We were pretty spoilt with Prison School in 2015. It began with an anime offering sumptuous, glossy visuals, and the hilarious coming of age tale of five high school boys. Then along came the announcement of a live action premiering at the end of the year. I was sceptical of the offering. How could any studio pull off that much perve? Simple answer: it’s Japan!
Yes all those awkward scenes you remember so dearly have been faithfully recreated and nothing is off limits! But is that enough to convert the live action non-believers? Well if those friends or significant others are too stubborn to watch with you, serve them a platter of pros and cons I’ve prepared for your debate.
True to the source
If you’ve read the Prison School manga, you’ll find the live action sticks close to the source, delivering those cringe-worthy, laugh out loud moments fans have come to expect. Awkward humour reaches a new level as actors live out some of the more interesting punishment scenes. It’s lucky Japan is at the reigns of the production, never flinching at raunchier material that would make an Aussie producer wince in fear of backlash.
A great deal of effort has gone into character casting and stylising set pieces to match the manga. Whilst the title sequence makes this painfully obvious with the character comparison flashes, other nods to the manga are subtler.
A great example is the prison interior. The long corridor and communal cell feel like they have jumped straight off the page, thanks to some excellent photography direction.
Fast paced and funny
Like movies based on video games, live action adaptions of manga should be approached with caution. Many attempts often fail to hit the mark, completely misinterpreting what audiences want to see. Thankfully, Prison School doesn’t mess with the formula.
Although shorter than the anime series, the live action manages to cram the major plot and some of the funnier side stories into nine episodes. The result: a series you’ll want to watch in one sitting. With each episode ending with a mild cliffhanger, I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next!
Although the majority of the cast look like their manga counterparts, there are some standout performances that capture the characters’ personalities to perfection.
The very best of these is Hana. Aoi Morikawa brings out the sweet innocence and inner psycho of the blonde karate champion. Her scenes with Kiyoshi resonate Hana’s shy curiosity whilst attempting to maintain order and exact justice. The terrifying smile she delivers after incapacitating the prisoners or whispering threats steals the show.
The Chairman, whilst a somewhat minor character, embraces his scenes of broken dialogue and not-so-secret perversions, creating some of the funniest moments in the series. Masahiro Takashima wields pauses in dialogue and expressions of horror like a pro, amplifying the awkward tension between characters. His later scenes with the prisoners are executed brilliantly, taking his ‘obsession’ to a greater level of hilarity and weirdness.
Out of the five main prisoners, Gakuto has been the most well cast. From his long-winded schemes, to moments of insanity, Tokio Emoto lives and breathes Gakuto’s spirit, demonstrating a breadth of emotions that are key to the growth of his character.
Throughout the nine episodes, I could not get past watching Meiko breakout in sweat without bursting into hysterics. I didn’t think these scenes would translate well from the manga, but I was wrong, and I am so happy for it!
Whilst the script is sharp and fast, some of the detail has been lost in translation. Witty side ventures and character development have been dropped in favour of a leaner retelling. This is a minor niggle, but the middle episodes felt slightly rushed, providing little room for character growth.
It is disappointing that Taishi Nakagawa has gone with a pantomime interpretation of Kiyoshi. Subtlety is ditched for over-the-top facial expressions to convey his reactions. I agree the situations Kiyoshi finds himself in are ridiculous, but a little less slapstick would have made the performance more believable.
Some poorly considered casting
Although some of the cast fit their role like a glove, others feel a little shoehorned. The most obvious (to me, at least) is Shingo. In the manga and anime, Shingo is a bit more of a ‘Yankee’, playing life solo and disregarding most social conventions. Unfortunately, Masato Yano presents Shingo as a bit of a wuss, pouting all over the screen like a contestant on the Bachelor, not really pulling off the ‘too cool for school’ look. Let’s hope he finds his feet in the second season!
Alright, this is going to sound trivial, but my teeth would get their grind on when Jo ‘coughed’. IT WASN’T A COUGH! Derek Zoolander can cough better than that!! It really isn’t a big deal, but everything else was done so well, it just feels a shame he couldn’t channel a bit more Bale Batman to get that raspy cough.
The Visually Offensive
Hachimitsu Academy is an elite girls school for Japan’s top performing students. You wouldn’t think so when you see the grounds and facilities. It isn’t until the final episode that you finally see a tended garden and a little bit of class shine through the bleak schoolyard. I wouldn’t be paying exorbitant fees to send my girl there. Where are the soccer fields for goodness sake!
Nothing says tacky like cheap CGI. True, it’s a lot better than Birdemic (brief pause for you to YouTube), but watching the actors swat away at rigid black shapes on screen is comical for an entirely different reason: it’s out of place. Did we even need the crows? Probably not, but now you’ve watched Birdemic so joke’s on you!
So what’s the verdict? Although I had a few complaints, Prison School stands out as one of the better live action adaptations to come out of 2015. I certainly had a good laugh and can’t wait to see what happens in season 2.
Tell us what you loved or hated about Prison School (Live- Action) in the comments below!