What if I told you that there’s a manga that points out the vanity of its male heroes, and ends by emphasizing the degree to which their shallow treatment of women is their undoing? Now, what if I told you that this series is actually, of all things, Prison School—a series generally known more for its gratuitous T&A and absurd toilet humor? By the time Prison School reached its conclusion, that’s exactly what we got.
Prison School is about a group of teenage guys who are the only male students at Hachimitsu Academy. When they get caught peeping, they discover that the school actually has a complex prison system underneath run by the “Shadow Student Council,” three powerful girls who are all extremely attractive and who all hate men with a passion. Over the course of 277 chapters, the manga gets increasingly ridiculous in just about every way possible, from fanservice to schemes to the fact that the series will set up exceedingly complex plots just for the sake of delivering a stupid pun.
If you look at the fan reaction to the end of Prison School, a great deal of comments express utter disappointment. There were shipping wars over who the hero Kiyoshi would end up with. There’s frustration that the story went far off the rails from where it started. Somehow, people read this series as if it was some kind of romantic comedy, as opposed to an exercise in the absurd. What’s more, I truly believe this this bitter response towards Prison School by its former fans is actually what the author, Hiramoto Akira, was actually going for. Prison School was a long, elaborate troll to point out the inanity of anyone who cheered for the heroes.
The Case of Kiyoshi
Kiyoshi is the hero of Prison School, and throughout the series he’s motivated by a few key factors. Early on, he develops a crush on one of his classmates, Kurihara Chiyo. She’s the first girl to really talk to him in class, and one of the reasons he strives to escape the school’s prison is so they can go on a date together. However, while he’s unusually smart in certain respects, he’s also an incredible dumbass who’s 1) ruled by his hormones and 2) often jumps to the wrong conclusion about things.
Kiyoshi does good deeds, but he’s not necessarily a good person, and his antics lead him to having oddly close love-hate relationships with two of the Shadow Student Council members. Early on, he accidentally sees Midorikawa Hana (the Shadow Student Council secretary) peeing in the woods, which starts this bizarre bond based in trying to see the other pee and involves angry kisses, swapping underwear, and other “unorthodox” forms of affection/revenge. And while Shadow Student Council president Kurihara Mari starts off as Kiyoshi’s greatest nemesis, the two eventually end up as erstwhile allies who begrudgingly respect each other. Also, one time Kiyoshi had to suck snake venom out of her butt.
By the end of the series, Kiyoshi is ready to confess to Chiyo (to Hana’s frustration). He’s been thinking about Chiyo all this time and sees her as his ideal girl, despite the fact that many of his “firsts” are with Hana. Chiyo, for her part, sees Kiyoshi as a brave and noble soul. However, Kiyoshi has tried to get by entirely on his ability to bullshit others, and it all comes home to roost at the end. Chiyo is an avid fan of sumo, and Kiyoshi pretends to like the sport too to get closer to her. Kiyoshi and Hana at one point accidentally switch underwear, and both realize that they’re more comfortable wearing the other’s. When Chiyo asks what happened to Hana’s panties, Kiyoshi tries to tell a half-truth by saying that he keeps them in a drawer and is ashamed about it—except that’s a lie, and he’s wearing them during his confession. Early on, in regards to Kiyoshi, Chiyo prophetically says, “There’s no such thing as a bad person who likes sumo.”
When Hana suplexes Kiyoshi and flashes Chiyo with the truth, Kiyoshi accidentally pees on both of them. All of his graceful ploys and last-minute reversals of fortune are for naught because, in Kiyoshi’s own words, “I never learned anything.”
The Case of Gackt
Gackt is one of Kiyoshi’s fellow inmates, and is known for his absolute love of Romance of the Three Kingdoms. He even speaks Japanese in an old-timey way (never mind that it was originally Chinese) as if to emphasize his love of the literary classic. Part way through the series, he begins developing feelings for a girl named Yokoyama Mitsuko, a hyper-klutz who also happens to be obsessed with Romance of the Threee Kingdoms.
(Fun trivia: Mitsuko’s name is a reference to Yokoyama Mitsuteru, legendary creator of Tetsujin 28 and author of one of the most beloved Three Kingdoms manga adaptations ever!)
Despite all the trials and tribulations, Gackt and Mitsuko seem destined for each other. However, one major curve ball shows up in the form of a character nicknamed “Slut-senpai” (real name unknown). Slut-senpai starts to fall for Gackt, and it motivates her to start learning about Romance of the Three Kingdoms to the point that she develops a genuine interest as well.
Eventually, the girls confront Gackt and ask for him to decide. However, he ultimately is unable to make a choice, and the two basically leave him and become friends with each other instead. In other words, Gackt based his entire criteria for his ideal girl on a good but ultimately limited trait—sharing a common hobby—and he couldn’t handle the possibility that there might be more to consider. Even his supposed preference for a chaste and innocent girl fell by the wayside at the prospect of a girlfriend who was willing to get down and dirty.
The Case of Andre
Unlike the two examples above, this one results in a happy ending—arguably against all odds.
Another one of the boys allied with Kiyoshi, Andre is a gentle soul and also a raging masochist. When he finds himself in his school’s prison, nothing excites him more than being under the eye of Meiko, the Shadow Student Council Vice President and the very epitome of a dominatrix.
But one day, another girl named Risa enters the picture, and around the same time, Meiko has a traumatic experience that turns her mentally into a meek 10 year old. For Andre, this means losing the very person he worshipped, and he spends most of the series trying to bring her back. At the same time, however, Risa sees a kind of inner strength in Andre and has fallen in love with him. Yet, because she cannot match the lofty ideals of sadomasochism Andre possesses, he has trouble seeing her in the same light.
Eventually, Meiko does recover, and all seems right in the world for Andre. However, what he realizes in the end is that Meiko might be the pinnacle of his carnal desire, but his heart and his feelings belong to Risa. Andre may have one hell of a kink, but in the end, it’s not enough to be the basis for an entire loving relationship. Andre chooses a person over a fetish.
Prison School is a series where one character, despite having multiple potential love interests, ends up with nobody because he’s ultimately an immature idiot who can’t truly take others into consideration. A different character has two romantic prospects but ends up with neither because his entire criteria for “ideal girlfriend” is “likes the same book.” Not only that, one of the few guys who does end up in a relationship chooses the girl who truly cared for him (and he, in turn, her) over the girl he’s worshipped and fetishized for ages. “Did you really cheer for this jackass of a protagonist?” Prison School asks, as it ends, perhaps against all odds, on a moral note. Goodness and genuine human connection win out. Shallow reasoning and deception are the realm of losers.