It's a live-action Japanese TV adaptation of Prison School! Would it be possible to watch it without wanting to stick forks in your eyes? Well, yes, as it happens, because it's by the great Noboru Iguchi, director of trash classics like Sukeban Boy, The Machine Girl, Mutant Girls Squad, Zombie Ass and more. (Caveat: some of these are overrated.) Obviously I needed to temper my expectations for a TV series, since the full Iguchi would be unbroadcastable. Nonetheless I was interested. I checked it out.
It's quite good. It's close enough to the anime that I'm not sure there's much point in watching one if you've seen the other. (Unless of course you like Prison School and fancy the idea of seeing multiple versions of it, which fortunately I did.) They're basically the same. Not only are the characters and storyline identical, but Iguchi's even reproducing things you wouldn't expect him to do in live-action. The manga's extreme lapses in taste? Yup. Complete with amusingly gross sound effects. Fantastical elements like the crows? They're here too.
I liked it. It's funny. I hope they do a second season.
Quick plot summary. Five perverted boys at a girls' school fall foul of the Underground Student Council and get sent to prison. Not real prison, mind you. The boys haven't broken the law of the land. Hachimitsu Academy has its own incarceration facilities... not to mention concentration camp imagery, traditional striped uniforms, whippings, beatings and ultra-violent female jailers with cleavage you could use to smuggle livestock.
Fun for all the family? Absolutely not. However it's very hard to stop watching if you're in the mood for something deliberately tasteless and I like it a lot. What's different in Iguchi's version?
The cast are the key factor, obviously. Get the acting right and you'll have a hit on your hands with these disturbing freaks and psychos. To my surprise, despite this being Japanese TV, everyone's actually decent and Iguchi hasn't just shoved a bunch of pop stars and bikini models in front of the camera. They're still young and not all the finished article, but I basically liked them.
The boys are more sympathetic, I think, especially Taishi Nakagawa in the lead role. They're still annoying and obnoxious in ep.1, mind you. If you were a schoolgirl in their class, you wouldn't talk to them either. However the anime was going out of its way to make them creepy and alienating, whereas here their perverted tendencies feel more human. Nakagawa's downright nice. Meanwhile Tokio Emoto is giving it everything in the show-stopper role of Gakuto, although oddly Daiki Miyagi can't cough convincingly.
The girls are all showing their limitations in one way or another, but I liked them too.
Hirona Yamazaki gave me the impression of being a warm, charming girl with a lovely smile, which is unfortunate since the character she's playing is a terrifying grim-faced witch. She's doing her best, though, and she does occasionally look sinister when her crows are massing.
Asana Mamoru was my favourite of the girls. She's successfully embodying a character who's practically a Nazi kommandant. She captures Meiko's brutality, honour and oddly pathetic devotion to duty. Despite being the human equivalent of a jackboot grinding into your face, in the end she's paradoxically likeable. Admittedly she doesn't have breasts the size of Volkswagens, but that's something you don't even want to see attempted in live-action, just as this Andre was never going to have a face a hundredth the size of his head.
Iguchi probably could have given Meiko the boobs she has in the manga. He's done sillier in his movies. You could fake them with CGI or prosthetics. However he's settled for casting an actress with breasts that are merely large (not freakish), giving her an appropriately inappropriate costume and then pointing the camera at her boobs a lot. That's the important thing with Meiko.
Mind you, her sweat looks silly. It looks as if she's spilling her drink.
Rena Takeda is ridiculously cute as Chiyo. She's adorable. She fails at her shock moment in ep.3, but she's doing everything else that's required and in general she's so lovely that I can forgive a few shortcomings of dramatic range. (Not to be confused with Rina Takeda, a karate black belt who's played the lead role in some fairly silly movies, some by Iguchi.)
Finally there's Aoi Morikawa, who's poor in the early episodes when portraying Hana's smiley, chirpy side. Stick with it, though. You'll soon see why they cast her. I didn't buy her as Cute Hana, but I thought she was brilliant as Terrifyingly Insane Hana, who's both a victim of appalling events and an increasingly deranged perpetrator of them. (The actress clearly doesn't know karate, mind you.)
Oh, and I should probably mention Masahiro Takashima as the school chairman. He's finding a good level to play a very silly role, although disappointingly Iguchi often fails to give him a melodramatic close-up at the end of his... SENTENCES. The anime did this... BETTER. Maybe that would have been too time-consuming on a TV shooting schedule?
What else is different, apart from the actors?
It's a bit shorter. These nine episodes tell the same story as the anime's twelve. That's not necessarily a bad thing and I know someone who'd have liked the anime to go a bit faster, but there were points where I preferred the anime's more in-depth treatment of a story point. Meiko's grasshopper-cooking, Andre's masochism and pretty much anyone's date with anyone else are all stronger in the longer version, I think. That said, though, the live-action show does a solid job of telling all the story and I only thought it occasionally felt abbreviated because I was already familiar with the material.
The nudity's TV-friendly, i.e. you don't see anything. However the anime's no different, unless you buy the DVDs. (The anime's ep.1 in particular is a nipple-fest on DVD.) For all I know
the live-action series will do something similar, since its post-episode advertising spots have promised that the DVDs will include scenes that weren't broadcast.
I found myself poking different holes in their logic, though. In the anime, I was occasionally wondering why the boys didn't quit this school. Here, I was reflecting on the bizarre inequalities of a regulatory system where going on a date will get the boy thrown in prison, but the girl doesn't even get a talking-to.
The anime is perhaps more extreme in its characterisation, e.g. the more dysfunctionally broken boys and their masochism, bitterness, backstabbing, etc. However conversely that makes their live-action equivalents more likeable. I enjoyed both versions. They're basically the same and I think Iguchi's worked wonders in making a live-action version of a manga you'd think was massively resistant to live-action adaptation. Neither version is significantly inferior to the other. That doesn't often happen. They're all funniest when hitting their grossest nadir of tastelessness, e.g. the class poo. There are places where the live-action version can't be quite as extreme, e.g. a schoolboy attack with what should have been a knife, but it's still solid.
Iguchi did well. I really must watch The Ancient Dogoo Girl...