When I first heard that Prison School was getting an anime adaptation, my reaction was one of skepticism. It’s a raunchy sex comedy, after all. One of the regular characters is a buxom young woman who wears stiletto boots and a school uniform that leaves little to the imagination. Subway advertisements promoting the anime placed strategic signs blocking the revealing portions of said character’s outfit. How in the world would a show trading on these themes make it past the censors in a television broadcast?
I’ve watched enough anime series as they aired to know that things get censored. Knives (Tokyo Ghoul), smoking (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure), and graphic violence and gore (Deadman Wonderland) are among the things that have fallen victim to those black shadows. On the other hand, I’ve also watched enough anime series to know that they’re no stranger to panty shots and gravity-defying breasts. Plenty of those have made it past censors with no problems—certain levels of sexual content have been normalised. But a quick perusal of the original manga also told me that Prison School pushes the limits on many levels.
Sometimes my curiosity gets the better of me, and so I found myself tuning in to Prison School. It didn’t take long to get my answer. I have to hand it to the animation team. They were certainly creative. Instead of relying on conspicuous black shadows all the time, they varied it up with steam (handy for those shower scenes), mist (it sort of works in the outdoor setting), and lens flares (it worked for J.J. Abrams, right?)
But this raised another question: would they actually adapt all of the raunchy scenes from the manga?
Yes, they would.
To give a little more context, Prison School takes place in a formerly all-girls school that only recently went co-ed. There are now five male students enrolled. This doesn’t sit well with the Underground School Council (USC), so they make it their mission to get the boys kicked out. Yes, this a boys vs. girls story over… the ability to go to school.
The USC’s efforts lead all five boys to being thrown in prison. Why is there a prison in the school? Your guess is as good as mine. If you think this is supposed to be a manga take on the Stanford Prison Experiment, you’re not entirely wrong. But if you think they’re going to do something interesting with it, that’s debatable.
The USC plays the prison guards. The boys play the prisoners. This is the set-up from the beginning. There is no transition into either side accepting their roles. The psychological warfare intentionally waged by the USC is one of manipulation geared toward making the boys arrange their own downfall and subsequent expulsion. The boys were thrown into prison—even though it’s an educational environment—so it’s no surprise that they’d try to escape.
Sound ridiculous? Well, this manga has never tried to be anything but ridiculous, and here are five scenes that not only demonstrate this commitment to the “cause,” but also made it into the anime.
Her methods may be brutal but you’ll like them anyway
The boys’ efforts to escape rouse suspicion, but quick thinking masks their true intentions. It doesn’t save them from punishment.
In case you haven’t guessed, the woman is Meiko Shiraki, the dominatrix character who warranted the Danger! Danger! signs on the subway advertisements. The signs aren’t wrong, exactly. She has big breasts, but she’ll smother you with them. Her skirt doesn’t cover her thong, but she’ll suffocate you when she sits on your face. Her sexualization marks her weapons.
The problem with all this is that the camera angle is not neutral. The visual and narrative choices are traditionally sexual. Meiko has been shown to be a physically strong character. She does handstand push-ups first thing in the morning. She can crack walnuts open with her bare hands. So why is she straddling some guy’s face while whipping another guy’s ass?
Golden showers will bring true love
During their incarceration, the manga’s main character, Kiyoshi, accidentally sees USC member Hana pee. This leads to a long-running plotline in which Hana tries to get Kiyoshi to pee in front of her.
To be clear, the initial incident was an accident. Kiyoshi was not spying on Hana. He just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That mishap leads to a series of escalating encounters in which Hana tries to humiliate Kiyoshi.
I’m not going to lie. Those early exchanges are uncomfortable to read in the manga and watch in the anime. Hana’s efforts obviously fall into nonconsensual territory; Kiyoshi is a very unwilling participant. To make matters even more uncomfortable, things never go in Hana’s favor. She ends up even more embarrassed than before, thus doubling her determination to humiliate Kiyoshi.
For example, one of her efforts to get Kiyoshi to pee in front of her ends up with him—again, accidentally—peeing on her. Some people would say that Hana’s desire to see Kiyoshi is a fetish. A kink, if you will. But I can’t see it that way. Because of Kiyoshi’s reactions, I can only view it as bullying. And upon further reading of the manga, I don’t see Hana’s motivations as coming from a place of sexual desire but rather to bring a person to the same level of embarrassment as her. Even if this were a kink, there’s still no consent on Kiyoshi’s part. Hana is forcing herself on him. She is assuming the role of a rapist.
