The boys desperately arm-wrestle against the vice-president in final bid to stave off their expulsion, but it may be the origin of the species which saves them...
After being tricked by the Shadow Student Council into violating the terms of their prison sentence, Kiyoshi, Gackt and the rest of the boys are now slated for expulsion barring a miracle. In order to buy Gackt time to access the Shadow Student Council’s files on the Expel the Boys Operation, Andre and the gang challenge the vice president to an arm-wrestling match. When the first four boys go down without much of a fight, the gang is literally a hair away from expulsion with Andre the only one remaining buy them the 10 minutes they need.
Prison School tends to proceed by moving between “set-piece” moments which take a situation to its absurd extreme over the course of multiple chapters, and how enjoyable a read it is depends on how well these moments hit the mark. The first leg of this volume gets off to a slower start after dramatics ending the Expel the Boys Operation as Kiyoshi and the crew attempt to hold off the vice-president in a bout of arm-wrestling before trying to figure out another way to escape their expulsion. Sadly, the arm-wrestling scene misses the mark and didn’t end up being particularly funny because of its reliance on providing fan-service as the vice-president sweatily arm-wrestles the boys. This sequence takes up a couple chapters and felt like it went on for longer than necessary without an interesting twist to be found here. The crux of sequence is the vice-president’s unexpected struggle against being distracted by Andre’s nipple hair, and although this is portrayed in the same over-the-top dramatic style that has served this series so well I didn’t think this was particularly interesting or funny in a dark way. In the end, this segment amount to nothing in the grand scheme of things, and it definitely felt like a missed opportunity considering how good this series has been at portraying these types of moments.
I was surprised that the beginning of this volume didn’t have the same absurdist spark that the other big moments in this series have had, and the events immediately following as the boys continue to try to escape their expulsion were similarly plodding without as much urgency as I would have liked. Gackt has a brief bout of madness that doesn’t really go anywhere as the boys have their last-meal before expulsion day, and although I liked that we got to see all the moving pieces in play from the perspective of characters such as the Chairman, the President, and Chiyo, as this dialogue all felt a little bit sluggish as I waited for the next interesting scene to arrive. That said, these slower chapters pay off in a big way in the rest of the volume thanks to the context established here in exploring all of the characters’ respective actions.
Although the first third of this volume was slower than usual, I can definitely say that all of this exposition and table-setting led to one of the most magnificent sequences this series has seen thus far. The boys make a fervent final appeal to the Chairman, who agrees to hear them out personally in a tense confrontation. The Chairman has become one of my favourite characters in the series thanks to his eccentricity, and I really like the way that Hiramoto-sensei continues to use speech-bubble to convey another aspect absurdly serious nature of this manga through the Chairman’s hilariously overused dramatic syntax. The Chairman asks the boys the fateful question - “breasts, or butt?”, and the answer that the boys provides is possibly the funniest chapter of manga I have ever read for the way that it combines complete ridiculously with an unabashedly serious portrayal. Hiramoto-sensei’s art really helped to give this scene a ton of weight as well because of the way that the art grows correspondingly more exaggerated through the use of shadows to amp up the dramatics of this scene as it reaches its hilarious climax. Overall, this set-piece perfectly encapsulates all of Prison School’s strongest aspects by taking the Chairman’s simple question to its most extreme and dramatic representation. As a final note, I laughed out loud at the cover to the chapter “It’s a Wonderful Butt” which portrayed Charles Darwin on the cover in a nod to the climactic events of this chapter.
The later half of this volume follows the boys as they attempt to outwit Hana to again delay their expulsion. This is a much stronger and more snappily paced arc compared to the first half of this volume because of the way that it relies on the surrounding context established so far in the story to base a tense confrontation between Hana and Kiyoshi. This results in another strong set-piece showing this confrontation, and I was really entertained by the way that this was portrayed as a mental battle with extreme intensity as Kiyoshi tried to outwit her. I thought the art really did a great job portraying Hana’s facial expressions from various angles to really emphasize her increasingly unhinged state, and in real Prison School fashion the situation quickly spirals out of control in most entertaining werid way possible after a calamity of errors cascades between the two.
I also enjoyed that the supporting cast such as Chiyo and Anzu get involved in the plot to keep things fresh as opposed to keeping the focus exclusively on the boys and the student council. However, we do get weighed down with more scenes focusing on the vice-president, and I’m quickly getting tired of the one-dimension pandering where she is concerned that doesn’t advance the plot with the same cleverness as the focus on other characters. That said, the confrontation between Kiyoshi and Hana is a strong segment of this volume that really kept my attention as the latest addition to Prison School’s delightful brand of deathly serious absurdity.
What Prison School Vol. 4 lacks in character development it makes up for by dialing up the absurdity of its humour in a couple “set-piece” moments which really pay off in an absolutely hilarious manner. The meeting between the boys and the chairman does what Prison School does best in taking a silly situation and escalating it to increasingly absurd proportions with a profound sense of seriousness to create a truly entertaining and memorable bit. Although the volume doesn’t always hit the mark and becomes a bit of a slog in some of its more pandery parts, the more memorable moments will definitely keep me waiting to see how this series will top itself again in the future.
Prison School Vol. 4 was published by Yen Press on July 26th, 2016 and is an omnibus version of volumes 7 and 8 of the Japanese release. Authored by Akira Hiramoto, the series began in 2011 is still ongoing in Kodansha’s Young Magazine. An anime adaption produced by J.C. Staff is ran during the summer season of 2015 for one cour.
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