Review/discussion about: Prison School
Prison has a lot negative connotations attached to it. Prison is a place where the wrongdoers of society go as punishment for their crimes against humanity. From killing to theft, prison is designed as a correctional institute. Whether or not that actually happens is a topic for another day, but at the minimum prison, as people know it, is a place that you do not want to end up.
Prison School is the same. “School” in the title should not fool anyone; this prison is more like a torture chamber than a place of reform. That sounds absurd – and it is – but that is exactly what the anime thrives on: absurdity. Of course there are other undeniable motifs throughout the show but those, too, always have their absurdity cranked up to eleven and then some.
Speaking about myself, I have never been to prison (and I plan to keep it that way forever). Furthermore neither my immediate nor extended family has ever had anyone in prison. My father did go to his local jail once when he was in his late teens, though. He and his friends had gotten into a scuffle with others, landing them all in a jail cell for the night. “But I wasn’t scared of the place,” my father always says when recounting this small tale, “I was scared of what my dad was going to do me when he found out.” And that surmises Prison School pretty well: it is not the prison, but the people, that should be feared.
In order to understand Prison School, one has to be prepared for the absence of shame. This anime is not afraid to debase itself. By never being ashamed, the anime achieves its comedy through a variety of means that, ultimately, lead into the bigger picture of this show.
The first of these means is the over-the-top scenarios the characters constantly find themselves in. While this is a realistic show in the sense that the setting, people, and outcomes are seen in everyday life, Prison School always makes sure to go one step further. For instance, Andre keeps a diary detailing all of his punishments, but the cutesy, kiddy nature of the violent depictions makes the diary more like a children’s book rather than a fetish-filled notebook. Similar is during the arm-wrestling match. During Kiyoshi’s turn, he gets sent into a daze when he sees the vice-president’s nipple. A daze so deep that he does not notice that his arm has been essentially twisted backwards. These types of scenes work as well as they do because of the contrast between the reality of the show and the imaginary portrayal that the aspects often take.
Prison School does not always lean on the ridiculous to elicit laughs from its audience. The anime can actually be quite clever with its jokes, relying on its context and its expectations to use yet another form of comedy. One of the earlier examples of this is when Kiyoshi and Gakuto are together in the shower. Shingo misunderstands the situation; from his and subsequently the audience’s point-of-view, Kiyoshi and Gakuto appear to be taking part in a “don’t drop the soap” scene, utilizing a known prison trope. Another example is when the gang forgives Shingo for his misdeeds, apparently upholding that friendship comes first. But after he confesses what he had been doing with Anzu, specifically her “downblouse and nip-slip”, the boys proceed to beat the snot out of him. Again, these scenes are funny because they both rely on the context of the given setting and on the flipping of initial expectations.
For Prison School, it takes the ridiculousness and the cleverness to get at its next brand of comedy. The show has a weird focus on both domination and degradation. The women in the anime are, sexually speaking, dominatrix. They whip the prisoners, they are evil towards the prisoners, and they look down on the prisoners. That is to say, the women are constantly put on a pedestal above the men. Granted, the men do have their dominating moments, too. Gakuto smashing his prized figurines and Andre’s nipple hair, while not directly dominating the women, are events where they overpower their captors. Yet the anime also does the complete opposite. Meiko is known to sweat profusely due to the sheer gravitas of their leader. Hana at one point is peed on. Mari, the student council president, unbeknownst to her, eats a handful of dirty peanuts. As for the men, they usually occupy this camp. They are constantly humiliated throughout the season, such as when Gakuto defecates himself on purpose to get a sound-clip of some bathroom noises or Kiyoshi makes the stupidest face possible when taking a selfie with Chiyo.
But Prison School shines brightest when it combines these features simultaneously, achieving a harmony of domi-grading proportions. A highlight from the show is Hana’s “Medusa”, encapsulating the power she holds over the situation while also insulting her severely with the comparison to an ugly, mythological snake-creature. These dominating and degrading scenes would presumably not be comedic due to the definition of the words; watching someone get mercilessly abused or lambasted is not normally funny. But because they are as crazy and inventive as they end up being, the show manages to make even these touchy subjects fun.
