Seriously, two volumes? That's it?
Writer/Artist: Mika Sadahiro
What They Say
Sen seems to have found a new ally in Travis Muto, the half-Japanese warden of the top-security prison known to its inmates as "Under Grand Hotel"... but the sadistic Muto is much more interested in torturing Sen and his lover, the shot-caller Sword Fish, for his own selfish pleasure.
Meanwhile, Sword Fish struggles to accept his life behind bars and his growing love for Sen. In the end, will these two prisoners live to feel the warmth of the sun once more... or will they perish in the depths of UGH?
The next volume doesn't waste any time with back stabbing, rape, and... love? Sen is still working as a secretary in Warden Muto's office which, of course, leads to some jealousy on Sword's part. After being accused of masturbating onto a photo of Warden Muto's mother, Sen is thrown into solitary confinement and raped by a masked police officer. Sen immediately believes that Sword sent the man after him, but when he confronts him about it Sword is completely clueless. In return, Sen kisses Norman in front of Sword, a sign of not wanting to be with him anymore. To punish Sword more, Muto decides to help Sen make the man even more jealous by publicly apologizing for locking Sen up and saying 'Aishiteru' -- I love you -- a phrase that Sword might not understand but can easily figure out the meaning. This drives the two further apart and Sword ends up sleeping with Norman -- because it turns out that Norman was in love with Sword, not Sen -- while Sen ends up sleeping with the warden -- who, unknown to Sen, is the masked man.
Sen not being with Sword proves to make his life at UGH difficult, but Sword still finds ways to protect him by making sure the guards are around to get Sen out of sticky situations. While that's going on Sen reveals to Muto that the man he 'killed' had already been dead when he shot him, proving that the man's wife killed him, not Sen. Muto tells Sword this, letting him know that if this information surfaces Sen would be set free, therefore, Sword wouldn't be able to touch him. In response, Sword decides to... kill Sen because he doesn't want anyone else to touch him. Um... yeah, that's a wonderful idea? During the warden's speech the next day the lights are cut off, but at the last minute Sword realizes that he can't kill the person he loves. He protects Sen from other oncoming attacks, but the two are put into solitary confinement for the riot caused. This leads to an interestingly hot scene of the two of them masturbating while leaning back against the wall, imagining one another. Well now... that break-up didn't last long at all.
The next part starts in the point-of-view of a new prisoner who's getting use to all of the noise Sword and Sen make -- oddly enough, this guy is important later. Things seem to be back to normal, much to the dismay of Norman who is left alone once again, but this starts an interesting relationship with his cellmate, Walter. Their relationship continues to grow after Norman is injured while doing the laundry, but Walter is actually married and devoted to his wife so no sexing happens between them... yet. While that's going on Sword and Sen's relationship continues to grow, but Sword starts to realize that if he really loved Sen he wouldn't let him stay at UGH since he's innocent of his crime. As Sword's parole application is denied he knows that Sen could leave at any moment, simply saying, 'I didn't kill him,' and getting a re-trial. But Sen vows not to ever do that since he wants to stay with Sword. Sword's dream is for the both of them to leave together, kissing under the same sky, which starts the plan that leads to the climax of the story -- escaping UGH.
Of course, things can't be that simple. Warden Muto steps in and confronts Sword, and this is where we realize that the two have been business partners. Sword has been distributing the drugs for the warden, but Muto starts to get concerned that Sword will turn on him since drug use in UGH has gone down. Sword and Sen begin to make plans for escaping, but when Walter overhears them he tells Norman as a sign of his friendship to him, knowing of Norman's feelings towards Sword. Sword is thrown into solitary confinement and Muto proceeds to... rape him with a police baton. Wow, I was wondering when I would get my shocking UGH image.
Later, Sen gets his first visitor: Cecil Barnes' attorney, the woman he had an affair with. He finds out that she committed suicide and she leaves a note behind that tells the truth: she killed her husband, not Sen. She also left a video tape with the letter, showing that she was the one who shot her husband that day and that Sen's shots did not kill him. Sword decides to make Sen want to leave since all of the pieces are lined up for him but he doesn't seem to want to take it. He creates a letter from Sen's parents and he also convinces Muto to return as the masked man who raped Sen in the middle of the night. Eventually, Sen is released from UGH to go to his re-trial, but he returns to visit Sword one more time. After spending a moment with him Sen ends up back in UGH, purposely returning to be with Sword. It doesn't go as planned because Sen is being transferred away. As Sen and Sword say goodbye Sword decides that he can't be without Sen, period, and he stabs him. The police fire on Sword, killing him, and both him and Sen die in each other's arms.
