‘Prison School‘ is one anime that has a lot of hype around it. That’s probably the reason why I decided to give it a second chance after I failed to get past the second episode in my first attempt at watching it. But again, I was drowned in the same feeling of regret, initially. This time around though I wanted to be more patient and in the end, I did not regret the outcome. The first season of prison school has 12 episodes and more than anything else, this anime is known for its portrayal of sex and ecchi throughout. It’s such a major part of the show that it almost gave me the wrong impression about it. After watching the first few episodes itself, I presumed that the hype is all about the fanservice and the anime may have nothing more to it. But I’ve been completely wrong about this overly sexualized comedy-drama series.
There’s no doubt that this anime is not for the faint-hearted. It thrives on absurd imagery of the most extreme sexual fetishes one can imagine. But all this itself forms the base of its comedy that gives you more of a nervous laugh. The cringe in these intelligently framed comedy scenes is real and that’s clearly the purpose here. In fact, there are no actual jokes in the entire series; it’s just these gruesome, disgusting things that are thrown at you all the time, which make you wonder “why?” and, strangely, make you laugh as well. I wouldn’t call it a fan service because all the sexual weirdness is actually a crucial part of the storyline. Most of the sexual portrayals are not even sexy and at times are even painful to watch. So claiming that ‘Prison School’ sells sex would be very unfair because it instead uses it for amplifying the artistic side of the show. The obscenity does not turn you on in any way and is merely just an object used for spreading the roots of the anime.
The plot revolves around a school named Hachimitsu Private Academy, which is located in the outskirts of Tokyo. Presently, the school is an all-girls academy but a new policy allows five boys to enroll themselves in this highly acclaimed facility. Kiyoshi, Gakuto, Andre, Shingo, and Jo are the only boys amongst hundreds of other girls and seem to be living the dream of every high school boy. But their dreams are shattered when they suddenly feel as outcasts in this environment as almost no girl gives them any attention. Soon, two of them get caught for being “peeping toms” of the girl’s bath. And even though they don’t do this out of perversion, all five of them have their freedom taken away from what is known as the Underground Student Council.
The school has an actual prison where these boys are thrown and are exposed to torturous punishments for their acts of perversion. This is where we also get to see the anime’s inclination towards dominatrix where the governing student bodies of the student council punish these guys by using whips and several other ways to caue extreme physical pain. The core members of this council are President Mari and the Vice-president Meiko and the prime focus goes on the latter. V.P Meiko Shikari is an exaggeration of voluptuousness and noticeably, her curves just get more profound as the show proceeds. She is one of the most sadistic characters of the show and she treats these male students like complete garbage.
As the show further proceeds, the loyalty of each of these boys is tested to its limit as they serve their sentence in prison school. Some of them fall for the traps set up by the Students Council to get them expelled, some take the path of betrayal and only a few are true to their morals. But eventually, they all realize the value of their brotherhood. The only thing that inspires them to not give up all the way till the end is their desire to be able to attend the upcoming wet t-shirt contest in the school, which is nothing but a sexual metaphor for their freedom.
Almost half-way through ‘Prison School’, things begin to get interesting. Though there are a few cues in the first few episodes, most of the things that add up to the last few twists of the show are covered in the final five episodes. So we’ll be breaking down each of these episodes one by one starting off with episode 8.
Episode VIII: Betrayal is Not so Black and White
Till this episode, the members of the student council are always one step ahead of the boys except for the time when Takehito decides to sacrifice his figurine for the sake of his friendship with Kiyoshi. But gears start shifting when the Vice President (Meiko) tries to “set up” the boys all over again by plotting against Andou this time. Andou maintains a diary where he writes about his fetishes of getting punished by Meiko. In a normal scenario, this would come off as something very disturbing but in this case, it is downplayed by Andou’s usual childish behavior. Andou is nothing but a soft-hearted giant who, unlike others, enjoys being punished by the Vice President. But Meiko soon finds his diary and learns that the real punishment for Andou would actually be lack of punishment. All of Andou’s attempts to get punished become failures after this. Meanwhile, Shingo spends his time betraying the group just for the sake of temporary freedom.
While Andou is being lured into a trap by Meiko, Shingo does not realize that he too is part of her grand set-up. Andou’s lust towards being punished becomes unbearable and when it reaches its peak, Meiko takes this for granted and makes him step out of the school prison grounds which counts as a “strike two” for the boys. Shingo, who is outside enjoying with his new female acquaintance, does not realize that he too has been framed. Later, he realizes that he needs to be in school in 5 mins. He is not able to make it and that’s when the boys lose out on their strikes. The Council wins but the boys are reunited now and all of them, especially Shingo, realize the value of their friendship.
