After eight (really sixteen) volumes you’d think that “Prison School’s” schtick would be firmly established by now. The boys act like knuckleheads -- maybe one gets caught with his dick out, the girls embarrass themselves in dealing with the boys -- maybe one gets caught hanging from a doorknob by her panties, and everything is dealt with in a straight-faced fashion that only highlights the absurdity of it all. Mangaka Akira Hiramoto has done a better than expected job of topping himself when it comes to putting his characters in progressively more ridiculous situations up to this point. For volume nine, however, he takes a jump to the left into a different genre entirely for the first third of its length. That’s right people, get ready for “Prison School: The Psychosexual Thriller!”
Vol. 8 left off on a cliffhanger that had Mari stating to student council president Kate that she had already escaped the confines of the prison. While Kate doesn’t believe it at first, she’s quickly informed about some physical evidence around the girls’ dorm that indicates someone may have found a way into her room. Not about to let Mari off the hook, Kate handcuffs the two of them together and takes her captive back to her room. There, she hopes to verify that the thing she stole from Mari is still in its place. Yet it turns out that’s only the beginning of her nightmare…
While there are hints of the series’ usual ridiculousness -- Kiyoshi laughing maniacally just to keep the drama going, cut-aways to Risa’s efforts to break down the door to the boys’ room -- the duel of wits between Mari and Kate is played for maximum tension. Kate may have the upper hand due to her authority as student council president, but Mari is holding all of the cards in this particular scenario. It’s riveting to watch as she slowly strips away Kate’s confidence one carefully worded revelation at a time.
It may appear that Mari’s initial goal is to get under Kate’s skin, but she eventually reveals that her plan includes rubbing against it as well. Ridiculous fanservice has been this title’s stock-in-trade since the start, but what happens between the two girls here really doesn’t feel like that. I can’t deny that there isn’t some pandering to “Prison School’s” almost exclusively (well, I’d imagine) male readership with what goes on here, but the tone feels all wrong for these scenes to be written off as just that. Even if Kate is the villain in this series, it still feels creepy and unsettling to see Mari twist her obsession and desire in a way that suits her own ends. It’s probably the one time T&A in this series hasn’t been deployed for the reader’s enjoyment.
As I mentioned, this sequence only takes up the first third of the volume. Things revert to normal, for “Prison School” anyway, in the following two thirds as the boys and girls find themselves having to team up to fight an Andre-riding Risa in a shoulder-wars battle, Mari’s dad running a gamut of soap-opera tropes as he tries to make it back to the school, and Kiyoshi and Hana trying to settle their watersports-related issues once and for all. It’s as good as you’d expect, with that last bit leading to an unexpected cliffhanger.
Yet it’s hard to get fully invested in the title’s business as usual after that first third. It’s not just that it was such a departure from the kind of business “Prison School” usually engages in, but it was a really effective one at that. One has to wonder if the grind was getting to Hiramoto and he did this as an exercise to help sustain his interest as the arc moves into its final phase. Longtime readers should be aware that we’ve got at least five more volumes to go (and one major status quo shift according to what I’ve been spoiled for) so the mangaka has plenty of room to experiment if he wants to. After this, I wouldn’t be adverse to seeing more tonal departures like this as the series goes on.