And this is where things get turned upside down.
Earlier in the story Walter disappeared, but it turns out that he actually works for the FBI. Him and his men rush into the prison, taking Sword and Sen's bodies out and busting Muto for his underhanded ways in the prison. He goes back to visit Norman, telling him the truth -- and the 'married' thing was a cover, too -- and he returns Sword's cross to Norman. We then see Sword and Sen living on a beach, spending their days 'under the sun.' But the question is -- are they alive? Or are they dead? Walter says that they are 'fishing up in heaven,' saying that they are dead. But it's possible that Walter helped them leave since he got evidence against Muto thanks to Sword, and we do see the two of them talking before Walter disappeared from the prison. It's up to the reader to decide.
At the end of the manga Walter and Norman actually get married. We also learn that the new kid who entered the prison in the middle of the story is the new 'shot caller' now that Sword is gone.
Talk about fast paced! The boy's love prison drama is over in only two volumes?! Have you ever read something that you were really excited about? You can't wait to get to the next volume of the book, and when you get it you stop everything you're doing just to read what happens next? And you're happy, because so much is happening in the book, but as you read you realize that maybe a little too much is happening. It's a lot of plot to process and when you get to the end you think, 'Wow... this could have been about three or four volumes.' That explains this volume of Under Grand Hotel.
This next -- and last, I guess -- volume isn't a bad entry into the story. The story is still good, I still like the characters, and I still got those plot twists that made the story as a whole interesting. But... two volumes? It manages to not feel rushed but feel rushed at the same time. On the one hand, I wouldn't add anything else to this story, but on the other hand... this definitely should have been a few more volumes just so I could have a chance to breathe and really process everything that had happened. I never thought I would say this about a good boy's love manga that I had been waiting to get the conclusion of, but this story ended too fast. It definitely should've been paced better. It felt like watching a series that has a lot of controversial messages in it, therefore, in the first season they throw absolutely EVERYTHING at you. Except, in the case of UGH, it's the final season that throws everything at you. Sen is innocent. Sword is working with Muto. Walter is a cop. Sword and Sen try to escape. Norman is stabbed. Walter and Norman are falling for each other. Muto is an ass. Why so many things to focus on, why not spread it out? We already made it through the first volume with all of the language, the rape, the graphic sex, so why rush things now? Take your time! Please! I would've much preferred this being three, maybe even four volumes.
Despite all of this I still do love this series. It's harsh. It's graphic. It's a prison love story and it remembers that its prison and things aren't pretty. Sword and Sen found something with each other and clung to it despite all of the crap they went through. I really like that, in the end, we're not sure if Sword and Sen made it. Was it all a huge plan that went as far back as Sen getting out for the re-trial? Was Walter a part of it since him and Sword worked together to take Muto down? Or was the thought of losing Sen so severe to Sword that he killed him and got himself killed in the process. At the same time, no matter if they're alive or dead, they did get the escape that they wanted. I also really liked Walter -- who I didn't expect to be a cop. As I read I wondered if Muto would get away with his crimes so its nice to see that he did not. It's a boy's love story, but it's one that takes place in a prison with crime all around it. It's nice that the author didn't forget that and had police show up to take down the bad guy. I also liked that Norman got someone to really love him because he deserved a good ending, too. It's nice that the side characters weren't forgotten even after the main characters got their ending.
In the end I do think that UGH is worth the read, but you have to be in the mood for some of the most graphic sex ever seen in a boy's love manga in the U.S. The story itself is original and interesting, but it can be hard to take with the massive amount of rape, the occasional racial slurs -- the 'N' word is used once or twice -- and the brutal actions of the characters. This volume is a lot to take in in one sitting, I actually put it down and took a break before reading again. And then... it's over, and I'm left wondering... how the hell do you finish a story with so much going on in two volumes? The story itself is still good though, I just would've liked it to be divided out better. There's this trend with boy's love now where volumes are combined into one big 300 to 400 page book. I'm not sure if that's the case for UGH but if it is then it's a prime example as to why some stories just shouldn't be mashed together.