However, all of these separate examples demonstrate where the comedy is most often derived: sex. Without a doubt,Prison School’s most utilized asset is sex, sexual exploits a way to obtain the trifecta that is absurdity, shame, and comedy. Otherwise known as “ecchi” content, the anime rarely has nonsexual downtime, and due to the amount of sex, there are no boundaries for the show. The sexual content can reach quite the crude levels. In-your-face calisthenics, “mushroom” touching, and a butt-shaped mouse pad are merely a sampling of the perverted material that the show regularly presents in a comedic fashion. This should not be taken lightly. Whether it is the vice-president wearing a much-too-tight outfit or the Kurhiara sisters touching the tube that Kiyoshi had equipped minutes before, sex permeates the anime like pornography fills the Internet.
Interestingly the sexual content is not just used for comedic purposes. Sex also plays a meaningful role as well. To be fair, the anime does have sexual moments that are purely aimed at arousal; Meiko cleaning the president’s body in the shower or Meiko (a lot of the sex revolves around the vice-president…) getting her underwear caught on a door handle serves little else than to please the audience. But even these moments, like the more meaningful, drive Prison School. “Drive” in every sense of the word. The plot begins only because the boys are deviants – peeping on the girls in the bathroom. Their biggest motivational factor is sex – the feeling of a girl’s chest pressed against their face and the prospect of a wet T-shirt contest. How they escape from sticky situations – explaining the evolution of the female body and an intense make-out session. The teenage boys’ hormones more or less force them forward. Thus sex is not just used for comedy or for pleasure. Sex is what pushes the narrative along.
Taken together, there is more to Prison School than meets the eye. Intriguingly, Prison School can be interpreted allegorically. People are driven by sex. Scientifically speaking, everyone is programmed to seek out sex as a means for genetic propagation. Sex is an inherent, and indeed natural, part of life. This can be extended beyond humanity and to society; entertainment like Prison School uses sex as a selling point because that is what people are drawn to. Sex controls people, influences people. In other words, sex makes people prisoners to themselves. That is the metaphor. The prison in Prison School represents the dominating hold that sex has on the lives people lead. And as was said, sex is both the cause and the savior within the narrative. So paradoxically sex is something that is always around even when it is not and allegorically sex is something that is inescapable.
Whether or not this interpretation is true is certainly up for debate, but regardless Prison School executes every part of its narrative as best as it can. The comedy is diverse, the “ecchi” content is purposeful, and the ending – the three main women going to the prison, providing some satisfying role-reversal and full-circle framing – is as successful as it could be. Meaning, shame or no shame, the anime easily made bail.
Unfortunately for Prison School, the anime sees a small step down in the artistic and animation department. This is almost entirely at the hands of the censoring that is overly employed. Crotches are blackened out and beams of light cover chests, obviously getting in the way of the “ecchi” content. Given that the sex is such an integral part to the show, hiding a sizeable portion of it behind censorship is nothing short of a bad move.
The rest of the art is a different story. Despite the show taking place in pretty much the exact same area – the school-grounds prison – Prison School gets quite inventive with the way in which it presents everything. The camera direction especially sees a variety of angles, perspectives, and zooms, giving the anime a dynamic feel that fits comfortably with the craziness that the events are so often steeped in. This craziness likewise gives the show the chance to be as imaginative as possible. Gakuto’s historic idols drinking together or Kiyoshi defending butts over boobs are chances for the show to get away from the prison and the school while also remaining contextually relevant and adding to its comedy. Speaking of comedy, the anime also focuses on the reactions of the characters. Andre getting desperate, Joe looking murderous, and Shingo acting creepy take advantage of the anime’s over-the-top tendencies, which in turn produce even more comedic moments. Most notably is Hana, whose face goes through every range of emotion – insanity, pleasure, and anger to name a few.
The character designs are a mixed offering. Kiyoshi is decidedly plain, his short hair and normal looks meant for the audience to self-insert themselves as him. This works but the result is that his design is rather boring, especially compared to the rest of the cast. Shingo is similar, although his slick-backed blonde hair and “Yankee” face give him a cool vibe. Chiyo and Anzu, the women who have a romantic relationship with Kiyoshi and Shingo respectively, are likewise plain in their designs – cute faces and shoulder-length brown hair. It is not until Mari, Chiyo’s older sister and the student council president, do the designs start to flourish. Her long black hair, leg-long black tights, and icy, teal eyes paint her as not just the leader but as someone to be feared. Her and Chiyo’s father dons a trimmed mustache and a blue tie, turning him into quite the gentleman. Andre’s small face, huge stature, and floppy ears create a walking clown. Joe’s defined but hidden face and small height make him an enigma. Hana’s loose pants are meant for easier karate movement but they also reduce her overall sex appeal, contrasting with the other women of the show and with her (unintentional) perverted habits. But the best design goes to Meiko. Her absurdly large breasts, glasses, and gray-with-bun hair give her a very mature look, coinciding with her commanding position. Her knee-high black boots and leather riding crop add further to her dominatrix personality and persona, collectively making her design the most intricate of the bunch.
