The Summer 2015 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Prison School ?
Review: The private Hachimitsu Academy, a school long known for its strict discipline, has also been an all-girls school until now. The new class includes a quintet of guys, all of whom had high expectations of the extremely imbalanced gender ratio being good for their chances of getting girlfriends, though each of them bombs badly at it. What they're not aware of is a memo being passed around by something called the Underground Student Council, advising girls not to talk to any of the guys on pain of dire punishment. That doesn't stop the amiable Chiyo from getting friendly with the most decent of the lot, but when all are caught in a peeping scheme the punishment is extreme and abusive – and most of the guys actually love it, to the point that they council's president has to change tactics.
This is apparently supposed to be a fan service-laced comedy, and indeed, it has plenty of scenes which require one degree or another of censoring, in addition to panty shots and one very busty girl wearing her uniform in a cleavage-revealing fashion. However, the style of what passes for humor here only makes sense if the target audience is a bunch of sadists and/or masochists. (And please note that this is not intending to imply that I think you have to be one to enjoy it.) The uniformly pathetic male characters absolutely act in a way which warrants discipline, but this is abjectly over-the-top, brutally bloody fare done with a mean spirit and potent dominatrix flavor. I did not crack a smile even once the whole episode and, frankly, found it both disgusting and an excruciating experience to watch. It's a really, really bad sign when I am already starting to watch the clock tick by with agonizing slowness after only six minutes.
The one theoretically redeeming value of the series is that the quality of the artistry is pretty high; it does some interesting and inventive things with its character designs and animation, amongst other things. In this case, though, “interesting” does not equate to “appreciable” and the artistry is not enough to save this anyway. I'll freely admit that I could be just have a strong negative gut reaction, but it's been years since a first episode has so badly rubbed me the wrong way.
Prison School is trash. It knows it's trash. It revels in being trash. It's an absurdist prison exploitation high school sex comedy, full of stupid violence and ridiculous fanservice and overdramatic reaction shots. And it is determined to be the most that that it can possibly be.
The story here is minimal setup to justify a ridiculous premise. Kiyoshi Fujino makes up one of five boys that are the first male students at the prestigious Hachimitsu Private Academy. Kiyoshi and his fellow boys are ignored by all the girls at their school, and in this episode's first half, they get caught peeping into the girl's changing room and find themselves sentenced to one month in “prison.” Which in this case is actually a literal prison, a detention facility for some reason housed on the grounds of their school, where they will spend a month being sexy-tortured by the school's secret student council.
But the show on paper isn't the same thing as the show in action. In practice, Prison School is a truly bizarre and singular thing. Its character designs combine style and realism to arrive at something almost inherently grotesque, perfect for ridiculous expressions and sneering reactions. The show is heavy on dramatic lighting and wild camera angles (this one's directed by the talented Tsutomu Mizushima, he of Girls und Panzer and Shirobako), with tons of jump cuts that really help the simplistic violence and gross-out humor land. The animation is jerky and inconsistent, often coming off like a series of labored key frames with no in-between animation at all, but this seems to be an intentional sacrifice they've made to more closely mirror the manga's highly detailed character designs. This first episode proceeds at a manic pace, but that actually works for the material - there's nothing substantive here, it's just a bunch of lightning-fast punches and plot turns, and so moving quickly works well both for the jokes and the plotting.
Prison School runs on style and energy, and I don't know how long those tricks will stay fresh, but I certainly laughed plenty at this first episode. Slapstick and sex comedy aren't really my thing at all, but something about the insane pacing and over-the-top aesthetic of Prison School really sold it here. You will know very, very quickly whether what's going on here will work for you, so I'd say it's worth it to give this ridiculous show a try.
I honestly have no idea how to quantify this show I just watched, so I'm not going to give it a number rating. Exactly no numbers pop into my head when I think about Prison School. The best I can do is explain all the many things that Prison School is not (or at least not entirely.)
This is not a fanservice show.
This is not a sex comedy.
This is not a seinen drama or romance.
And most baffling of all, this is not a satire of any of the above genres.
It's just "Prison School," and Prison School belongs to some genre I'm not sure I've ever seen before. It's best explained as a series of undiluted feelings on the part of its author. Those feelings include but are not limited to contempt, self-amusement, and raging id, smashed together onto a page without thinking about the results too much. This anime adaptation does its best to retain those feelings through an extremely jerky and grotesque animation style and art that is saturated and shaded so hard that everyone looks like they've been thinly coated in vaseline.
The """story""" of Prison School is that five comically overblown pervy virgin guys have found their way into an all-girls' school with aspirations to peep their first pair of panties. Unfortunately for them, the "shadow student council" of this school, made up of a G-cup dominatrix, a savage martial artist, and a woman with the power to control crows, has taken it upon themselves to torture the school's misbehaving male students. What follows is a series of hideous faces, hideous cleavage, and hideously poor taste as the guys receive their just desserts via physical/mental torture and actually start to, ya know, like it. Except for our protagonist (who might be slowly going insane.) Leading man Kiyoshi struggles against the torture to prove that he's not such a bad guy, pines after the school's resident sweet ditz, and dreams of exoneration.
There are some genuine laughs to be had through all this, mostly from the rogue's gallery of bizarre dudes and their unique quirks. Shingo is one of those nerds who always uses 20 words to express a 5 word idea, which results in some great lines like "He has the countenance of one touched by diarrhea." Andre is a giant dude prone to tears whose face seems to get smaller and smaller inside his corpulent head. Joe is a hooded figure who only speaks in violent coughing fits until he falls for the dominatrix and manages to rasp out an f-bomb. Even then, the show seems to be perpetually shaming you for finding anything in it funny. Its intent was never to make you happy in any way. It's just here to shock, to disturb, and to be whatever its embittered author felt like it should be in that moment. It's not commentative, but it's not cruel either, because even cruelty would be a kind of passion. (And it's definitely not titillating.) It just is, and you can either find some angle of appeal in its ramblings or run screaming in the other direction.
