Let me ask you something: What is the actual final frontier? What is the most treacherous yet rewarding place for a daring man to set foot? Is it the outer limits of space? The mysterious depths of the ocean? Or could it be something closer to home? For five Japanese highschool students that forbidden destination is Hachimitsu Private Academy a girlsonly highschool located on the outskirts of Tokyo. As the first male entrants in the prestigious campuss history Kiyoshi Gakuto Shingo Andre and Jo find themselves existing as fish out of water in a hostile environment full of classmates who wont talk to them rules they dont understand and consequences beyond their wildest dreams. Not long after their debut the five of them are caught attempting to peek in on the girls shower room and are thrown immediately behind bars in the Academy prison. With a life of hard times and vicious abuse ahead of them will these male pioneers ever return to the paradise they took for granted or will they find themselves permanently expelled? At first glance its kind of difficult to judge the quality of Prison School as nothing about its appearance is straightforward. This series almost immediately strikes you with how ugly it is on the surface with a pukey and drab color palette a depressing and slightly oppressive school setting the most generic uniforms youve ever seen and stiff animation that has no room for grace or subtlety in its articulation. Even when theres nudity on screen the characters bodiesmale and female are either overdetailed to the point of distraction or so uncannily shiny its like theyve been sweating pure Vaseline. At the same time however you get the feeling that not only was this all intentional but that there was a distinctive point behind making the aesthetic as ugly as it is. This is JC Staff were talking about and while Ive seen some genuinely ugly anime from them before... For example the fucking migraines I got from the visual style of Okamisan and her Seven Companions... None of them looked like this and none of them looked like their ugliness actually contributed to the story. First of all the stiff animation and overly detailed characters seem intentionally reminiscent of Death Note and while that might have been a strange design choice for any other ecchi title... And especially this one since it has no connection to Death Note whatsoever... Prison School does have an intense plot and a ton of inner monologues and plotting that moves the story along and that particular aesthetic choice actually adds to the tension especially when combined by an overall musical score that was definitely Death Note inspired. The grossness also has a point to it but Im going to skip that for now and attribute everything that unexpectedly works about Prison Schools aesthetic to director Tsutomu Mizushima who is both highly talented and surprisingly versatile. Rather than just having his own style that he applies to everything he touches he seems to be capable of working wonders under just about every style From the crude drawings of ShinChan to combination of bright moe girls and detailed tanks in Girls und Panzer. From the gothic overtones of Another to the over the top gore in Blood C. Mizushima had no issue channeling Death Note for this anime and he did a lot with it. The core concept of Prison School seems to be the idea of making mountains out of molehills... More specifically taking relatively minor stakes and ridiculously stupid plot points and taking them as dead fucking seriously as possible and Tsutomu Mizushima never allows the tension of the story to lag for a moment exploiting key frames to explore everybodys inner monologues and using extreme closeups to highlight their facial expressions. I dont think this show was particularly low budget as it seems like like one of those series that poured a ton of money into intentionally looking cheap and low grade but Mizushima does seem throw in constant budget saving shortcuts just to show us the kind of good you can do with them that highframe rate animation couldnt possibly replicate. The characters are all distinctly designed with more or less consistent proportions and just like its thrilling predecessor Prison School uses slowmotion shots in all the right places. I cant call this a beautiful anime by any regards but for a show that isnt TRYING to be beautiful the aesthetic its aiming for IS fully realized and perfectly effective. As for the English dub this is a Funmation effort and just about every actor involved is giving 150. This is a show of extremes that demands extreme performances and they all deliver on that perfectly. Particular standouts include Eric Vale playing a slimy yet sympathetic schemer whos willing to make any sacrifice necessary to achieve his goals Tia Ballard who plays against her usually highpitched type as the snarling villainous school president Alexis Tipton who is frighteningly unhinged as the insane Hana and Sonny Strait who goes from just doing a silly voice to stretching that voice to unexpected ranges throughout the storyalthough the Japanese is funnier. Austin Tindle and Whitney Rodgers were also noteworthy albeit for spoiler reasons. Jamie