Story and art by Kazuichi Hanawa 

Originally serialised in AX (1999)

Length: 1 Volume (12 chapters)

In early December 1994, manga artist Kazuichi Hanawa was arrested by Hokkaido police for violating the law on firearms, having been caught in the woods trying out his modified guns collection. To the surprise of his lawyers, who believed he would receive leniency, Hanawa was sentenced to three years in prison for his offence, and this incarceration is the basis for his aptly named “Doing Time”.

What I liked most about this piece was how it flowed almost rhythmically, constructing Hanawa’s new lifestyle in a cyclical pattern. Each chapter focuses on one aspect of prison dwelling, whether it’s meals, work or other domestic duties. Hanawa allows the reader to grasp the mentality of a prisoner, and it was interesting how important mundanities become to a person when many of their freedoms have been repealed. In fact, they often become points of obsession. Most of the day (and piece) is spent wondering what the next meal will be – nothing else was described as comprehensively – but the memoir was still a palatable experience as opposed to something that drained interest. There never seemed to be a dull moment, and the author often notes that time flies by.

At first, because of how on the nose most descriptions were, I thought there really wasn’t too much to expand on; it’s a memoir about living life in a Japanese prison. After more time with it, I realised that the writing wasn’t properly assimilated into the piece; you can often tell when a mangaka is a weaker writer than artist, because the dialogue is often awkward, and tries to sit between blunt narration and profound descriptions. In the average manga, a chapter usually opens with some words of wisdom introducing the main themes of the section, framing the issue in a way that makes the reader think about said theme before being exposed to the content. Hanawa does this, but often says too much at the start, with little more needing to be said throughout the chapter. Sometimes this allowed him to show and not tell, but other times it resulted in a piece devoid of atmosphere, and teetered on boring. He still able to create good imagery, for example in one passage he described a jam so sweet that fairies are born from it, though this is almost entirely reliant on the art, which was often uncomfortably abstract. The faces were round and cartoonish, producing flexibility within scenes, and allowing for the author to use bizarre facial expressions as a source of comedy (e.g. a character saying “keep it zipped” and their face turning into a zip). But what Hanawa does so well is physicalising mental states. As our protagonist suffers from nicotine withdrawal, there are flashes where his face begins melting, and watching grown men swoon like school-girls over curry was arguably just as disturbing.   

For a westerner reading “Doing Time”, it was quite shocking to see the prison that our protagonist inhabits. For one, he shares a large room with four other prisoners, where they enjoy nice food and watch television. While some of the protocol is strict, in general it would seem like an experience more pleasant than what the general public would expect. The hot, frequent meals are so good that our protagonist discusses in one chapter how he had gained so much weight he had begun resembling a pig. It brought up interesting points about the morality of our contemporary prison system, and whether or not it should seek to rehabilitate of punish. For if retracting one’s freedom is the punishment, with the ultimate goal being to assist prisoners in assimilating into society after their sentence, than why subject them to any other cruel or unusual punishment? There were multiple instances where prisoners didn’t want to leave, as they had less opportunities outside than in prison, which makes you wonder if that issue shouldn’t be addressed in order to actually prevent crime.

It was uncomfortable watching the protagonist joke around with murderers about their crime, and I wasn’t sure if the purpose of it was to humanise jailbirds or show the necessity to strike alliances with certain characters. Though, I wouldn’t say it creates empathy, as Hanawa provides no instances of repentance, and constantly rests on this description of prisoners being “pigs oblivious of the outside world”.

“Doing Time” was an interesting piece, though not the most compelling. I never had to force myself through it, but any longer and I would have wondered what else Hanawa could provide on the prison experience. What he did provide, however, was a succinct summary of a lifestyle that fills most global citizens with dread and horror. It humanised an entire system, though sometimes for the wrong reasons. 

Art – 8

Story – 6

Writing – 6

Overall – 7

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