The first volume of Prison School made a huge impact on me. I came to the series cold and the premise didn’t seem especially unique; other manga have featured a former all-girls school that opens its doors to a small squad of desperate, hormonal young men hoping to find a girlfriend (or at the very least, sneak a peek). The characters that make up Hachimitsu Academy’s male population are caught sneaking around the girl’s locker room and become in-house criminals, forced to wear prison fatigues and remain isolated from the rest of the school. This, however, is no ordinary prison story: to read Prison School is to wander down a rabbit hole and into a Wonderland so crazy it’d make the Mad Hatter seek clinical help. Needless to say, I quickly became a fan of this quirky manga and approached these next few volumes with eager anticipation, ready to drink from Akira Hiramoto’s fountain of madness.
What gives Prison School its perverse charm is the element of surprise, so I don’t want to describe the story of each volume in too much detail. Writing about the wacky hijinks of Kiyoshi and the gang doesn’t do it justice, and it must be experienced firsthand to be believed. What is important to know is that Kiyoshi successfully escapes the school during a sports festival by disguising himself in a girl’s uniform. He meets up with Chiyo for their sumo date and at first, the future looks bright for this young couple. Unfortunately, it ends in disaster after Chiyo discovers the clothes in Kiyoshi’s bag—her own clothes, no less!—and to make matters worse, the Shadow Council finds out about his rendezvous and orders the students expelled. After learning the truth, Chiyo—now revealed to be the daughter of the Chairman and little sister to the Shadow Council President—creates a stay of execution by threatening to withdraw from the school in protest. The boys are given a warning instead: three additional escape attempts will ensure their expulsion. Leaving Kiyoshi to be ostracized by the other prisoners, the Shadow Council hatches a plan to get the boys out of school for good.
Prison School is built on a solid foundation of unpredictability, zany physical comedy, and non-sequiturs. Hiramoto consistently tops himself in each book, penning all sorts of outrageous scenes, and just when you think it couldn’t get any weirder, he uses callbacks and seemingly innocuous pairings to turn things up to eleven. That said, some gags are hit-and-miss. The prolonged “test” between the school Chairman and Kiyoshi, debating the value of a woman’s butt, is more creepy than funny considering that a middle-aged man is involved in the proceedings. There’s also the continued oversexualization of the Shadow Council’s Vice President, Meiko Shiraki. I hoped that there’d be some explanation for her unusual behavior and attire, but nothing ever came of it. There’s one case where her seductive appearance makes sense, as she tries to turn one of the prisoners into an informer, but for the most part, she exists only to titillate the male characters and the reader. One strange scene that comes to mind involves Meiko getting her flimsy underwear caught on a doorknob (!) after doing finger pull ups (!!) as a “reward” (!!!) for the Council President after her successful campaign against the prisoners. Situations like this one, coupled with shameless camera angles and so much sweating, make her little more than an empty, large-breasted plot contrivance and the butt of a lot of jokes.
While the later volumes feature scenes that barely remain outside the realm of pornography, I’m buying the Prison School product. The art is all over the place in a good way, and although these volumes don’t have as many of the detailed faces of shock and terror that were so funny in volume one, there’s still plenty of genuine laughter to come from the artwork. I’ve never read anything like this, and no matter how ridiculous it gets, I’m constantly entranced by the experience. Readers who were sold on the first volume’s brand of offbeat weirdness will devour these installments and ask for seconds, but those who came away feeling iffy or icky will not find anything here to change their minds.
Prison School, vols. 2-4
by Akira Hiramoto
Vol 2 ISBN: 9780316346122
Vol 3 ISBN: 9780316346139
Vol 4 ISBN: 9780316346153
Yen Press, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: 17+