At Tenbin Elementary, there is only one way to settle a dispute–in a court of law! All quarrels bypass the teachers and are settled by some of the best lawyers in the country…who also happen to be elementary school students. The accused this time is a boy named Tento. His crime? The murder of a beloved member of the classroom! Luckily for him, the state has sent him a defense attorney–Abaku Inugami. But is this wild young lawyer skilled enough to ronpa his client off the hook?
School Judgement: Gakkyu Hotei Volume 1
Story by Nouaki Enoki; Art by Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
I was interested in School Judgement: Gakkyu Hotei when it was first announced, and had little doubt it would see an English release since the art is done by Takeshi Obata. But after reading a few chapters in Weekly Shonen Jump, I was sold. The short mysteries and court room reveals really appealed to me, as did the protagonist Abaku Inugami.
It’s important to me to like the characters in a story. If they don’t appeal to me in some way, I just won’t be able to enjoy it. I loved Abaku Inugami, protagonist and defense lawyer almost immediately. His spirited introduction to the class and his hobby of Ronpa, using argument to refute another’s theories, was fun. I loved that he wore suspenders and occasionally played with them, and liked to practice “Objection” poses. He also is surrounded in mystery with a strange past and dark reason for staying at Tenbin Elementary. He gives off a predator rather than prey vibe.
Pine Hanzuki is the prosecutor, and is kind of annoying in the way that well-off adversaries tend to be. She goes for the cute and innocent girl look in class, but dons a Pretty Cute/magical girl look for court. She is more interested in defeating Inugami than actually finding the truth for the cases. Tento, Inugami’s first client at Tenbin, becomes his assistant and is the first to pick up on Inugami’s dark side, as well as the fact that he’s being watched. I really didn’t care for his character design. Reverse lady bug hair, really? The rest of the class is introduced and developed as either accused or witnesses in the cases, and run the gambit of best friend, idol, the smart kids, and the cute girl.
The cases themselves sound sensational with titles like “The Suzuki Murder and Dismemberment Case,” or “The Pretty Idol Airi Takanashi Photo Voyeurism Case,” but the crimes themselves are appropriate for an elementary school as are the punishments. All case are judged by pre-schoolers, who are considered unbiased, but the stress of judging other causes them to age prematurely, so they all look old. The cases also address issues that elementary students can relate to, such as not wanting to disappoint and lose friends, dealing with crushes, and wanting to be the best.
Takeshi Obata is in top form for this series. The character designs are distinctly Obata, but also have some unique touches that really make them shine. Inugami has a very shark-like appearance, as one would expect a lawyer to look, with spiky hair that looks like he has a fin on top of his head, and rows of sharp teeth. He also has the two-tone hair, a trait Obata seems to like to give his shonen protagonists. There’s a lot of variety, making characters easy to identify and more interesting.
The best way to describe School Judgement: Gakkyu Hotei is Phoenix Wright in elementary school. There is a mystery to solve, a client to defend, and a lawyer with the acuity to put all the pieces together to find the truth. The characters are quirky and the cases are intriguing without having to resort to trickery. I really enjoyed this first volume. It was a lot of fun. I look forward to more mystery and courtroom antics in the next volume.