The location: The Underground Hotel, a federal prison located 30 meters below ground in Long Island, USA. The more dangerous criminals are on the lowest level, level 3, where the sun will never reach them.
The prisoner: Sen Owari, Japanese university exchange student. Newly arrived, a mere two hours ago.
His Crime: Convicted of murder, he is sentenced to life to be served at the Underground Hotel. His story doesn't end here, however. It has only begun.
Mika Sadahiro is well known for her gritty, explicit storylines that explore the inner depravities and desires of humankind. This volume is no different. Sen is a somewhat enigmatic character. He is in for murder, but but did he actually deal the final shot that killed the man, or was he shooting an already dead man? He doesn't know, nor do we, but what we do know is that Sen seems to have given up on life, knowing he will never again see the sun, or be able to go home to Japan. It is probably this sense of depression that leads to his careless behaviour.
He knows he is on level 3, but takes his cell mate at face value, which proves to be a nearly lethal mistake as his cell mate's kindly exterior masks the murderous depravity of a sexual psychopath with a penchant for young males. He is drugged, gagged, raped with a broom handle, then left to die in a washing machine marked as out of order. Inexplicably rescued by the prison's "boss", a drug dealer nicknamed Sword Fish , he quickly finds that in prison, no favour goes unpaid. And in a world without women, someone is always going to be have to be someone's bitch. And in this place, there are two kinds of people to submit to. The homosexuals, who are looked down on by everyone else, and the straight men who choose their also straight partners with great care and don't share, using them only for release In place of a woman, and confident that as long as they don't share and choose wisely, they won't catch a disease, nor end up with a clingy wannabe boyfriend.
Sword Fish is the straight type. He lives for the pleasure, being a young man with a VERY healthy libido. Sen can submit willingly, or unwillingly. Submit willingly, and he gains the protection of this young boss. And with the politicking and illegal trades running rife in the prison, complete with guard corruption and those with an axe to grind, it might be a case of life and death. So is he ready to give up, and get killed before he can suss out what is really going on around him, where nothing is quite as it seems? Or will he accept protection, and pay Sword Fish the price he asks, or be strong enough to set his own terms? This prison may be referred to as a hotel, but make no mistake, it is hell and the only grand thing about it is its nickname.
With raw graphic imagery that would not be remiss in TV prison dramas of the OZ ilk, we get a story about two men, forging a wary friendship while faced with betrayals from inside and outside prison, scheming inmates, corrupt officials and more. A friendship that seems inexplicably deep in a way that neither is keen to initially admit to himself, much less to the other. The language is raw, reflecting the harsh realities these men spring from, filled with testosterone fuelled animosity and bravado. Forget your sylphlike delicate creatures that typically proliferate within the pages of other titles within the genre, these are realistic portrayals of the male human animal: ripped, toned, stocky, lean, white, black, Asian, the flavours are as wide and varied here as the crimes these men committed.
Due to the levels of violence, sexual content, and language, Digital Manga chose to print this under their 801 Media imprint. I first encountered this story before it was licensed, and so have seen the unedited Japanese originals. 801 Media pulled no punches here, this is the cult fan favourite in all its raw brutal, uncensored glory in a 360 page volume. You will need to have an open mind and a strong stomach to read this, make no mistake. Available from manga specialists outlets, including Amazon and Akadot Retail, as a pre-order, with a street date of July 20th.
***I would like to thank Digital Manga Publishing for providing this review copy.****