A prison love story that's not for the light at heart.
Writer/Artist: Mika Sadahiro
Translation: Melanie Schoen
Adaptation: Melanie Schoen
What They Say
After killing the husband of his lover, Sen is sent to a prison nicknamed the "Under Grand Hotel", which houses some of the most violent and corrupt offenders. Good-looking and rather soft for prison, Sen is forced to seek protection from Swordfish, the proclaimed leader of the prison. But when their relationship turns from one of convenience to one that may be more involved, can they protect each other in a place where the law has no bearing? Mika Sadahiro's (Pathos) controversial and fan-favorite title is finally available for the first time in print in English!
Correct me if I'm wrong, but this may be the only boy's love story that takes place in a prison. If it isn't, then it certainly is going to be the most memorable one. Our main character, Sen, is sent to a prison called the "Underground Hotel" after killing the husband of his lover -- though it turns out that the woman not only shot her husband first, but that her husband was about to rape Sen after finding out about the affair. Wow.
This prison is like the prison in the movies that isn't like the ordinary prisons, the one where the real troublemakers go -- Arkham Asylum, if you will. This prison is literally underground and completely isolated from society, but the name "Under Grand" comes from the prisoners who have become accustomed to the place and have treated it like a paradise of sorts. The one in charge of all of these prisoners is the warden... hahaha, just kidding, we all know that the police have no say in anything that goes on here. The one in charge is a man named Sword, who might be one of the only African American characters in a boy's love story -- again, correct me if I'm wrong. Sen isn't intimidated by him at all, despite warnings from his cellmate, Rain, and Rain decides to distract Sen from his upcoming fight against Sword by... drugging him with anti-depressants... and... raping him... w-with a... mop... and putting his body in a dryer...
This is all in the first couple of pages of the manga, by the way.
So it turns out that Rain is completely psychotic and was sent to prison for kidnapping and eating children.
I'm not sure how many times I can react to things with a simple "wow," but... well... wow.
Sword saves Sen from the lunatic and thus starts the beginning of their dysfunctional -- but somehow loving -- relationship. Sen doesn't really want to do anything with Sword, but there's something about him -- perhaps the fact that he isn't a crazy man who eats children and rapes people with mops? But its when Sword leaves to have visitation with his wife -- yes, he's married! -- that Sen realizes how much being around Sword has been beneficial. He's cornered by some of the prisoners and raped -- again -- and when Sword returns he decides to become his in order to protect himself. Then we find out that Sword arranged for the prisoners to attack Sen, just so Sen would agree to become his. Sword is a great guy, isn't he? But the two do share some nice moments together! They play board games, talk about their lives outside, have wild amounts of sex while other inmates listen and masturbate to the sound of their voices... it's a loving relationship, I tell you! As loving as a relationship in prison can be, at least.
There are rifts in their relationship at times, which is to be expected, and the way they handle their problems is kind of... twisted. For example, there's a part where they notice a rather large, scary looking guy watching them have sex. So what does Sen do? He angers Sword enough to make him break things off, gets transferred into the scary guy's room, and when the scary guy tries to rape him he stabs him in the eye. In another scene, Sword breaks things off with Sen to protect him from a new inmate who was in a rival gang back when Sword was on the outside. So what does Sen do? He comes onto the man, telling him that he likes getting beat up during sex, and when the guy punches him he screams for the guards to take the man away. Looking back, its mostly Sen doing the stupid things in the relationship, but in a way he needs to show Sword that he can handle himself and that he can protect Sword, too. He also needs to prove to himself that he isn't just "the queen to Under Grand Hotel's king." He plays the part, yes, but he can also stab you in the eye if you think you can take advantage of him.
Speaking of Sword, he's not to be messed with. Ever. He's a really cool character who is a huge bastard, but if you're going to be the "shot caller" in a place like this then you need to be a bastard. There's a scene where one of Sword's friends sets Sen up so some of the inmates can "have some fun" with him, and when Sword finds out he purposely gets himself thrown into solitary containment to get close to the inmates. Their reactions explain perfectly what kind of person Sword is as they scream for the warden to not let Sword anywhere near them. Later, the warden finds that the inmates have hung themselves, and even if the warden is sure that Sword himself killed them he can't prove it since Sword was locked up the entire time. Sen is angry, because he wants to handle his own problems, but when Sword gives him a chance to kill one of the men Sen isn't able to do it. This leads to Sword slitting the man's throat in a declaration of love for Sen, and then the two of them proceed to have sex in front of the dead body. Disturbing.