The obligatory prison joke about dropping the soap
Well, clearly a sex comedy manga with “prison” in the title has to have running gags about homosexuality, right? What would a series be without those?
See, the scene in which Shingo walks in on Kiyoshi and Gakuto and misinterprets what’s happening depends on the reader anticipating that Shingo will be shocked and horrified by what he thinks is happening. That’s what is supposed to make readers laugh. Prison School doesn’t deviate from the expected punchline. Shingo does assume that Kiyoshi and Gakuto have a sexual relationship. He runs away when Kiyoshi sees him. He avoids them later. He tells the other boys, who snicker about it. Would Shingo and the other boys have reacted this way if the person on their knees had been a girl?
The mushroom incident
Back to the strange relationship between Kiyoshi and Hana. Things have escalated—not only does Hana want Kiyoshi to pee in front of her, she wants to pee on him. But because things don’t go Hana’s way, they end up hiding under a bed together to avoid discovery.
The complication? They’re both naked from the waist down and in very close quarters. Kiyoshi, being a healthy fifteen-year-old, reacts exactly how you think he would and a certain portion of his anatomy gets up close and personal with a certain portion of Hana’s anatomy. To Kiyoshi’s credit, he’s embarrassed by what’s happening, but I’m still not entirely clear why they had to be close enough that his erection was able to press against her vulva. The bed wasn’t that narrow. The contact alone was enough to make Hana faint from shock and suppress the memory!
This is where something about the female characters of Prison School crystallized for me. Meiko is the “dominatrix” figure. Hana is the “dirty” figure. Except those traits don’t read natural. They feel imposed upon them by other people: other students, the mangaka, even the readers. In this scene, I realized I knew nothing about Meiko or Hana outside of their relationship to the boys and their goal to get them kicked out. Sure, Meiko is strong and Hana is a martial arts champion but what else? Meiko is best friends with the USC president. Hana makes good dandelion tea. And…that’s it? Going even further, I’m not even sure I understand why the USC president wants to expel the boys so much. Are we just supposed to assume it’s because she hates boys instead of the narrative doing any work to make the reader see this?
Breaking the horse
Speaking of Meiko, her “dominatrix” persona is the one that confuses me the most. Why does she wear that outfit? It doesn’t seem to give any confidence boost. In fact, considering that it was an all-girls school prior to the boys’ enrollment, who would she have been weaponizing her sexuality for? Other than the USC president’s father, we don’t really see much faculty presence at this school. If there’s a history, readers aren’t privy to it. Could it be for other girls? Maybe. I’ve been told there’s a depiction of lesbian sexual interest later in the manga, but it doesn’t involve Meiko, so that doesn’t answer the question of her persona. And honestly, am I really supposed to believe she’s willing to do 100 squats in those stiletto boots?
The outside imposition of a persona is strongest on Meiko. We’re supposed to believe she’s a dominatrix. She certainly has all the superficial markers. The boots. The horse whip. The stern librarian glasses. But the more I read the manga, the more Meiko’s actions seem just that: an act. A role she assumed because it’s what was needed of her by her best friend, the USC president, to whom Meiko is actually very submissive toward. Later in the manga, we learn how Meiko and the USC president met. During this flashback, we discover the Meiko of the past is significantly more timid and shy than the Meiko of the present. But we never really learn what caused that change. Did the USC president encourage Meiko to be confident in that flashback? Yes. But encouraging someone to stand up for herself does not mean she’s going to become a dominatrix five years later.
Look, it’s not like I expected much from Prison School. I knew it was a raunchy sex comedy going in. Any cursory googling will turn up Meiko, whose appearance will clue in any seasoned manga reader as to what to expect.
But given the clear inspiration by the Stanford Experiment and the willingness to depict fetishes that aren’t quite as accepted by mainstream circles (e.g. watersports), I guess I was hoping for something a little smarter in its handling of these topics and depictions. Clever jokes rather than lazy ones based on defecation and hemorrhoids, at the very least. If the narrative could put as much effort into elevating its humor and explorations as it does into creating absurd situations that lead to girls’ hands down Kiyoshi’s underwear, Prison School could have been something special. Instead, it’s an exploitative manga that appeals to cheap voyeuristic thrills. We laugh at the characters’ misfortune. We goggle at the “kinks.” Since this manga has won an award or two, there’s clearly an audience for it. I’m just not part of it. Too bad.