Prison settings in entertainment are certainly a tricky path to walk down. With every super-serious prison drama like Oz, you have a surrealist comedy in Superjail!. The super-serious side is always the expected narrative, but trying to make a prison setting comedic seems to be a bit more difficult, without going to the low-hanging fruit that is “don’t drop the soap” – looking at you, Boondocks. And the same can be said for prison-themed anime, as well; a while back, Prison School came out and tried to blur the lines of hyper-seriousness with Porky’s-style comedy – mostly with gratuitous nudity – and it ended up okay, for the most part, but we’ll talk more about Prison School another time. In the case of Nanbaka, they’ve taken the prison setting and injected it with a good helping of fujoshi appeal with its character design and some sitcom-esque hijinks to give it a more lighthearted fare. Its first episode laid out the groundwork for the series, but will it continue on in the second episode? Let’s find out.
Workplace romance never works out, but that’s not stopping the Warden from going a bit gaga over Hajime at the start of this week’s episode. Time now, though for a day in the life of our favorite inmates; down at the mess hall, Rock and Jyugo are enjoying only the finest in prison cuisine, giving compliments to the chef, a large and silent man named Shiro. In return, Shiro gives them a giant cake. Compliments pay dividends, folks. Moments later, see the guys playing around with a Rubik’s Cube, with which Jyugo is a bit skilled at, lining everything up in mere seconds. Pfft. Show-off. Soon enough, though, it’s time for work, with the inmates of Building 13 assigned to do some woodwork, building dressers, chairs, bureaus, et cetera. Give them some IKEA products to build, I say, that’ll keep them all very busy. Our inmates use this time to hone their craft in woodworking, by building a Gundam model, a Misty May model, and a dresser with drawers that fly out at the touch of a button. Needless to say, Hajime wasn’t too happy. A bit later on, after an overly-long security sequence, Hajime arrives at the Warden’s office, where a few of the other supervisors are hanging out outside. It’s… an interesting batch of folks, I have to say. Once inside, Hajime presents the Warden with files on our four inmates, but she’s having a hard time keeping her composure with the smallest of contact. I guarantee you “Everytime We Touch” is playing in her head. Anyway, Hajime starts going over the information about the inmates, so it’s exposition time!
Nico: American nationality, first arrested for buying drugs off the street, then discovered to have multiple food allergies; escaped medical reform school because he didn’t care for needles and meds. How juvenile. And he’s got himself some super strength, beneath that cute demeanor of his. So how does he stay well and alive? Nanba Prison gives him prison candy – no, not like in Deadman Wonderland. Rock: also American, first sent to juvie for starting a riot, then escaped because he didn’t like the food. Not so much here in Nanba, since he likes the food so much. Uno: British nationality, first sent to juvie for illegal gambling, but broke out because he had a date. Yes, really. And lastly, Jyugo: Japanese nationality, sent to juvie with larceny charges, but escaped on the day of incarceration. And escaping prisons is just his hobby. It looks as though everything’s in the clear, but Hajime still has his doubts over Jyugo. And in an oddly comforting moment, all four inmates mull over their situation and say that it’s pretty comfortable in this place. But in the closing stinger, it looks as though they’re about to get a new cellmate in Nanba Prison’s newest convicted murderer…
Hijinks and backstory, that sums up this week’s episode. Like I said at the start, finding a middle-ground for a narrative set in a prison that focuses on light-hearted comedic fare is a bit difficult, but Nanbaka is still finding its groove, through its second episode, and I’m liking how they’re blending the comedy aspect with the more serious backstories at the end. The backgrounds for our leads have been a bit more fleshed out, but the mystery surrounding Jyugo’s past is still enough of a hook to keep people tuning in, I’d say. I got a couple good laughs out of the bait-and-switch with the Warden being all lovestruck over Hajime, but it’s something I’d want them to see go all the way with, instead of use it to string along some comedy relief. Interestingly enough, the Warden’s number 1 assistant, known just as Monkey – yes, really – had quite the imagination over the inmates’ pasts, going so far as to imagine Nico going Super Saiyan, although I’m not so keen over him being the violent bodyguard-equivalent for the Warden. With a show as bright and colorful as this, it means there are a lot of visual gags, and too many for me to put in this column, so if you would like to see more screencaps of this week’s episode, you can find them here, and I’ll be supplying more screencaps throughout the season through Imgur.
Nanbaka is available on Crunchyroll as a weekly simulcast, Tuesdays at 3:30pm EDT. An English simulcast dub will be available from Funimation later this fall.