GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka (Volume 1) Review
Great Teacher Onizuka originally started life as a Manga in the Weekly Shonen Magazine and was created by Tohru Fujisawa. The story of an ex-biker gang member who goes straight and becomes a teacher proved to be extremely popular and was later realised as a live-action TV Drama starring Takashi Sorimachi (best known for his role as O in Fulltime Killer) as the reckless Eikichi Onizuka. Much like the Manga the TV Drama was a huge success and paved the way for a movie, and also for the 43 episode anime series which is the show that Tokyopop are currently releasing across 10 DVDs. For this review I have taken a look at Volume 1 of the GTO anime that contains the first four episodes, including the double length (50 minutes) series premiere.
A description of the shows lead character would be a good place to start, as this is what the show is all about. "Eikichi Onizuka, 22 years old" is a suitable opening and the bold manner in which our lead character introduces himself throughout these early episodes. This is very much in tune with Onizuka's sensibility, he is an outspoken young man with a set of firm morals that he strictly abides too and as you will see on this volume he will not bend his own set of guidelines for anyone, be they fellow teacher or helpless student. Onizuka's reasons for becoming a school teacher shed some more light on his character with the prime reason being that he wants to be 'great' and to help his students, though putting himself in a room with a fine selection of 16 year old girls in those now famous Japanese uniforms is very much a deciding factor, as is the hope to find a wife amongst them! The fact that he is a legendary ex-biker gang member with a black belt in karate and sports a cropped blond haircut only goes to define who is the most unlikely school teacher you can imagine and this is the appeal of the show as Onizuka goes about his work and deals with the problems facing him and his students in ways unheard of within the traditional realms of teaching.
At this early stage in the series we are introduced to these various elements of Onizuka's character as he overcomes a series of challenges that include dealing with mischievous students who attempt to blackmail him, to breaking down the walls of silence in a broken families home. Fairly standard problems you might think but the essence of this show is how an unusual teacher such as Onizuka approaches and solves these problems, and it is also the beauty of the show, which is a series I am very much enjoying at this early stage. You see, Onizuka tackles these problems with a brute force yet he also manages to show a subtle understanding to the needs of those he is helping which allows him to gain trust with his students and colleagues as he leaves his mark on each one individually throughout the series. Furthermore he goes about his methods with a cheeky demeanour and in the case of the female students, an underlying fantasy that he hopes will result from these good deeds, which all brings him straight back down to earth and makes him a character that is appealing to both men and women alike.
The aforementioned fantasies are often played out on screen and are accompanied by strained looks on Onizuka’s face that are best described in the extra features section of this disc as ‘Onizuka gone wild’ where he is literally overcome with joy at the perverse situations he conjures up, creating some genuine laugh out loud moments. These comedic elements are not just restricted to these wacky moments, but are plentiful thanks to Onizuka’s well written character while they are also well balanced out with the dramatic proceedings of each episode that although occasionally preachy due to the morals and lessons imparted upon the students, is all genuinely interesting and creates a mixture of content that will keep you tuned in and most importantly, will draw you back for repeat viewings.
The main drawback of the show has little to do with its content, and more to do with the generally weak animation and somewhat dull character design that will have you questioning whether the show really was originally aired just two years ago. Onizuka himself is well realised (and is equally well voiced) as are the various goofy changes his appearance often takes on while the other characters are fairly standard looking at best, but on the whole the show just looks average when compared to other series released around the same time. It probably has something to do with the fact that GTO is twice the length of most anime series, so therefore the budget was stretched in comparison and sadly it also shows in the music that like the animation, rarely lives up to the bold styling of the opening/ending sequences.
Lesson 1: The Legend Begins - The premiere episode begins with Onizuka crouching down by a staircase at the local mall where he puffs on a cigarette while casually glancing up to identify the colour of young ladies underwear. Soon after we are given a demonstration of his assuredness with his physical ability when he gets the better of a pair of would-be muggers. All of this occurs prior to Onizuka attending the first day of his teacher training at a senior school where we will see the first of many situations (in this case, blackmail) that Onizuka will rectify in his own unique manner and in doing so leave a permanent impression on his students.
