\In Prison School Volume 6: Kiyoshi pranks the other boys with bad advice on how to get a girl’s kiss, though he is soon to have not only his own romantic hi-jinx but the discomfort of sharing a cell with two women; while dealing with her own mental trauma, Meiko regresses to the way she was when she was a child, and Andre, deprived of his usual dominatrix, tries to school Risa in how to replace her; and Gackt, unable to comprehend why his crush Mistsuko is infatuated by BL manga, treats Joe as a test subject for his research of the genre.

It would be easy to dismiss Prison School as fan service, but the depiction of sexuality is more outrageous than titillating and more gratuitously and grossly sexual than erotic: panning in on panties overflowing with genitalia; not only cleavage close-ups, but cleavage cracking skulls between them so hard it causes unconsciousness and a nosebleed. Like a burlesque entertainer, the creator of this manga alternately wishes me to lust and laugh, and while I never felt compelled to do either, I found myself mesmerized by the spectacle of these power-hungry teens and their domination games and animalistic hierarchies, in which I found Prison School not dissimilar to an American high school.

Like Caligula and other artsy porn and quasi-porn, Prison School is no doubt much more salable because it can be read on both the anti-intellectual level, that of enjoying the sordid tale entirely on the surface, and on the more intellectual, but equally voyeuristic, level of gazing obliquely at the spectacle of it. But Prison School is most interesting from the creative viewpoint; that is, Akira Hiramoto, in using tricks from the horror toolbox, such as bizarre angles in panels and eerie light and darkness effects, and from the comedic toolbox, such as elaborate set-ups and slow burns, invests a layer of menace and schadenfreude into the characters’ sexual adventures, so much so that I suspect his aim is not to arouse, but to condemn, which makes these stories not erotic but satirical. But the laughter that he hopes to elicit is the laughter of a child caught killing flies, as if each panel is a giant magnifying glass held over these self-loathing characters and hoping that they will catch fire. Could he also be turning that glass outward on his readership? That is the purpose of satire, so I suspect so.

There is a tremendous amount of storytelling craft in Prison School, so much so that while I often jump around between books, I read this one in one sitting. I admire the rhetorical cadence of the chapters, which are arranged so that one character’s vignette can comment on another’s, and I also appreciate the line work and the creativity in page and panel composition. Though there wasn’t much I loved about Prison School, as I’m usually drawn to lighter and brighter comics, ironically there is much for me to recommend, and if it was a staged production, I would clap at the end simply due to the skill with which it was delivered.

Prison School Volume arrived in bookstores on March 28th, 2017, and if you find it sold out, you can buy it in print from a variety of online booksellers.

Yen Press sent the review copy.

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