Great Teacher Onizuka
I'd like to thank Chris C. for giving me the opportunity to see this really interesting title. Anime looks so much better on DVD, really made the title easier to enjoy, not that I think it was going to be much of a challenge.
The story begins with us meeting Eikichi Onizuka, a 22 year old slacker. With his bleach-blond hair, earrings, omni-present cigarette and powerful physical presence you can tell he's had a really interesting life. His attitude makes it clear that he's lived, and thrived, outside of the bounds of polite normality. Indeed he's a veteran of many street fights, master of many time wasting skills and the respected leader of one of the toughest motorcycle gangs. He's also got a certain depth to him, the feeling that what he lacked was not ability, empathy or brains, but a true goal to motivate him. However with getting older, his friends settling down, he knows he has to find one... And given his primary interests are young girls and long holidays he's even willing to consider teaching.
What he finds is that school is not at all what he remembers. It seems a lot of the modern students share his rebellious urges, his distrust of authority, perhaps even a feeling of alienation. It might just be that Onizuka, with his bad attitude but good heart, has found a place where he can truly contribute something. It's not going to be easy though, since he's been put in charge of class 3-4 which has become twisted somehow. It's a class that, while superficially normal, has a reputation for destroying any teacher who confronts them. Then again, they've never met a teacher anything like Onizuka, and he's never had such an interesting challenge.
Let's start out with the negative bits, because they'll be confronting you right at the start of this title. The main one is that in order to add energy to the show, teaching being sort of visually boring, there's a lot of comedic over-acting by Onizuka. He'll go sort of super ugly, gaining all these odd expression lines as if he's just sucked a lemon, and then do something physically improbable or just plain stupid. A large number of which involve him dressing up in really silly outfits. It's sometimes funny, but a lot of the time it's just sort of stupid and chaotic. Since there's a lot of it, and it fails as often as it hits, this is the sort of thing that would lead me to criticise the show.
There's also a weakness in the story, because it's written with a shounen sensibility (read: not much). It frequently relies on him being able to perform superhuman acts, to survive from any event (I figure he should have died about three times over) and to be incredibly lucky on regular occasions. No matter the situation he's got himself into he'll find a way to get out of it, to find the secret that unlocks the problem being faced, and come up with a seemingly improbable plan that ends up working even better than you might expect. His interaction with the students, which forms the base for the entire title, also follows this pattern. At times it's just a little too unsubtle. Real life just doesn't come together this neatly, and it over simplifies some of the real character issues the show addresses. Another negative point.
Mind you I also realized that I couldn't write this damn review until I gave the disks back, because it's just soo much fun to watch. When your first thought on finishing a title is to go back and re-watch it you just have to give the show a nod of respect.
Put simply the show works. The story develops as, student by student, he unravels their shared hatred and slowly wins them to his side. But each student is both the seed for a story and a fully fledged character in their own right. They're interesting people, with some element that has set them apart that only comes out over the course of the story. The nature of the character causes each story to play out very differently. And along the way you'll probably discover you actually care what happens to them, and if they find a balance they don't vanish but instead we get to see them grow, and perhaps become positive influences in later stories.
It's basically an ensemble piece. Onizuka is the center, but each of the students has to be a strong character to make it work, including being capable of working independantly. And wow do these characters work, from the twisted genius of Urumi Kanzaki (cute but oh so scary) to the frankly stupid but so earnest Tomoko and the brutal Uehara these are archetypes made real and believable. The cool of Kikuchi, how nice to see a male character who has it together, to the frankly sort of pathetic (at least initially) Yoshikawa. It's just fine stuff, and when it ends you want to keep following the story to find out how their lives keep going. Even the vice principal, the victim in many of Onizuka's schemes, is given a character not without some positive aspects, no matter how deeply hidden.
We also get to explore Onizuka himself, and get the feeling he grows a little. He's consistently a fool, quick to follow impulses when thought would have served him better, always over doing things, but there's always these hints of more. When challenged over his learning, his financial sense (which is shocking) or his loyalty to his students he finds a way to win without giving up what he believes. And then sometimes there'll be a flash of empathy, of insight, which lets him help someone else.
In fact this anime is going to be the first in a new genre designation on this site. The "maverick" which covers someone who lives to a strong moral code, but not the "normal" one. As such they always exist outside regular society, do things differently, but at times can see solutions invisible to those following the more normal path. Such people, having always to make their own way through life, have also developed the strength, insight and independance to survive the path. And for us it means that watching him is just hilarious at a character level, how did he get himself into that situation, and how will he get out while proving something along the way? So much fun to be had.
So if you can cope at all with character driven drama, and give this title some time to grow on you (because initially Onizuka's clownlike nature can hide his more subtle elements) I think this is a ride worth taking. It's not the most original premise but it manages to score some really solid points along the way, and present you with some memorable characters and entertaining events. Heck, it's worth watching just to see Gundam Otaku used as a disciplinary tool.
Like the rest of the title the production will not impress at first. The first two episode story serves as an introduction, but this also means most of the characters are visually undeveloped. You also have to cope with Onizuka being a clown, going into the super ugly mode I mentioned (not at all visually attractive) and the fact that the production values don't seem terribly impressive at all. However if you continue things improve once you get to the class who fills up the rest of the series. They have far more character, both storywise and visually. You also get to realise that what the show loses in flash it makes up for in motion and expression (which is actually true of most shoujo stuff too come to think of it). There's some lovely sequences, visual jokes (Onizuka doing doreamon and fist of the north star is hilarious) and even physical action. The production quality also seems to improve as we go along. The voices are fantastic, in Japanese, I managed about 10 seconds of the American dub before I fled in pain. The music is good, as are the ambient tracks although they're somewhat overly repeated, but also emblematic of the show. The opening track is sort of loud and unsubtle, both musically and visually, while the closer is much more gentle and mellow, an interesting reflection of how I found the series overall.