Marchis adaptive script is better than her usual fare with one infamous exception. There was some controversy over one particular line that was rewritten in the script... Somebody was trying to be topical by randomly calling out Gamergaters... And I feel like regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum you probably agree that the line was petty in poor taste and destined to become dated. They have changed the line since however so its water under the bridge in my opinion. So right off the bat this does not look like the kind of anime I would like. It presents itself as an ecchi comedy and Im usually not partial to those. Not only did I post scathing reviews of both Shimonetta and Peter Grill but as Ive mentioned numerous times Im asexuial. Now one thing you might not know about asexuals is that we dont necessarily NOT find anything sexy although a few of us do. For others an asexual person will usually have at least one pretty weird fetish and it tends to be something they can fantasize about in the third person... IE a situation happening to other people. Personally I like uncensored nudity of any kind but especially in situations of shame or embarrassment please dont ask me why it wasnt my choice. I dont find sexual nudity to be sexy whatsoever and it usually has the opposite effect on me... Yet I feel no revulsion whatsoever about Prison School a show thats constantly shoving giant boobs and barely concealed vaginas in your face covered in sweat and sometimes more than that. In spite of all of that I feel like the reason my lack of arousal from this show doesnt work against it is because really Prison School isnt trying to be sexy. Like at all. Oh I dont doubt there are people who get turned on by this anime there HAVE to be a few of you. Probably a lot actually. And hey Ill freely admit I appreciate all the uncensored nudity and the fact that in a deeply satisfying role reversal unlike a lot of other ecchi titles its the audience that gets to enjoy eyeful after eyeful and the characters who are usually deprived of seeing anything which is fucking cathartic to say the least. When I say Prison School isnt trying to be sexy what I mean to say is that at no point in the story is it actually attempting to arouse the audience so it can not suffer when the fanservice doesnt land. As a matter of fact it seems to be far more focused on the repulsive aspect of sexuality not for the sake of grossing out the audience but for the sake of relatability. Face it you were a teenager once and your adolescence was probably not an overwhelmingly positive experience. You were hit by puberty like a fucking isekai truck just like the rest of us and it took you years to get all those new emotions and hormones sorted out and for a lot of people the adults in your life probably made things worse. I shouldnt have to explain why the fear of persecution is inextricably tied to the development of sexuality but for arguments sake I grew up in the nineties which was an extremely sexnegative time to be a teenager. American culture was so obsessed with virginity at the time that you couldnt succeed as a female pop star without swearing up and down that you were saving yourself for marriage. Ive heard things have changed to a degree I dont know for certain but Im willing to bet there will always be some kind of opposing force to the whims of puberty. There will always be insane parents who treat their kids like property and threaten violence against their boyfriends/girlfriends. There will always be oppressive schools that preach abstinence and accuse any media that acknowledges teenage sexuality as sexualizing children. There will always be classmates and peers who bully and ostracize you for failing to hide what theyre also trying to hide. Some states are going out of their way to restrict what teachers can tell their students about sexuality all the way up to college level. The fear of persecution over your sexuality is a common thing and while Prison School is definitely exaggerating it well hasnt media been using exaggerations to express simple truths for generations? Especially in comedy and horror? Well Prison School uses both the exaggerations of comedy and horror to actually normalize the negative feelings associated with adolescence. Fear and shame over your hormones is okay... Everybody feels that way. I dont know if this is something that was intentional but I do consider that message to be the foundation of the series. Whats built upon that foundation is a story of perseverance friendship overcoming adversity and the unjustly persecuted rising up against oppressors who are abusing their power. Theres even some nuance to the writing as despite there being clear heroes and clear villains in the cast nobodys written in a purely black and white way. For our five struggling heroes they are likeable enough to sympathize with but theyre also kinda scummy if youre able to look at them objectively. Even the main character Kiyoshi arguably the most heroic and morally sound character we meet is still kinda lame in the way he deifies the first female classmate who gives him the time of day and makes his whole journey about returning