Another great thing about this episode is how it shows that no one really is the villain here. The President of the Council may be seen as one but she too has a very reasonable and understanding side that usually allows her to forgive the ones around her. Even with the sex and obscenity, it tries not to judge any of the characters and instead covers up their behavior with reasoning.
Episode IX: The Nipple Phenomenon
The destiny of the five boys has almost been sealed but still, they don’t give up hope and make a final attempt at winning against the Council. Their biggest motivator is, of course, the future of their education. I’m just kidding, it’s obviously the wet t-shirt contest. Who even cares about education when your teenage hormones are rushing through your veins (Reminds you of the ‘American Pie’ movies, doesn’t it?). The boys make a plan which involves luring Meiko into an arm wrestling challenge and while she’s at it, steal her keys to the correction room. This is where a computer holds the information involving all the evil plans that the Council has used to plot against the boys.
Shingo, Kiyoshi, and Andou try distracting her by challenging her to arm wrestle one by one, while Takehito steals her keys and sneaks into the correction office to complete their mission. Meiko proves to be freakishly strong and even previously, the anime has portrayed her insane calisthenics feats where she performs 50 pull-ups on her fingertips. She easily manages to snap the arms of the guys and only Andou and Kiyoshi are able to give her some competition. This is where Kiyoshi gets distracted by Meiko’s nip-slip and loses to her. He is so hypnotized in the haze of her nipple that he does not even realize when she snaps his arm during their arm-wrestling bout.
The same happens when Meiko arm wrestles with Andou. Andou has one long hair dangling down his nipple which just keeps distracting Meiko. She uses a metaphor to define it as a lone tree in a dessert withstanding a storm which is lame but at the same time, it does make sense. This is what I was talking about when I initially mentioned that ‘Prison School‘ does not even try to be funny. It’s just that almost everything in it is so mundane yet calculated, you can’t help but laugh. The boys eventually fail to execute their plan but one thing here gravitates towards the ending. It’s the fact that even though Takehito is not able to completely restore the files, he manages to download the software that is required to do so.
Episode X: The Sphinx Riddle
The boys are now getting desperate and their urgency to somehow prevent their expulsion is at its peak. This is when Takehito comes up with another plan. But the problem with this new plan is that it’ll take two days to uncover completely and all they have left is a few more hours in school. To get them some more time in the school, Kiyoshi decides to write an appeal to the Headmaster about how the Council has framed them. He believes that this will at least raise some questions and will land them some more time to execute Takehito’s plan.
Later, they find out that the appeal was torn and thrown away by the Vice Principal before it even reached the Headmaster and that’s when Kiyoshi reveals the first major twist. The appeal was just a dummy to hide what he had actually written on the actual withdrawal form. They land a meeting with the Headmaster who is willing to give them an extension of two days, but first, they’ll have to answer his riddle. The Headmaster throws his first question and asks them: “Butt or Breasts…What do you prefer?” As he does this, he slaps down an origami version of a Sphinx, making it clear that this is his version of the good old Sphinx riddle. To this, Kiyoshi instantly replies saying, “Butt”, as he recalls a previous incident where he had seen the Headmaster obsessing over butt pictures.
The Headmaster then asks Kiyoshi to give an explanation for his answer. Now the original Sphinx riddle is: what is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening? The answer to this is “a man” with reference to human evolution. A man when he is an infant crawls on all fours. When he learns how to walk, he walks on two feet and then finally once he’s old, he uses walking sticks for aid which acts as a third leg. Kiyoshi thinks deep and tries to come up with a logical answer. Even George Mallory’s famous mountain analogy, wherein he had quoted that he climbs mountains because “it is there“, comes to his mind. He almost blurts this out as the answer by just quoting that he likes butts because “it is there”. This is when the Headmaster unknowingly gives him a heads up that it’s not the right answer.
Kiyoshi thinks deep and tries to relate the whole thing to the actual Sphinx riddle and that’s when it hits him. When humans walked on all fours before the evolution, our butts were always in the face of others leading the way. Then mankind evolved and women started walking on two legs. That’s when the breasts started to lead and the butt was not the focus of attention anymore. Butts were replaced but they still remain the original source of life. This is the silliest and yet the smartest thing I’ve heard in my life. God only knows who came up with this and you seriously don’t understand how to react to it. But it sure as hell impresses the headmaster, who hugs Kiyoshi and gives the students the extension they asked for.
The episode also sheds light on an old character named Hana from the first half of the series. Hana has had some really embarrassing encounters with Kiyoshi in the past and every time she tries to get back at him, it just backfires. She remembers one such encounter and tries to kill Kiyoshi but for now, she is stopped by the Vice President.