For all of the designs, everyone has very refined contours, shadows, and detail that makes them realistic and impactful, regardless of how boring some might be. These highly detailed designs surprisingly do not get in the way of the amount of animation that is used. Prison School does have a sizeable chunk of “visible” animation – eyes can go chaotic, limbs fly during violent segments, and breasts jiggle. But there are also subtle movements like twitching and hair ruffling that exist to keep the anime flowing. A possible explanation may be due to the fact that the anime prides itself on capturing each ridiculous moment. Meaning, the anime constantly has prolonged shots of the characters’ faces or the current situation. This consequently reduces the overall amount of animation for those scenes but the trade-off is that the more involved ones receive even more animation. It is a trade-off, one in which Prison Schooldiscovered a nice balance.
The cast of Prison School are not complex characters in the slightest. For the most part, they are made up solely of their base characterizations. Given the comedy-centric direction, this makes perfect sense; Kiyoshi the straight-man, Gakuto the hobbyist, Shingo the dude, Andre the gentle giant, and Joe the reserved. The same line of thinking can be applied to the women; Mari the vixen, Meiko the buff, and Hana the psycho. The characters are who they are and not much more.
“Not much” because there is thought put into some of the characters. Mari, the student council president, is infamous for her adoration and control of crows. Crows are intelligent creatures, some of the smartest nonhuman animals on the planet. They are also ominous; their pitch-black feathers and foreboding cry are creepy, especially when these birds fly in flocks. No better bird symbolizes the equally intelligent and ominous Mari. But as the anime depicts, Mari is not as smart or as scary as one is lead to believe. Her plan falls through and while she has a deep-seeded hatred for men – most likely the result of a disconnect with her father – she is regularly shown to care for all of the women. She offers them positions, she shares tea with them, and in Hana’s case, she stops her from doing any more damage than has already been done when she takes a punch meant for Kiyoshi for herself. In other words, Mari has an inversion about her that makes her the opposite of what she appears to be.
Hana is also an interesting character in her own right. Arguably she is the least attractive of the women, mostly because of her personality, looks, and actions. But she, more than any of the women, finds herself always at the brunt end of the stick. Simultaneously, she is the most immature in the sense that she has no idea what an erection is or how to kiss. Again, there is an inversion present, one that flips the audience’s perception of her.
Ultimately inversion is what the characters rely on to achieve their brand of comedy. Andre is a very calm and very nice person, thus his love of punishment and lack of receiving it is comedic. Meiko acting high and mighty towards the boys but then going fully submissive towards Mari is comedic. Chiyo’s father nonchalantly having pornography lying around when his daughter is nearby is comedic.
Inversion, like the sexual material, also does more than act as a comedic crutch. Looking at Shingo’s character throughout the season, he was initially placed on the wayside. It was not until Kiyoshi and Gakuto were caught that he more or less takes center stage during the season. When he learns of Kiyoshi’s behavior – that he had gone behind his, Andre’s, and Joe’s backs in order to meet up with some girl and that he had caused their prison stay to lengthen – he shuns Kiyoshi, mistreating him as much as possible. Yet, when presented with the opportunity to do the exact same as Kiyoshi (technically he did even more by getting free meals, going outside, and personally betraying his friends), he does not hesitate. It was hypocritical, or considering the discussion, it was an inversion of his character. And it is this same inversion that he witnesses with a bunch of young kids that opens his eyes to how childish he had been. In the end he realizes the error of his ways and the group comes together once more, appropriately enough ending on a joke relying on inversion.
