Episode 26

by Rose Bridges,

After several months' break from Nanbaka, it's time to go back to school! This new scholastic-themed OVA is a "bonus episode" that screened at a fan event back in the spring. These bonuses are usually gag one-offs, and Nanbaka is no exception. Episode 26 drops all your favorite colorful inmates and wardens into a high school, and it works better than I expected.

In many ways, the school setting is a perfect match for Nanbaka. Both prisons and schools involve supervisors and charges, and much of the show's character drama and jokes focus on those relationships. Some of Nanbaka's character archetypes even fit into high school better than they did in the original. For example, take goofy otaku Nico, who shows off his vicious powers when he's told to stop playing games in class. He always felt a little odd in Nanba Prison, but he's right at home here. The various sports-oriented inmates are natural school jocks, too. Others don't quite match up the same, but the show still has fun with them. Jyugo has an uncanny ability for escaping class rather than his cell. I can roll with that, since it gets him in just as much trouble, after all.

The focus is on Seitarou as a new teacher at this school, plucky and naïve as always. He has no idea what's in store for him as he walks in the doors of "13th High School," home of the four 13th building inmates. The episode gradually expands to show everyone from all the different buildings, all in their own classes or schools and unique roles. Seitarou shares his witty observations about all this in letters to his mother, even up until the wild twist ending.

Some of the character roles are slightly different than you would expect. Take Momoko, now a rebellious "yanki" girl student. She puts on the usual "tough mean girl until she sees her crush Hajime" act, but it's a little different in this context, where the obnoxious boys are her equals rather than her inferiors. It's also funnier. Maybe it's just because it's been months since I've seen Nanbaka, so its repetitive jokes feel slightly fresher, but I also think this new setting adds a little something extra. It can be fun to see how familiar characters are both transformed and remain the same in a new place. Nanbaka plays on the character relationships most of all, which is the focus of Hajime's part in the story. As in the original, he's there to keep the 13th group in line, but it's a good-natured push-and-pull relationship.

The closest thing we get to a "plot" results from this. Jyugo and Musashi get into a fight, and when their powers come out, they're threatened with expulsion. Hajime is distressed to find that Jyugo will be kicked out of school, so he rushes to defend him to the principal along with the other 13th students. They explain that since Jyugo and Musashi have knife and fire-related powers they cannot fully control, they were not violating the school's weapons rules. They stay, and this leads to Nanbaka's usual heartfelt moment at the end of the episode where Hajime and his charges realize how much they need each other.

As fun as it was to see all the characters in this setting, Nanbaka struggled with what to do with them sometimes. It was stronger than the show's other "gag" episodes for sure, with more material than usual to work with. But the show's struggles remain: not that many jokes were actually funny, and the lack of connective plot tissue made it a slog in places. For diehard fans of the show, this probably doesn't matter; the joy of seeing favorites back on screen in a new setting after many months will probably override everything else. If you're a more casual Nanbaka viewer like me, you can rest assured that this is one of its most entertaining half hours. That might not be the highest bar, but it's worth something.

Rating: B-

Nanbaka is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Rose is a music Ph.D. student who loves overanalyzing anime soundtracks. Her new book on the music of Cowboy Bebop comes out November 2nd from Bloomsbury Press. Follow her on Twitter.

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