Episode XI: Obsession is Toxic
Things start escalating to the finale as the boys start executing their final plan with Chiyo’s help. Nezu stabs Takehito in the forehead to land a trip to the correction room. But Hana is now the one guarding them after replacing Meiko who was starting to develop a soft spot for the boys. Hana ignores Takehito’s injury but she is forced to react when he refers to her previous embarrassing encounter with Kiyoshi. Kiyoshi is well aware that he and his “eryngii” will have to pay the price for this but desperate times call for desperate measures and Kiyoshi is willing to sacrifice for the sake of the freedom of his friends. Hana allows them to go to the correction office after being confronted and they return with a bandage dressing wrapped around Takehito’s head.
Hana then asks Kiyoshi to follow her to the office and this is where she plans to get her revenge on him. One core notion the wholes series has been emphasizing on is the negative consequences of one’s obsession over a certain something. Andre’s obsession for being punished landed all of them in deep trouble, Joe’s obsession with ants just makes him paranoid, Kiyoshi’s obsession for meeting Chiyo didn’t end well, Takehito’s obsession with figurines too was a disaster and now it’s Hana’s obsession for revenge that drives her towards embarrassing moments and situations. Hana first tries to dominate Kiyoshi by ordering him to pee in glass that she offers him. Kiyoshi acts all bold and without any embarrassment, goes on to do it by stripping off his pants. Hana realizes that her attempt at embarrassing him is failing, so she goes a step further by taking off her own underwear.
However, Hana ends up feeling more embarrassed by this when Kiyoshi refers to her snatch as medusa that has turned him into stone (if you know what I mean). This is by far the most hilarious metaphor of the show. He compares this with real-life psychology that says: “A sense of purpose can overcome fear itself”. In this case, Kiyoshi’s sense of purpose is to unlock the door of the correction facility so that the first part of their grand plan is executed. He does this right before he sees Hana’s “Medusa” and now that his sense of purpose has been fulfilled, nothing holds him back from the evil forces of his lust. This further explains the Medusa reference as Kiyoshi is just not able to get his eyes off her even though he knows that she’s turning him into “stone”.
Hana makes her last attempt at taking her stand and embarrassing Kiyoshi by forcefully kissing him. She believes that if she does this, Kiyoshi’s first kiss will be ruined and it almost works till he is reminded of his friends and his ultimate goal of freedom. Kiyoshi starts kissing her back and this right here is one graphic kiss with a whole lot of tongue action. He sacrifices his first kiss for his friends but he succeeds and Hana finally gives up.
This episode is very crucial, not just from the plot standpoint of the anime, but also because of its depiction of gender, sexuality and teenage issues. From the beginning itself, ‘Prison School’ has questioned gender stereotypes and has also represented sexuality and lust in unique ways. But here it takes that to a whole new level and proves that it’s not just any other sex comedy but a very thoughtful one.
Episode XII: The Final Reveal
The final episode proves that ‘Prison School’ definitely deserves the hype that it gets, as the boys execute the last few steps of their big plan. Kiyoshi saves the day by finally executing the first crucial step of their plan and also by cornering their enemies like the great Chinese warrior Shimazu Yoshihiro (with reference to Takehito’s historical story). The last day of showdown arrives and everyone can be seen assembled in the Headmaster’s office. That’s when Kiyoshi announces that they have won. Meiko realizes that the person who stands there in Takehito’s place is just a disguise. She then notices that Nezu suddenly appears to be unusually shorter than everyone else. She takes off his hood and there stands Chiyo. An almost naked real Takehito is thrown into the Headmaster’s office who then breaks down the entire plan.
The master strategist, Tahehito describes his plan as a three-way exchange, which goes like this: after Kiyoshi leaves the door to the correction room open, Chiyo sneaks right in and stays there. Later, she moves to the Lavatory where she meets Takehito and Joe. This is where the three-way exchange takes place. Joe takes over Takehito’s identity by wearing his head bandage cloth and glasses and Chiyo takes over Joe’s identity by wearing his hood. Chiyo and Joe return to their locked cells with their new identities while Takehito goes to the correction room to recover the files. Takehito just has 10 minutes to do so but he already had the software downloaded, so he won’t need 20 minutes for the task. Takehito pulls out the pen drive that holds the Student Council’s secrets and hands it over to the Headmaster. It’s game over for the girls now and the boys live to see another day of freedom.
‘Prison School’ clearly utilizes the 12 episodes to its full potential and shows much more than what some anime may be able to even in 24 episodes. The intensity escalates in the second half which proves to be beneficial overall and the anime manages to cover many themes, which include strategic prison break, gender norms (school ruled by women), sexuality and homophobia (Kiyoshi and Takehito’s mistaken relationship and Kiyoshi cross-dressing). Apart from these two underlying themes, the two main subjects the anime thrives on are obsession, which has been discussed earlier, and the journey towards freedom which involves many sacrifices. This is something that applies to real life as well, as quoted in ‘The Lord of the Rings‘: “There can be no triumph without loss. No victory without suffering. No freedom without sacrifice.”