Gakuto is also a prime example of the anime’s reliance on inversion. Gakuto is a bit of an oddball. He is obsessed with history and speaks in a strange manner. He is also very respectful, a trait derived from the previous two. But despite what he does or says, he rarely acts selfish. That is to say, Gakuto might seem like an attention seeker but he is the first to sacrifice himself before anyone. Embarrassing himself in front of the whole school, destroying his prized figures, and refusing to “besmirch” (Gakuto’s words) Chiyo’s clothes are just a sampling of the individual instances where Gakuto chooses his friends over himself.
Friendships feed directly into relationships, another staple of Prison School. Kiyoshi’s relationship with both Chiyo and Hana is bizarre. The former is more or less a lie – he does not really like sumo wrestling and he never told her the truth about the peeping – whereas the latter goes way too far for mere acquaintances. Furthermore, Kiyoshi’s crow-helping and butt-worshipping has made him into, according to the Kurihara family members, not a “bad” guy. To put it differently, Kiyoshi having a relationship with them requires him to uphold quite the niche stipulation. Joe has his ants that mean more to him than any girl could – the final sequence shows all of the boys with a woman except Joe who, coincidentally enough, is with his ants. But the most important set of relationships within the anime are the ones between the men. They each have those moments where they forget the others – Kiyoshi going on his date, Shingo sneaking out, Andre succumbing to depravity, Joe overcome with venomous rage, and, surprisingly yes, Gakuto ignoring Kiyoshi for some period. Their time in prison seemingly breaks the friendships they had. However, through their determination for each other (and for sex), the boys rise above their misdeeds. Each person, at one point or another, apologizes and, like friends do, they forgive them, reconstructing their bonds to be even stronger than before. And this is what the characters represent thematically. What gets somebody through tough times is not some figurines or a few ants or even a personal diary. What gets somebody through tough times are the people that person holds dear.
According to Prison School, relationships are coveted. Thus, the only prominent time in which the cast weakens is when these relationships are prevented from developing. This stunted growth is caused by the disproportionate on-screen time. The show focuses mainly on Kiyoshi, Gakuto, Meiko, and Hana, and to be fair this makes sense since they are arguably the funniest characters in the anime. And given that this is a comedy, having the most fun cast members at the front more so than the others is a logical move. Still, Andre and Joe are hardly used throughout the season, both receiving two, very brief spotlights (Andre with his non-punishment and nipple hair, and Joe with his ants and deception). Arguably again, Andre and Joe exist just for their silly personas and nothing more, and given that there are the other three boys and a handful of girls to focus on, those two not getting much attention is somewhat understandable.
But there is still the issue of Shingo – who has no presence in the beginning, takes over briefly, then disappears again – and Mari – who is technically the kingpin of the whole fiasco but is rarely shown doing much of anything. So, dissimilar to the animation, Prison School misses the balance in regards to its characters and their on-screen time. This has a domino effect: less of the characters means less foundation for the relationships they share with the others, a dampening in the relationships hurts the theme, and damaging the theme lowers the overall execution of the anime.
The opening theme is rock-and-roll heavy, but what it champions is the theme the show’s characters symbolize; switching off the vocalists achieves that friendship feel. The piece is also satirical, the hard instruments contrasting with the silly lyrics. Yet the lyrics also correlate to the allegorical interpretation presented earlier. “The heart is an endless love prison” gets at the notion that what one feels makes us prisoners to ourselves. Repetition is also prevalent. In the context of Prison School, the repetition symbolizes the repetitive nature that a stay in prison induces. Combined with the actual composition of the track, there is no denying the strength of the OP.
As is common with ending themes, the ED forms a dichotomy with the OP, taking more of a party route. At the minimum the ED is more relaxed than the OP. The ED also aims at the other focus of the show; showing the different women in suggestive poses mirrors the anime’s content and, once again, reflects the manlier opening theme. The song itself is lighthearted, catchy, and fun and, like the OP, the lyrics reinforce the allegory: “Falling in love with someone is a trap programmed into our genes”. It is a silly song, one that rests comfortably among Prison School’s comedic origins.
Voice acting for the show also has a high amount of quality. Katsuyuki Konishi as Gakuto hits a home run, his honorifics, his honorable tone, and his quickness of speech fitting the character perfectly. Kana Hanazawa as Hana proved that she could provide a voice that was less cutesy and more guttural, her angry voice capturing the oft-angry girl well. Shizuka Itou as Meiko also deserves a shout-out for giving the mature, dominating girl the womanly and commanding voice that she needed. And one would be remiss if Chinami Hashimoto as Chiyo was not given some kind of praise. In one of her first big roles, her girly voice demonstrated that she has a future in the voice acting business.
