By Janelle Jimenez
Great Teacher Onizuka (GTO, as is commonly known to the rest of the world) is perhaps one of the greatest manga series ever written. Although it only began its run in Kodansha's Weekly Shounen Magazine in 1997, this work by Tohru Fujisawa is already a classic. Try saying the words "GTO" in Japan or other parts of Asia and I assure you that just about everyone will know what you're talking about. The manga series, which according to Tokyopop has sold 37 million copies world wide, spawned a drama series that pulled in some of the highest ratings of all time, and of course movies and an anime series. Yet despite this, the series seems to be largely unknown to the American anime/manga viewing public. Luckily, Tokyopop has picked up GTO and both the manga and anime are being translated and released. So in cue with that, @anime! brings you Part One of a quick and dirty guide to Great Teacher Onizuka -- from print to live action, starting with GTO manga.
Imagine this situation: You are a 22 year-old male virgin. In your past you were captain of the karate club at a fifth-tier university. Six years ago you decided to come to Tokyo to make a life for yourself only to be rejected time and time again, partly due to the fact that in your resume you publicize your police record and come to interviews reflecting said police record. So what should you do now? Become a teacher, of course.
Great Teacher Onizuka (GTO) by Tohru Fujisawa is a 25 volume manga series about Eikichi Onizuka, the aforementioned 22-year old virgin punk, whose life turns around when he gets caught peeking up a high-school student's skirt. What is this great epiphany? Become a teacher, and score with hot, high-school girls! What could be more perfect? Therein lies the plot. Instead of being assigned to a classroom full of doting young females, Onizuka is assigned to class 2-4 which is populated with vindictive middle-school students out to destroy their teacher's life, and since this happens to be Onizuka's role, their targets are set on him. While this plot line might make some groan, there must be more to this series than fan-service in order to become one of the most popular manga in recent history. In fact, there is.
GTO has a lot more heart than most people expect. Yes, it is about a punkster trying to score with young girls, but it quickly becomes more than that -- in fact, within the first volume. GTO takes place in the real, modern Japan. There are no magical friends in this plot, no giant mech robots stomping around, none of that. Rather this real Japan reflects some of the real problems the education system of Japan is facing: student bullying, schools hiding said bullying, students being pushed too hard for grades, repressed sexuality, etc. Many have claimed that the popularity of the series has half to do with the quality of the series, but the issues it brought up at a particularly sensitive time in Japan.
From the very start Onizuka proves himself to be the antithesis of the stereotypical Japanese teacher (as if you couldn't tell from the very start), which makes him a bit of a representative of a "new" type of teacher. One of the primary reasons he was even hired by the school was to initiate some sort of change. If all this wasn't enough, he even has an arch-nemesis, Uchiyamada-sensei who represents the "old way" of the Japanese education system. So now Onizuka is not only a pervert, but a pervert with a mission and a conscience. He's an unknowing instrument of change and all he wanted to do was look up girl's skirts. Consider him a skirt-chaser with a soul: he helps a troubled young girl (despite the fact she tried to blackmail him), saves a boy from suicide, and befriends the other youth hell-bent on his destruction. His goal is to be the greatest teacher in all of Japan, and he accomplishes this by being the most unlike a teacher he can be. All of this may seem silly, and it is. GTO is no doubt a comedy with brief dramatic moments (which are highlighted in the live-action drama). Not only is GTO a comedy, but also it's a very, very good manga series. All good manga series should have more than just plot and nice art: it should also have some sort of deeper message or meaning, but it should never shove this in your face (then it becomes cheesy.) GTO has all of these -- great plot, a subtle deeper meaning, and of course the ever important nice art.
The art of GTO is well drawn, with clean lines and very detailed backgrounds. The characters aren't drawn in that "anime" fashion with the large eyes and disproportional bodies. The characters are drawn to reflect their personalities, very real. Onizuka isn't particularly attractive, despite being the main character, and you'll be really grasping to find a "bishounen" or "bishoujo" type in this series. Although published for men and has a skirt-chasing main character, the females aren't drawn with stereotypically large-chests and tiny waists. There is remarkably little fan-service for a series that has a lot to do with the main character and his sexuality. Despite the great art, the driving force of the series is definitely the dialogue, which is aided by the fantastic facial expressions and movements drawn into each frame.
While the series is easy enough to understand through the images and facial expression of the characters, the dialogue is littered with slang that makes it a bit tricky for the novice Japanese student to muddle through. Before recently fans of GTO had to make due with translations by fans or Kodansha's discontinued bilingual translations. However, Tokyopop has come to the rescue. Tokyopop's translations are fairly accurate, though the language is a bit cleaner than I would expect. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it does sort of ruin Onizuka's image as a foul-mouthed, rude, Japanese punk. Then again, the manga is already rated at "Older Teen" and any attempt to accurately portray Onizuka's speech could stigmatize younger readers. Tokyopop's unique right-to-left printing of graphic novels also makes the translation much more accurate, not to mention the fact the drawings don't have to suffer from being flipped over.
While the series has its dramatic moments, it's mostly a comedy -- but don't forget, it also is serious social commentary about the state of the Japanese education system. GTO is light-hearted and fun, original, and one of the best things I've ever read. In the short time I've been introduced to this series, it's easily become one of my favorite series of all time. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a good laugh, good characters, and a thoroughly enjoyable series.
* While GTO ended recently on volume 25, fans of Onizuka can always read Tohru Fujisawa's Shounan Junai Gumi which is about Onizuka's younger biker days.