This week, I take a look at two new releases: Prison School, a hotly anticipated series about five boys trying to break out of an all-girls’ school, and Twin Star Exorcists, a shonen manga about two teenage onmyoji who hold the fate of the world in their hands. (Let’s hope they do their best–otherwise, we’re toast!)
Prison School, Vol. 1
By Akira Hiramoto
Rated M, for mature readers (18+)
Yen Press, $20.00
Paging Russ Meyer! Prison School is a veritable parade of big-bosomed, wasp-waisted women brandishing whips, kicking ass, and eschewing bras. The target of their scorn: Kiyoshi, Kingo, Gackt, Joe, and Andre, the first five men to enroll at the Hachimitsu Private Academy in its fifty-year history. These hapless souls want nothing more than to “catch glances of breasts and panties,” but their efforts to spy on their classmates incur the wrath of the school’s Shadow Student Council, a secret organization whose primary role is to “crack down on illicit sexual relationships.” After a dramatic show trial in the school’s courtyard, Kiyoshi and friends are sentenced to hard time in the school penitentiary.
I’d be the first to admit that the premise has potential: what woman or girl hasn’t fantasized about coolly administering a karate chop to a lecherous jerk on the subway or in the street? What prevents Prison School from rising above grindhouse fare is Akira Hiramoto’s complete dehumanization of his characters. The Student Council members are portrayed as ball-busting man-haters, intent on humiliating the boys for their sexual proclivities, while the prisoners are depicted as sniveling pervs. The only genuinely sympathetic pair are Kiyoshi and Chiyo, a cute girl who shares Kiyoshi’s passion for sumo wrestling. Kiyoshi’s desire to have a normal relationship with Chiyo provides the story’s few emotionally authentic moments; by contrast, most scenes revel in the lurid, psychosexual relationship between the boys and their jailers.
Though all of the characters are objectified, no one fares as poorly as Meiko Shiraki, the Shadow Council’s Vice President. Hiramoto always draws her from an extreme angle–upskirt is one of his favorites–that emphasizes her monstrously distended breasts and reveals her penchant for wearing thongs. Perhaps a fifteen-year-old boy would find her terrifyingly sexy, but an older reader who’s seen actual breasts would have a hard time viewing Meiko as anything but a fetishist fantasy.
All of which is to say: Prison School could have been a sly riff on Escape from Alcatraz, The Great Escape, or even Caged, but Hiramoto’s strenuously raunchy scenarios overwhelm the other elements of the story, stopping it dead in its tracks.
The verdict: Prison School is an all-or-nothing proposition: you’ll either love it or hate it.
Twin Star Exorcists, Vol. 1
By Yoshiaki Sukeno
Rated T, for teens
VIZ Media, $9.99
Twin Star Exorcists is a love story dressed up as an action-packed supernatural adventure. At the beginning of volume one, the principal characters have a meet-cute that establishes their personalities in broad strokes: Rokuro is gifted but reluctant to use his exorcism skills, while Benio is gifted but trigger happy, nuking monsters at the slightest provocation. Making their Darcy-and-Elizabeth dynamic more complicated is that Rokuro and Benio are destined to marry and have a child who will save the world from the Kegare, a demonic race that lives in a parallel universe. (Rokuro and Benio are also fourteen, a point underscored by their endless bickering.)
Although the fight scenes are competently executed, the beats are so familiar that the combat feels superfluous. And therein lies Twin Star Exorcists‘ biggest problem: it’s boring. The plot lines, characters, and demon lore are so familiar that the story lacks a distinctive personality; even the setting is cliche. (Rokuro and Benio attend an exclusive academy for onmyoji in training.) Just two days after finishing the volume I couldn’t remember the principal characters’ names–a sure sign that the author treated each element of the story as something to be checked off a list, rather than an integral part of the narrative.
The verdict: Zzzzzz…..
Reviews: GC4K contributor Mike Pawuk praises Svetlana Chmakova’s Awkward, just out from Yen Press. Over at Heart of Manga, Laura posts brief reviews of He’s My Only Vampire, The Ancient Magus’ Bride, and Let’s Dance a Waltz. Joe McCulloch dedicates his latest TCJ column to CoroCoro magazine.
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