Lesson 2: Enter Uchiyamada - After Onizuka forgets to take the required teaching exams for public school qualification he heads off to an interview at the prestigious Holy Forest School, which being private has no exam based requirements. Here he meets his future romantic interest and fellow teacher, Fuyutsuki, and a future rival and colleague in the form of vice principal Uchiyamada - a man Onizuka does not make a good first impression on.
Lesson 3: Late Night Roof Diving - With a new job and new living arrangements Onizuka is all fired up to take on a new class full of fresh faced 16 year olds only to be presented with a grade 3 class (and so quashing his hopes of finding a young wife!) that carries the reputation as 'worst class in the history of Holy Forest Academy'. After the first day Onizuka is out hunting ghosts in the middle of the night only to come across a student from his class, which leads to a situation that hardly helps his status in Uchiyamada's eyes.
Lesson 4: The Secret Life of Onizuka - And so the 'worst class' in the school begin their attempts to take down their new teacher, which means Onizuka must begin his fight to turn around his students anti-teacher behaviour, and quite typically his methods are unorthodox to say the least!
The cover artwork Tokyopop have selected is simple but effective while the layout in particular works very well and suggests the show will have a common look across the projected 10 volumes the series will require. When you first pop the disc in your player you are immediately presented with the Trailers that are also selectable from the Extra Features section. Fortunately a quick press of the 'Menu' button will skip you past these if you do not wish to view them.
The menu design is good with an appropriate design (a chalk board as used in school) and is easy to navigate, while the Chapter selections on offer pass my own personal test for any anime DVD as they offer the ability to skip the opening/ending animations so you can watch just the show if so required.
For a recent show such as GTO you would expect a high quality presentation and that is exactly what Tokyopop have presented us with on this disc. Provided here in its original 4:3 Full Frame aspect ratio Tokyopop have sourced a print mostly free of dirt though the occasional speck of dust is present. The transfer offers a good level of detail while colours are clean and blacks suitably bold. Furthermore the compression is generally of a high standard with no signs of artifacting, colour bleed or rainbowing though the less forgiving viewers amongst you will notice some sadly quite obvious Edge Enhancement and if you look really close, some signs of minor shimmering. Other than these fairly insignificant letdowns and the slightly bland animation the show uses this is a fine visual experience and bodes well for the rest of the series.
The original Japanese language soundtrack is presented in DD2.0 Stereo format and is of a pleasing quality with no audible problems to report, while the optional English subtitles are of a high quality and offer an easy to read translation of the show. An optional English Dub is also provided in the DD2.0 Stereo format and after sampling one episode with the dub I can confirm it offers a technical quality equal to that of the Japanese offering, while the voice actors chosen are generally suitable and the script is fairly close to the original dialogue. With that said I personally still found it rather stale in comparison to my preferred original language choice, but on the whole I would say the Dub is a decent effort and should please those of you who prefer this option. You will also find a set of optional subtitles for use with the Dub that provide translations of the various text seen in the episodes.
Anime DVDs are hardly known for their abundance of extra features and this release from Tokyopop does not break from that mould. However, fans are used to this and it is certainly understandable given the difficulty in obtaining extra material for anime. What we do have available is the original Japanese Opening which is essentially the same as what we see before each episode, except the credits are in Japanese rather than English. An 'Onizuka Gone Wild' section provides quick links to 9 short sequences where we see Onizuka 'go wild', while the 'Character Designs' section has 9 pages of just that and is of the most interest to fans of the show. The disc is rounded off with a Previews section that includes trailers for Reign, Initial D, Vampire Princess and Real Bout High School.
Though I doubt many people outside of Japan have had the opportunity to sample the excellent live action TV Drama series of GTO I think it is worth stating that this anime series so far lives up to its predecessor and shows no signs of decline at this stage. The anime is an edgier affair with far more humour present that helps to drive up the enjoyment on offer in a show that is equally laden with interesting storylines and plenty of feel good moments making it a recommended purchase if you can manage the potential 10 disc outlay.