GTO – episodes 29 to 43

December 2, 2004 on 1:46 pm | In GTO | 1 Comment

GTO has the perfect ending; that is, one that makes you miss the series afterwards.

Onizuka is truly an amazing character in the degree that he cares for his students. Even when one extorts him, he simply will not have them punished but rather take responsibility and solve everything. Somehow, when this blonde 22 year old does it, it does not seem like stupid pride. Onizuka has luck on his side, but not dumb luck, and although he quite clearly does not know what he’s doing a lot of the time he’s good at pretending he does.
So, ultimately, Onizuka made the series. This sort of character can be frustrating, but remarkably the teacher was not. His refusal to sell out anyone, and to gain their trust was admirable. He was in many ways Fujisawa’s antidote for the education system: tired teachers who resent their students.

As the students get closer to their trip to Okinawa, there’s another abhorrent episode in which Fuyutsuki tries to make herself over and ends up ganguro. During it, and at the end, the only response it provokes is “why?”. Normally I’d be all for an episode devoted almost exclusively to breasts, but not here.
Another episode that’s silly, but still works, is the one in which Onizuka takes on the “yakuza”. What makes it really funny, though, is that the contraband gold in this episode has “gold” written on it, and likewise the bomb. At the time I thought it was an over the top “realistic” episode, and I took the bait totally. GTO is probably custom made for these sorts of moments.

Uehara, the first female student to cause trouble for Onizuka, returns to the stories and at first she’s so different that I didn’t actually recognise her. When Miyabi does not go to Okinawa, it initially feels like the writers are disappointingly using Uehara as a substitute. Fortunately enough, she gets to come into herself, and Onizuka turns her heart. He’s so damned good at that it’s surprising that he doesn’t have his own nude transformation sequence (surprising? Yes. Unfortunate? … not in the slightest).

The character afforded the most growth, particularly by comparison to her late arrival, is Kanzaki. She teamed up with Kikuchi, and they made for a dynamic pair. Kanzaki is also notable because over the course of twenty episodes, she incited not one but two snakes to bite Onizuka’s crotch. It’s this sort of material that makes for big insane comedy, and it works because it is so very base. GTO aims for the higher brow some of the time, but it is quite happy at home among the jokes that get laughs based on universality.
Fujiyoshi, one of Murai’s two friends, is actually allowed his own drama, which comes on very strong. For so long he had been just a fellow to talk to Onizuka and not do much else, but when he was involved in a plot he became much more engaging – one of the few characters to show their home life. Yoshikawa is also allowed back into the fold after many episodes wherein he was in the background, not quite shunned but no longer important. When Onizuka assembled his ultimate team of student friends, the dynamic was really quite enjoyable to watch.

And, while for the most part this anime deals with realistic if exaggerated situations (although Onizuka does survive a nuclear blast – “it’s called an unexploded bomb because it doesn’t explode), there’s one episode which ends with total nonsense: damn near the funniest thing of the year. Finally, any anime that recreates, frame for frame, Sadako’s video from Ring has to be a surefire winner.

The final story arc is told efficiently in two episodes, and Onizuka proves himself to be the greatest man alive – and even Uchiyamada begins to see the true values of teaching once more. The actual incident that the episode is based around is actually quite disturbing if you consider the ages of the characters involved, but the story doesn’t dwell on it and so the viewer does not really get the chance either. It provides a nice close to the series, and lets Onizuka play it cool.

True, there’s unfinished storylines; the stalker still has an obsession with Fuyutsuki, for instance – but Onizuka can’t solve all of the world’s problems. GTO was frequently hilarious, with only one real dud storyline and genuinely lovable characters. It’s a beautiful journey, really.

Teacher … banzai.

GTO – episodes 7 to 29

November 23, 2004 on 6:30 pm | In GTO | Comments Off on GTO – episodes 7 to 29

Great Teacher Onizuka takes some decidedly interesting turns through these episodes. There are a few story arcs, and there’s plenty of room for disturbances – and also quite a few abandonments of ideas.

The first important thing to note is that the majority of Onizuka’s class don’t mind him. In fact, once he gets the ones that matter onside, he doesn’t mind anymore either. With the exception of Mitsuishi Kotono’s insufferable genius character Kanzaki later on, Onizuka stops at winning over Murai, the blonde with a mother-complex.
Onizuka knows how to get along with his students because, as bed & breakfast owner Kizaki tells fellow teacher Fuyutsuki, he approaches them on their own level. This way of interaction is a large part of what makes the series so enjoyable, but sometimes Onizuka definitely overdoes it. There are so many times when he kind-of-but-not-really encourages people to give up living. Damn him and his reverse psychology!
This sometimes works cool, but other times works against him. With a forty strong class, Onizuka seems to have a rotating system of students who hang out with him. Murai is always about but his original friend, Yoshikawa, is largely relegated to the curb. It seems a little unfair.

There are events in episodes that don’t always make sense, chief among them being the time when police with nets chased down Uchiyamada in a gorilla suit. This was a good dramatic scene, but it simply lacked coherence. Uchiyamada is such a tragic character. All of his problems clearly spring from his home life, where he is so outmoded in his treatment of his family that they refuse to respect or obey him. I hope that Onizuka’s way will eventually reform the man, because he needs to become motivated in life and learn what it is to be a teacher. Uchiyamada must have had a reason to become an educator, but it appears that he has lost sight of just exactly what it was.

