“Of the children, by the children and for the children…” is the motto of the School Judgment System, which utilizes classroom arbitration sessions to cut down on corruption, bullying, theft, and other issues that arise during the school day. These sessions are run by students who transfer into elementary schools in need of representation. When arbitration is initiated, they hold the equivalent of a court case, complete with witnesses, evidence gathering, a baby judge (literally), and plenty of objections! While individual chapters cover different cases, the narratives build on one another, making the overall story more cohesive.
The prodigy sixth grade attorneys are the cute, Pretty Cure-obsessed prosecutor Pine Hanzuki and the argumentative defense lawyer Abaku Inugami. In their first case, Abaku defends Tento, who is accused of murdering and dismembering Suzuki, a fish that was meant to be raised and then eaten by the students in order to help them appreciate where food comes from. The class quickly became divided—boys vs. girls—as to whether they could really eat Suzuki when the time came. Suspiciously, while there were more boys than girls, the girls’ “don’t eat” verdict won the secret ballot vote set up by the teacher. A few days later, however, Suzuki was found dead in his tank with all of the evidence pointing at Tento. With his intellect, ability to read people, and his expertise at “ronpa” (ability to successfully argue his point), Inugami uncovers the truth and proves Tento’s innocence.
In the second case, Uozumi is accused of taking voyeuristic photos of pop idol and fellow student Airi; in the third case, class president Higashide is accused of cheating on a test; and in the final case, someone is selling an addictive powder that makes any food taste wonderful. After being defeated by Inugami in the Suzuki Case, Hanzuki vows to defeat Inugami in all of these arbitration cases, but as expected, Inugami’s record for representing innocent students remains untarnished. During each of these cases, it is hinted that Inugami is hiding something about his past, and at the end of the third case, it is revealed that Higashide is not who he claims to be.
School Judgment, vol. 1 is a strong series opener that will appeal to those who like their mystery with a bit of humor. It will also make a good read-alike for fans of the popular video game-turned-manga series Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. While the cases can sometimes can be a little predictable, they are well written and interesting enough to keep readers engaged. Takeshi Obata of Death Note, Hikaru no Go, and Bakuman enhances the story through his artwork, and he expertly draws humorous and purposefully overdramatic scenes as well as serious ones in a way that will engage readers. School Judgment will make a great addition to teen manga sections and will be most enjoyed by younger teen readers.
School Judgment, vol. 1
by Nobuaki Enoki
Art by Takeshi Obata
Publisher Age Rating: T