to her side after a grand total of one conversation that she was aware of. Every single one of the boys starts off selfish in some way united only by their circumstances and this is intentional as youre supposed to root for them to bond and work together to escape. As for their captors yeah the camera is constantly objectifying them and giving you gross exploitative closeups of their bodies but thats because youre seeing them from the perspective of the protagonists. Theres nothing in the way theyre written that identifies them as anything other than unique fleshed out human beings with understandable motivations and perspectives. Take for example the Underground Student Council president. Yeah she strongly objects to the inclusion of boys at her school but thats likely because she didnt know very many boys growing up and shes used to the way things are. Yeah she doesnt see the boys as anything other than penis monsters but like look at her father. Despite his pristine nononsense exterior hes catastrophically terrible at hiding his own perversions. Yeah shes cruel but shes also loyal to and protective of her friends. Shes calculating she can be reasoned with and when push comes to shove she does have a sense of honor. Even Chiyo the main characters love interest had every excuse to be a boring and cliche pretty face for him to fight for but shes also a distinctive and important character. Shes aware of her own mistakes and takes some surprisingly bold and progressive moves within the plot to correct them. I wont say the female characters are never objectified but theyre far from being objects themselves. But ultimately the main selling point of this anime is just that this cast of likeable and interesting characters all play their roles in a really strong plot. Bringing up the Death Note comparison again Prison School has fully captured the energy of that famous thrillers ongoing story. Theres always a sense of tension in the air you never know whats going to happen next and in some way everythings connected in the overall narrative. I dont think Ive ever referred to an ecchi series as tightly written before but its an adjective that Prison School has earned. You never know when some random joke is going to come back later in an impactful and important way with some of the silliest occurrences becoming plot lines that carry the story across the finish line in the final episode. One of those plot lines Im not exaggerating is about whether or not two people are going to pee on each other. Another one is about the masochist of the group being denied his punishment and you would not believe what his deprivation was leading up to. I wanted to give this series a ten out of ten so badly. I wanted so so badly to give Prison School a perfect score because fuck you. However there is one problem with this show and unfortunately its kind of a big one. Prison School is funny sometimes but it just doesnt feel funny enough. Thats going to be kinda hard to explain so you remember the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall? Its a damn good movie. It has a good cast great characters an engaging story and a ton of amusing material... But its just not very funny despite being primarily marketed as a comedy. It has everything else working for it but the wit just isnt there and thats kinda how I feel about Prison School. I chuckled a bunch of times... The slapstick had really good timing now and again and its penchant for taking ridiculous scenarios seriously did hit its mark a few times... But there were no really big or loud laughs no serious gutbusters nothing that made me cry or wheeze and it really felt like it just wasnt living up to its comedic potential. Still its an awesome show. Prison School is available from Funimation. The original manga by Akira Hiramoto is available from Yen Press and a live action adaptation is not available stateside. Nor is the OVA episode that I just learned about today and Id recommend seeking it out because it is such a perfect conclusion to the show that I actually clapped at the end. Prison School is easily one of the most unique anime Ive ever seen and the best comparisons I can make towards it all feel completely out of left field. I mentioned its similarities to Death Note but I havent seen an anime explore this much edgy and explicit material with such a deft hand since Berserk. The idea this series is based on is stupid ridiculous and immature and yet the story justifies it all with nothing short of surgical precision and pure crackhead courage. I would honestly call it a masterpiece if only it were a good deal funnier. Unlike Shimoneta which was a stupid series pretending to be smart and profound this is the exact opposite using its obvious stupidity to hide its intelligence and overall message underneath layers of gross excess as a series that pushes every envelope and goes the extra mile on almost everything it does while never pulling a single punch in the process and ending on a perfectly satisfying note. I obviously cant recommend this anime to everyone although I really really want to. I give Prison School a 9/10.
90 /100
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