Eventually -- since we learned a bit of Sen's back story -- we learn about Sword's too. We already knew he was married, but we also find out that he has a child. Sadly, in the same moment we see the adorable picture of the baby boy, we find out that there's no way that the boy can be his. He was already in prison when his wife got pregnant, so the one good thing he holds onto isn't his. This leads to him overdosing on drugs, and this is the moment where Sen realizes his feelings for Sword. At this point in the manga Sen has formed a bond with another inmate, Norman, who actually cares for him and wants to take him away from Sword. But Sen realizes that he needs Sword in his life, and despite Norman being a great guy and me usually wanting the good guy to win, Sen just fits with Sword, and at this point they belong together.
There are two side stories at the end of the volume, the first one taking place at some point after Sword and Sen first sleep together. In it, they both realize that they are playing a dangerous game with each other, and thanks to the priest who visits the prison they both realize that they need to end the game and admit their feelings. The second story has nothing to do with the main story, but in it Sword and Sen manage to escape the prison for a day, going to a club and actually spending the night with women. But Sword decides that he'd rather be with Sen, and when he realizes that after the evening the two would be going their separate ways he calls the prison and says that the both of them are ready to go back. It's strangely sweet, in a way, because by going back to the prison the two of them can be together, whereas on the outside they would go their separate ways.
Sometimes I'm not quite sure how to start a review without sounding like a total spaz. This is one of those times. This story is... it's just... it... the plot and the sex and the characters and just... it all... time to steal that wonderful phrase I was using before: wow. Just... wow. There aren't too many yaoi stories that shock me -- the last one being "Pleasure Dome" and the surprise!bestiality -- but the scenes in this one just left me staring at the pages. But whereas "Pleasure Dome" felt shocking for the sake of being shocking (I don't remember the stories too much), the things that happen in this manga just... work. And I flew threw it, too. It's about 360 pages and I didn't even notice. Despite the brutal imagery this is a very good story.
The reason why I enjoy this story so much is because of how shocking it is. A boy's love story that takes place in a prison? At first I thought, "isn't that a little bit too obvious?" Then I wondered, "is this going to be some happy love story about boys in prison discovering love or whatnot?" There is love, yes, but it takes a while to get there. Sword and Sen have an extremely rocky start, and Sen is raped more then a girl in a hentai anime. But... it's prison, so you expect it to be brutal. I'm just surprised at how brutal it is since boy's love can be a little... unrealistic. Not that I believe that all boys in prison are raped with a mop (did I really just type that?), but this story isn't pretty. Sen is the new guy, therefore, he goes through a lot of crap. But what makes Sen awesome is the fact that he always finds some way to fight back. Gang-raped and forced to take some gross guy into his mouth? He spits the cum onto the guy's shoe and smirks. Forced to have sex with a scary guy twice his size? He stabs him in the eye with a cross. Sen isn't the crying uke, despite always being the victim. He puts up a fight, and he somehow manages to smirk and stick his middle finger up in the air.
And here is something I never thought I would say: I like the rape in the manga. The reason why? Because it's rape! It's not the, "oh god he's raping me but why does it feel good," rape. It's actual rape. It's a group of people overpowering a victim and the victim NOT enjoying it at all. He doesn't have some boy's love/hentai epiphany where he starts to enjoy giving the gross men abusing him blow jobs and he actually tries to fight back each and every time. And no, he usually isn't successful, but at least he tries! Rape is seen as a horrible action that Sen needs to be rescued from -- or something that he needs to fight against, much to the dismay of the guy who lost an eye for it.
There's also this concept that Sword and Sen have that I find quite interesting. They say that they aren't gay. But you'd think that sleeping with men makes them gay. But on the outside world, both were actually with women. In fact, Sword is married! So why the constant sleeping with men? Well... it's prison, and as Sword says, "Do you never want to have sex again?" Though eventually, the two do end up falling in love with each other, but by the time they do you're rooting for them. You're rooting for them so much that you actually don't want Sen to end up with Norman, the nice guy who comes out and says that he cares for him. Yes, Sword is a jackass, but Sword and Sen just fit together. That certainly doesn't mean that they live happily ever after. It's still prison, and they both have some serious problems to deal with. Though if volume one had all of this in it, I can't imagine what's going to happen in volume two.