Beauty in the Eyes of a Prison: Kazuichi Hanawa's Doing Time / by Sam Kusek

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Doing Time is the tale of author Kazuichi Hanawa’s time in prison. Arrested on the charges of owning illegal firearms, Hanawa spends his days, not in the hyper violent, gang ridden battle ground that we’ve come accustomed to in movies and television shows, but in an incomparably meticulous and detail driven world. I think what is most amazing about this book and is a key fact to point out from the start, is that Hanawa was not allowed to document any of his experience while in the actual penitentiary. With no access to pens, pencils, paper or even a drafting table, this entire account is completely from memory. This monumental fact is really the driving force behind the work; showcasing exactly how powerful our senses can be and ultimately, the experiences and meaning that we walk away with, depending on what we choose to focus on.

For example, throughout the book, there are two key senses that Hanawa focuses/obsesses over during his stay. The first sense is undoubtedly sight. Hanawa and his other inmates obsess over the rules of the establishment with regards to dress, the appearance of their cells, all the way down to the way you run when going to the bathroom. Appearance and presentation are so key because they drive home an idea of these inmates needing to be retaught how to play the correct role in society. Secondly, taste holds a large focus in this book. The food that is consumed, on a day-to-day basis, the inevitable evolutions of flavor combinations, due to boredom of routine and dissection of specific ingredients, all drive the point home that this is a very well detailed and meticulously prepared book.

Overall, this book really does, in the most straightforward way, make you appreciate the small things in your life. The men imprisoned dream of candy bars and cans of cola, with only annual access to them for very special occasions, while we are able to step out of our homes or offices and simply purchase said tasty treat. It almost never crosses ones mind, how limiting prison can be by simply cutting someone off from every day pleasures. This is further emphasized by the artwork. Hanawa is able to drive home the idea of a very isolated existence by structuring the pages in tight, quickly paced panels. This observation should not denote the detail that is included in Hanawa’s artistic mastery though. The book is drawn in a more realistic style than most manga, with regards to characters body types and facial features, which is refreshing to see. Each panel on a page provides the reader with a concise piece of the puzzle.

In conclusion, this is a rare and unique representation of both manga as a whole and the genre of prison comics. From the manga perspective, this is rarer instance of the idea and life of the genre outside of the wide-eyed, action filled comics most Americans are used to seeing, as its solely based in reality. I would argue that this work derives from the Gekiga style, utilizing the type of story telling that is not exactly narrative but more thematic in its presentation. As for prison comics, as I noted in my introduction, a number of comics and other media depict the violence and toughness that we commonly associate with prison, while Doing Time allows to get further into the head of the prison and understand the philosophical effects that this type of containment has on a human being. Whatever you decide to read this book for, I would certainly suggest adding it to your collection.

TL;DR: Doing Time is a wonderful account of a short account spent in prison with a enormous focus on the day to day detail of an imprisoned life that is sure to break the perceptions of Manga as a genre.

Doing Time is written and illustrated by Kazuihi Hanawa, and translated by Elizabeth Tiernan and Shizuka Shimoyama. Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon, you can order it on their website or ask for it at your local comic book shop.

Also, if you live in New York City, Fanfare/Ponent Mon will be at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphic Arts Festival on November 10.

A review copy of Doing Time was graciously provided to Spandexless by the publisher.