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Anime Reviews: Great Teacher Onizuka
Crude, rude, and often gut-bustingly hilarious, GTO is one of those classic series that every anime fan needs to see for themselves.
Title: Great Teacher Onizuka a.k.a. GTO
Production: Studio Pierrot
Series Length: 43 episodes
Air Dates: 6/30/1999 to 9/24/2000
Age Rating: 13+ (mild language, some suggestive content)
Summary: Eikichi Onizuka, twenty-two years old, single. Also the former leader of a dangerous biker gang. Weary of such a life, Onizuka decides one day that he wants to settle down and find a job...where he will be surrounded by beautiful girls all day long. The best choice? A teacher, of course! While he is, of course, turned down by every school in sight, one in particular is willing to at least give him a chance--that is, if he can meet their requirements. Said requirements involve being able to tame the infamous Class 3-4, whose students have driven away every teacher who has ever tried to teach them. Of course, this shouldn't be a problem at all, because Onizuka aims to attain the legendary (and made-up) title of Great Teacher, and teaching unruly children their place is the role of a Great Teacher!
The Good: Great opening and ending themes; flawlessly juggles comedy and drama; Onizuka is among the greatest and funniest characters in anime
The Bad: First episode feels unnecessary; later episodes bogged down with melodrama and filler; bland artwork
The Ugly: The very thought of letting this man anywhere near my children
Oh, look. Another series I neglected for years until finally caving into my curiosity and discovering another classic gem. Just like with Monster, Fullmetal Alchemist, its sequel/reboot, Princess Tutu, and Full Moon wo Sagashite. Well, I should have learned my lesson swiftly after that, but it wasn't until late 2010 when I was finally compelled to check out GTO, and while it wasn't quite Top 10 material, it's gotta be in my Top 30. Now then, as for you, my captive reader, you've read my Hub summary and this paragraph. That means you need to go watch GTO right now, you! Oh, what? You want me to tell you why you should?
Well then, I guess it's time...
...to teach you a lesson.
First off, there are some rad opening and ending themes for GTO. Sure, it's a superficial thing to start off with, but hey, it's the first thing you'll see, so why not? The first opener, "Driver's High" by L'Arc~en~Ciel, is a solid rocker with an infectious chorus, but runs into stiff competition when entereth the second opening, "Hitori no Yoru" by Porno Graffiti (stupid copyright laws prevent me from posting it). Not to be outdone, the ending themes are also memorable, though much calmer and softer. The first ending, "Last Piece," uses a hip-hop beat alongside steel drums to create a pretty unique piece, while the second ending, "Shizuku," is much more straightforward while still being greatly memorable.
The music used within the show itself is pretty good, too, so don't go thinking only the book-end tunes are the only ones worth anything. I just really, really love the openers and endings.
Next up, as I've mentioned in my Fruits Basket review, there are very few anime that can balance comedy and drama without coming across as either incompetent or trying way too hard. GTO ranks among that elite few that are able to do just that.
To demonstrate, in an early episode, a student who is about as tormented by Class 3-4 as its teachers decides to end it all and leap off the roof of the school building. Onizuka's not having any of that, so he makes a daring leap to rescue him and shields the boy from the landing impact. Unfortunately, the impact zone was the vice principal's brand-new car.
Simultaneously, we're dealing with a serious situation while also dealing with a comical one, and the interplay between both the dramatic and the absurd is handled with the utmost care. To put it as best as I can, you don't get dramatic whiplash when transitioning from the stark and serious to the wild and comedic. And that takes some doing.
The glue that holds it all together, of course, is our title character, Eikichi Onizuka (twenty-two years old, single). While he may sound like your typical dirty-minded degenerate with a heart of gold (as typical as such a thing can be), never place bets on what he's going to do next. He is a wildly unpredictable character, determined to do whatever it takes to reform his students, even if he has to kill them. Not to mention, he's just laugh-out-loud funny. In one instance, one of the students manages to convince Onizuka that the bad luck he's been having in recent days is due to come kind of horrible curse. In response, he shows up the next day buck-naked with runic writing all over his body while fervently praying, wearing a crown of candles and holding a chain of prayer beads. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Sure, the other characters in the series are great, too, and they have their own hilarious moments, but this is ultimately Onizuka's story and struggle, so my focus is all on him.
But alas, all is not well with this one. The first episode is a bit unnecessary, though it does help to establish the mood. It introduces some characters and promptly dumps them when the main story picks up, so it's quickly forgotten. There are also some problematic episodes in the final third of the series, when some truly wretched melodrama begins to rear its ugly head. Thankfully, it's not Onizuka's fault, but rather the students'. When the reason for their turning against all their teachers is finally revealed, all I could think is, "Really, guys? This was the best you could come up with? How does that make any sense?!" It's extremely out of place, it's entirely too sappy and unrealistic, and I don't like it. Oh, and there are a few filler episodes strewn about. They're not that great. Keep an eye out.
The final nitpick--er, flaw with the series is its artwork. It just looks so cheap at times, and you can definitely tell the budget was not a large one. The animation manages to keep things fairly fluid and consistent, but the art just brings it down. And the colors beg the question: was this really made in 1999? It's all washed-out and flat. The character designs retain their excellence from the manga, so it's not the artists' fault entirely. Blame the folks higher up who wouldn't get them more money!
But even when at its worst, GTO always has Onizuka shining brightly (as he is wont to do) to remind us that, even in the darkest times, there will always be something to make us laugh or surprise us in a good way, and that's really what attracts so many people to this series. So yeah, as I said earlier, you need to start watching GTO. And that's an order, soldier!
Final Score: 8 out of 10. Though the final third is full of things that make baby Jesus cry, GTO is ultimately one of the most fun experiences you can have watching anime.