Great change is afoot at Hachimitsu Academy. After successfully pleading their case, Kiyoshu, Gackt, Shingo, Andre, and Joe have been freed from the iron grip of the Shadow Council, an underground group of young women who wish to enforce a “traditional” education at the former all-girls school. Through some clever subterfuge, the school’s Chairman has absolved the boys’ crime of peeping due to the behavior of Shadow Council President Mari Kurihara, Vice President Meiko Shiraki, and Secretary Hana Midorikawa. With the tortures endured by the boys made public, they find themselves the hot new thing on campus as girls clamor to catch their arms despite the reputations they earned as inmates.
Just as life is starting to appear normal, the official Student Council, led by Kate Takenomiya, condemns the Shadow Council to serve a sentence in the school prison. Kate and her immediate subordinate Risa Bettou prove to be no better than Mari, Meiko, and Hana, as they impose harsh treatment and humiliation in the name of justice. Kate’s ruthlessness—especially towards Meiko—puts Kiyoshi and his friends through a small crisis of conscience regarding their former captors, despite the placation, flirtation, and judicial overtones of the Student Council. What the boys don’t realize is that Kate has history with Meiko and Mari, and the former sees this as an opportunity to get revenge on the two girls who wronged her in middle school.
The fifth volume is the most ethically challenging chapter of Prison School, raising questions regarding its depictions of humiliation for male and female students. There’s an argument to be made that the members of the Shadow Council are merely getting their just desserts; their treatment of Kiyoshi and the other male students far outweigh the crimes the boys committed. The situations in which the young men found themselves—be it Gackt’s wild schemes or Hana’s obsessive behavior against Kiyoshi—were a result of Mari’s dangerous attempt to get them kicked out of school. On the other hand, seeing Meiko in various stages of distress is a harder pill to swallow. It gets a little worse once Gackt and Andre are chosen by Kate to act as prison guards in a not-so-subtle nod to the Stanford Experiment; Meiko gets the worse treatment, much of it from Andre (and for reasons one won’t expect). It’s not as bad when Kiyoshi gets a stick jammed in an unfortunate place, Gackt is routinely beaten up, Shingo is set up to fail, or Joe’s fondness for ants is used to break him emotionally. Somehow it’s easy to laugh at the boys’ misfortune, but when Meiko is used as furniture, it all doesn’t seem so funny anymore. Author Akira Hiramoto doesn’t go out of his way to make any sort of statement when designing scenes of punishment for both boys and girls, and if there’s a commentary here, its mileage will vary from reader to reader.
If there’s one thing about this volume of Prison School that offers real narrative value, it’s the long awaited backstory of the shapely, unabashed Meiko. From the beginning of the series, I’ve wondered if there was more to her than just fanservice and cheap skin. Is there a reason she dresses the way she does? Does something in her past explain her love and protectiveness towards Mari? This volume introduces some much-needed context for the character, and in all honesty, it’s kind of sweet and a little sad. When Meiko physically developed much more than the other girls in her class, she was routinely bullied by Kate and her friends until she was “rescued” by the new girl, future Shadow Council President Mari, who taught Meiko how to love herself and flaunt her body. Young Mari’s attachment to young Meiko hints at a immediate relationship that goes beyond schoolgirl friendship, which is fine, but it’s a little weird to watch as they go underwear shopping or as Meiko is introduced to Mari’s father, the Chairman, who parades around the house in nothing but a Speedo. While I loved reading Meiko’s backstory as I feel it adds some necessary depth and dimension to the character, the innocence of youth is not immune to the author’s sense of humor.
Fanservice often drives much of the humor of Prison School, to the point where it tends to go more than a little overboard. For example, Meiko somehow gets her underwear caught on a doorknob while doing finger lifts in an earlier volume. There’s nothing to explain the nature of her predicament; it just happens. In this volume, Mitsuko Yokoyama is attracted to Gackt because of their mutual clumsiness, but their meetings are punctuated by a series of mishaps and shenanigans that defy all laws of physics and typically end with an unintended panty shot. It’s to be expected at this point, I suppose; by now, the reader is surely accustomed to Hiramoto’s sense of humor, and yet I caught myself rolling my eyes at some of Mitsuko’s predicaments. That being said, Mitsuko and Gackt make an adorable and perfect pair.
I enjoy reading Prison School because of its twisted sense of humor, unpredictable art style, and the setups Hiramoto creates to shape wild, unbelievable acts of physical comedy. However, this volume proved to be a challenge to enjoy as much as the others. While it does make some positive strides with characterization, the plight of the Shadow Council is enough to give me pause. I had the same response to the show Boardwalk Empire: the first three seasons were fun because they glorified the Bacchanalian lifestyle of Prohibition-era gangsters, but then it got real as scenes of happy-go-lucky nightclubbers dancing to fantastic period music were replaced by gunfights and power grabs. Likewise, for this reader, Prison School gets a little too real in this volume.
Prison School, vol. 5
by Akira Hiramoto
Yen Press, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 17+