Anime is a market so heavily dominated by demographic appeal that it's hard to describe that four-leaf clover in the clover patch, "a show for nobody," without it feeling like an insult. I didn't hate Prison School. I felt no emotions toward the show whatsoever. It's a Rorschach test. Your brain pulls out of it what your brain pours into it, but it's an empty vessel of shock value without that human lens to attribute value to it. (This makes a lot more sense in the context of its publication history.) I think individual reactions to Prison School will be way more fascinating than the show itself. The show itself is just a guy streaking across the Super Bowl football field while they're setting up for halftime. You don't ask him why he did it or what he was trying to say by showing his junk to billions of viewers. You just put that shit on youtube and move along with your day.
If there's one thing I can say definitively about Prison School, it's that both boys and girls are portrayed as being equally horrible. The story takes place in a former girls' boarding high school that has recently gone co-ed, and five boys have enrolled. Four of them are repugnant fellows who enrolled in a former girls' school for all the wrong reasons: boobs, butts, and “down there.” The fifth is the everyday pretty decent guy who certainly is interested in the same things as the other guys, but somehow manages to remember that girls are people. Since he's totally outnumbered, and still a teenage boy in anime, which means he's got hormones that can't be stopped, he gets caught up in their peeping plans and gets himself into trouble. Arguably he's not quite as bad as his compatriots, since he clearly knows he's in the wrong, but the rest of the episode is so distasteful that it's easy for that to get lost.
Prison School is basically a boob show in which guys get beaten within an inch of their lives. I personally don't find that funny, so even without some of the other features, such as excessive bodily fluids and sexism, I probably was not going to like this show. What really compounds things is that the episode is both cruel and demeaning to its characters, with the powerful girls of the Underground Student Council (which looks pretty darn aboveground to me) all being powerful because they are violent – Meiko is a dominatrix who doesn't fit into her school uniform while Hana is a karate champ. We don't know much about the third member, Crow Master Mari, yet, but I think it is safe to assume that she's the one who sicced the crows on the guys when they were naked. Not that you see any real nudity – this show has fallen victim to the light bars and magic steam.
It isn't all bad, fortunately. Kana Hanazawa does a bang-up job as Hana, who goes from moe to psycho in the blink of an eye, and some of the nervous/panicked facial expressions are really funny. The girls' character designs (Meiko's outsize bosom aside) are very attractive, albeit a bit plastic, and the joke about Joe, who coughs up blood, just having really bad canker sores is a great stab at the consumptive character trope.
Apart from those things, Prison School's first episode is pretty distasteful. It trades on unpleasant stereotypes for both the boys and the girls, uses violence as its primary source of humor, and isn't even particularly well animated: there's a real stiffness to the movements, with Hana's karate looking somehow off. I can see where it is meant to be funny...but even before the unnecessary peeing-in-the-woods scene (sweetie, you're right by the school building. Go inside!), it couldn't be over soon enough.
Hachimitsu Academy was historically an all-girls school, but they've started accepting boys – specifically five boys to begin with, led by Kyoshi, who stands out from his horny dork friends by making a connection with Chiyo, who admires his sumo wrestler eraser. It all goes pear-shaped when the boys get caught trying to peep on the girls’ shower room, and it's then they're handed over to the school's freshly-minted Underground Student Academy, led by a trio of sadistic ladies who sentence these lads to a month in prison (conveniently located on campus!), complete with forced labor and no end of physical humiliation and abuse.
This is based on the manga by Akira Hiramoto, which, as the story goes, created the manga out of spite after a lukewarm reaction to his dramatically more sophisticated and literary work, Me and the Devil Blues. I'm not sure you can straight-up taste the spite on-screen, but Prison School is almost professionally off-putting; it is Gross with a capital G. The character designs and overall aesthetic look like they're lifted right out of Gantz, with added shading on top of the usual anime flesh tones, which gives everything this tough-to-define creepy feeling. Story-wise it feels like you're watching a shitty modern exploitation movie, maybe something from Asylum; it reaches a nadir when the dominatrix lady with the enormous boobs hanging out of her wide-open blazer forces the fat guy to lick her boot during a torture session and it's revealed that at least four of the guys are totally in to this and want more punishment that allows them to get closer to the crudely-drawn sex organs of their torturers. It's not like it was a huge mystery beforehand, but that's when it crystalizes that this thing is going way out of its way to be shocking and tasteless, and that's the point. Which is fine, but if shocking and tasteless isn't really your thing, the act of sitting through this – which has literally nothing else going for it – isn't a whole ton of fun.
The animation in this show is pretty weird – here's a sample of the technique they're using for character movement and expression:
It has this choppy feel that in moments make it look like it came out of one of the psychedelic sequences in a Ralph Bakshi film or something along those lines. It isn't quite like anything I've seen in anime before, and it's definitely trying to match the animation with the manga's intentionally nasty hyper-realistic style. To me it mostly just looked kind of sloppy and amateurish – characters are frequently very awkwardly drawn and the movement during limited animation sequences looks downright bad. I get what they're going for, but I'm not a fan.
Prison School is here to shock you. If you know that going in it's a lot less shocking – even feels a little tryhard, which given the origin story of this manga isn't surprising – but unfortunately it has nothing else to offer beyond that. You've been warned.
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