Among the best new characters is Kanzaki Urumi, the blonde genius with multicoloured eyes. She’s voiced by Mitsuishi Kotono, a performance that is sometimes a bit too sharp but others right on. She probably should have aimed at her softer voice for this character. The scenes of her past were amongst the highest drama that GTO has produced so far, and her reform was Onizuka’s most ambitious yet. This sort of character, being allowed to cut a bit loose, is the sort of inspirational stuff people like to see in anime. Better still is the way that Kanzaki stands up to the irredeemable bitches of the school.

They certainly are irredeemable, with Aizawa Miyabi (and her two sidekicks) featured prominently as the only students against Onizuka. In the episode where Onizuka believes he has cancer, pulled off well dramatically despite the knowledge that he obviously isn’t cancerous, she laughs at his impending death. This seems really, really petty and mean and it’s hard to believe that they could do that. You would have thought that from Onizuka’s idol making efforts with Tomoko that Miyabi would have learned – because that was another well produced scene – but Fujisawa was probably being a little pragmatic and realised that not everyone could change their character.

The worst part of all of these episodes is undoubtedly the stalker storyline. This features a pyschotic maths teacher who is obsessed with Fuyutsuki, and is made to lick the feet of the student he tutors. The scenes here are not laughable at all – although that’s dependent on who’s watching. Four episodes of disturbance is what this amounts to. While it’s funny that Onizuka attempts to steal the G3 that I had before this G4 I’m typing on, Teshigawara’s rampage is decidedly not. Terrible taste in the mouth, and it’s not helped by the fact that when Onizuka overcomes the challenges of this arc, no resolution is given to this maths teacher.

Artistically, there are moments when cheap digital animation is substituted for cels. These scenes are really quite ugly, and they crop up every few episodes. Five years ago, digital animation wasn’t exactly inspired, and this really hurts GTO‘s real work appeal. The second OP is entirely digital and it doesn’t look as cool as the first – Onizuka seeming slightly off model. This is unfortunate, as it’s a nice sentiment expressed.

Still, GTO is highly watchable. I just wish they’d make Engrish teacher Sakurada shut up.

GTO – episodes 1 to 6

November 16, 2004 on 6:34 pm | In GTO | 1 Comment

Comedy is funny. This is the lesson that GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka teaches us. There are some other things that can be learned about society and schools, but comedy is the key.

Onizuka Eikichi, 22 years old, is an ex-biker who wishes to be a high-school teacher. After passing the student-teaching period, he goes on to win a place at a private school teaching the biggest problem class in its history. Over the course of these six episodes, Onizuka reacts to blackmail, foils two suicide attempts, uncovers a photoshopping circle and is called before the PTA. That’s not even counting all of the Crestas he goes through.

GTO is a comedy about one man who wants to come good, and also to marry a sixteen year old at age forty. These two objectives seem to clash initially, and soon enough Onizuka realises that his second plan is not entirely practical. Thereafter he aims to make school fun, but not in any lousy patronising way: despite his class being full of delinquents, Onizuka takes it in his stride, and vows never to tell his students that they are no good. Basically Onizuka had a rough time of it in high school and does not want it to be the same for anyone else.
So while Onizuka has his comedic moments with night-time exorcisms and bathing in hallway sinks, he also deals with very serious issues such as bullying and sexual blackmail and Playstation games. Onizuka is an excellent character because he makes hilarious faces with great frequency, as well as knowing exactly what to do … eventually.

Onizuka even has a nemesis, Vice Principal Uchiyamada – whom he met in a lecherous incident on the bus. Uchiyamada is a fantastic character for laughing at, and his constant failures are the source of much levity. However, the writers have made none of this cruel. Somehow, despite his homicidal wishes towards Onizuka’s career, the Vice Principal is sympathetic. His home life is shown from time to time, and all of his actions can be seen to spring from there. This adds an extra depth to what would have been pretty damned funny itself gains another layer because it can be understood.

This series is full of vital social issues, and Onizuka is a reformed character who won’t doubt the power of redemption. The problem here is that some of these characters do things so bad that they don’t seem redeemable – perhaps this is proof that Onizuka is a better man than I. The school life is shown as a scene that does indeed have a darker side, including the rarely discussed notion of female bullies (as in girls that actually beat up guys). GTO is definitely interesting for anyone who has recently been through the school system. Or maybe it’s always been like this and will have universal appeal. That’s entirely possible. Whether funny or ponderous, this series is always worth watching.

The cast is great, with Takagi Wataru kicking total arse as Onizuka. The ultimate proof of this is his “Terror Shumai” story delivery, which shows beyond doubt that he is perfect for the role. Nagashima Yuichi is marvellous as the eternally-suffering Uchiyamada, bringing a boundless vitality and an unequalled energy for meaningless rambling. The rest of the cast is filled out by some fairly big names and some obscure ones as well, but they are all enjoying their work and bring Holy Forest Academy to life.
Onizuka refers to himself always in the third person: “Onizuka Eikichi, 22 years old”. This is not quite translated in TOKYOPOP’s subtitles, and the dub changes Uchiyamada’s motives to something more selfish. It’s a pity, but everything else is good.
The production is cheap, but not in a bad way. From 1999, GTO was made at the turning point from celwork to digital. The OP is digital with some CG thrown in along the way, but the body of the episodes is made up almost entirely of cels. The traditional money saving techniques of sweat drops and stupid faces are all over the place, and bring a lot of character to proceedings. The general energy of the production makes any poor animation unnoticeable and ultimately negligible.

GTO is great – it’s episodic yet each episode leads into the next. It’s one big story of excellent school life. Onizuka definitely makes school fun. By not actually seeing what he teaches, you can’t judge him by his technique in that regard. But to make his students laugh with him and respect him Onizuka Eikichi, 22 years old, is doing a great job.

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