Akin to the censoring, the sound-work takes a slight step down in the original soundtrack department. The majority of the tracks are there for the mood and little else. A heavenly track for the sexual moments, orchestral ensembles to raise tension, and guitar strings for the triumphant victories, to sample a few. While they do increase the level of emotion for their respective scenes, the OST is by no means a memorable outing, especially when compared to the rest of the music let alone the rest of the anime.
This anime is a doozy.
I do not fault anyone for avoiding this show based purely on the amount of violence, perversion, and insanity that it contains. While I would not say that this is a show for the faint of heart, this is a show that requires a bit of tolerance on the viewer’s end. Realistically, given the “seinen” genre tag, someone going into this one should know it is meant for a more mature audience, so maybe a warning of any kind is not warranted.
Regardless, I found this show nothing short of hilarious. The altercations between Kiyoshi and Hana were especially funny. The funniest part during their final spat was not the Medusa or the vigorous making-out. It was when Kiyoshi gave Hana “permission” to hit him as payback, but after the seventh or so punch (the sound-effects and animation during this segment are top-notch) he desperately asks her to stop because he did not realize it would hurt so much. Afterwards, too, where the other boys were flabbergasted at what exactly could have gone down in the office, capped off this episodes-spanning scene nicely.
But Hana also induces one of my biggest peeves with the anime: the faux romantic relationship between her and Kiyoshi. Obviously Kiyoshi likes Chiyo and Chiyo likes Kiyoshi. Nobody can deny that. And I loved seeing them care about each other. Chiyo standing up against her tyrant of a sister for Kiyoshi and Kiyoshi going so far as to cross-dress in order to fulfill his promise to Chiyo made my heart flutter. So when Hana showed up, sharing her privacy, sidling up next to Kiyoshi, and even stealing his first kiss, made me not angry or annoyed but sad. Sad because I know how Kiyoshi and Chiyo feel about one another and sad because Chiyo deserves better. Chiyo is sweet, thoughtful, and compassionate, so seeing her relationship with Kiyoshi tampered with – worse still, all of it happening without her knowing – just did not sit right with me. I am aware that this was all done for comedic purposes. Kiyoshi also justifies that the kiss was not his “true” first and even if it was what mattered most was him succeeding in his endeavor so that he and his friends could stay and that he could spend more time with Chiyo. But being the romance aficionado that I am, watching Kiyoshi and Chiyo’s pure relationship constantly messed up by Hana saddened me.
This was a minor grievance. The rest of the anime, truth be told, consistently put a smile on my face. Gakuto’s dumb analogies, Meiko unsure if she should point out the redundancy of “DTO Operation”, Shingo amazed as Anzu stepped over him in the movie theater, Kiyoshi unable to stop himself from continuing to argue the superiority of butts over boobs, and the way Chiyo’s father talked were all moments that had me laughing. Likewise, the over-the-top, sexual, and degrading comedy was impossible to sit through without chuckling out loud. I remember always saying something to the effect of “This show…” every time something completely absurd happened. That was practically what the anime mostly ended up doing, so I was saying that phrase more times than I would care to admit.
Prison School accomplishes a lot over the span of twelve episodes. The comedy always works wonders, the artistic direction is flavorful, and the cast represents more than just their base characteristics. The censoring, unbalanced character focus, and the competent OST are issues, but the symbolic opening theme and the utter absurdity of the events highlight the anime’s high degree of execution in many of its categories. Thinking about it now, this may be one prison worth checking out.
Story: Great, the diverse range of comedy, the purposeful sexual content, and the allegorical narrative create a well-rounded and well-executed experience
Animation: Fine, gross censoring, very nice camera work, imaginative artistic direction, both boring and inventive character designs, and above average actual animation
Characters: Good, the cast is designed with comedy in mind, and they represent inversion and friendship, but disproportionate attention hampers its relationship theme
Sound: Good, good OP, good ED, okay OST, above average VA performances
Enjoyment: Good, a hilarious romp, soured only by Hana messing with Kiyoshi and Chiyo’s romantic relationship
Final Score: 7/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3