attempt to spice up school life a bit. It doesn’t matter to her that everyone seems to ignore her and that she doesn’t have any friends. On the day we join Shirasaki’s story he decides to play along with her and actually responds to all her ramblings. She seems taken aback by someone taking notice of her and Shirasaki doesn’t mind spending some time with her that day despite her craziness. What she has been telling him and everyone else in class is that the world is fake and that they’re all mindless robots. She’s the only real human in the world and everyone else is just following basic scripts each day and don’t have true free will.
While this first appears to be nonsense it doesn’t take long before the things Yuuka talked about become obvious to Shirasaki. Maybe thanks to a glitch in his program or something he can now act and perceive the world for what it is and starts noticing just how odd everyone actually behaves. To a certain extent everyone can act convincingly real, but whenever the topic becomes too complex or goes too near “forbidden” topics they start repeating the same generic line over and over again in response as if they can’t process what you’re saying to them. There’s also a hidden force overseeing the world and pushing Shirasaki and Yuuka in certain ways. Are they just playing out their roles as intended by the overseers, or are they truly expressing free will and rebelling against the system? For what reason was the artificial world created anyway? Is it all just a huge fake set for Yuuka to live in as she suspects, or is there something more going on? All these questions are brought up and while the series isn’t finished yet I’m pleased with how they’ve been handled. It’s easy to make a story like this feel really stupid, but so far it’s done with enough intelligence to keep me happy and interested in learning what direction the story will take.
There are a few problems with it though. It hasn’t been licensed so the only translation we’ve got is the one done by the scanlators and they don’t do a very good job. I mean it’s passable enough to be able to follow the story, but it has many, many grammatical errors. This is something I definitely see people taking an issue with so be ready for it should you decide to read this. I’m glad it’s being translated at all so I can live with pretty bad English as long as I get to continue reading it, but it’s hardly an ideal situation when this is the only version we’ve got right now.
Even though this is sci-fi there aren’t many sci-fi designs in it yet. There are a few futuristic things in it that I won’t spoil, but apart from that it mostly takes place in a high school and the town surrounding it. It all looks fairly generic and unexciting, which actually works for the plot since was all intentionally designed to be that way in the story. Most series can’t use that excuse for their bland environment designs so the authors of Classmate lucked out on that one. There are some moments in the series where the action is hard to follow as visuals don’t flow well between frames. It didn’t ruin it for me or anything; it just felt like the artist didn’t know how to do action properly. The only positive stand out element of it is the cute designs of Yuuka and other female characters. It’s obviously there most of the effort was spent and it’s good enough for me to not care too much about the rest.
Any fan of sci-fi and the idea of the world being an illusion should be able to enjoy Classmate. At the start it reminded me a lot of Haruhi and Zegapain, but it quickly established its own identity and I soon stopped thinking about all the other things I’ve seen with similar concepts. It’s not mind blowingly amazing or anything, it’s just a well-executed sci-fi love story that so far is intriguing and exciting despite all the issues with the bland art and wonky translation.