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GTO Volume 1: Great Teacher Onizuka
by Luis Reyes  
GTO Volume 1: Great Teacher Onizuka
review information
Society in the Funhouse Mirror: What GTO Reveals About Modern Living

GTO (Great Teacher Onizuka) is the story of former teen gang leader turned schoolteacher, Eikichi Onizuka - crass, prurient, the story claims virginal, with a feeble education and a penchant for violence - and his transgression from social scourge to inspired leader.

With as much anime rooted in the obsessive, perverted, repressed Japanese libido as there is spilling off the shelves, injecting one with the mainstream Japanese obsession with the insipid ornaments of street culture would seem to bury a project in low brow dirt. However, GTO culls this multitude of grating anime clichés and channels them into a substantial story about the spoils of urban apathy. Onizuka is a two-pronged hero - one brand of hero that inadvertently (and driven at first by residual adolescent angst) shakes the core of a sterile, regimented society; and the other that defiantly faces down the mind-numbing fancy of anime slapstick, brandishing many of the same tools, but also a heart to boot.

On the surface, GTO's answers to conflict are just as basely savage as, say, Dragonball Z. Brute force will succeed where diplomacy, trust and respect fail, although, this isn't necessarily a bad thing in the world of G.T.O. Workaholic parents grow loveless; disenfranchised kids gangbang; the school system slowly atrophies. The show accepts as its premise that this trio of traits for civilized living has worn away, leaving exposed the cold gormlessness of modern society, something that may need a smack in the face.

Which is also what makes the series so funny, and what infuses meaning into all of the same physical comedy gags that make something like, say, Amazing Nurse Nanako erroneously titled. Director Noriyuki Abe has created a distinctive, but not-jarring, contrast between the rules of GTO's fictional society and how the comedy of the show offends them (something that NieA_7 director Tago Sato attempted but failed to pull off when he paired the wan, empathetic Mayuko with NieA the sociopath). The humor results from the intersection of full-fleshed sectors of society, rather than jokes drawn from a well-spring of hackneyed gimmicks.

Of course, like most anime, subtlety rarely factors into the show, its sentiments displayed as on its arm as boldy as Onizuka wears his tattoos. But they are sentiments that don't ring hollow like the good versus evil trope of less socially conscious anime - parents have to balance their professional lives, their romantic lives and the lives they share with their children; children will fulfill the expectations placed on them - verbal abuse breeds garbage; people are hardly ever how they at first appear. Curiously missing from this list is the futility of violence as a means to an end, an idea that the show definitely does not embrace as it dishes out its prescription for hard love on young punks and acerbic teachers alike. Onizuka gives into his temper, but he learns to fine-tune his brutishness to focus on that which seems impossible to excoriate, a skein on hopelessness.

He is not a great educator, and he is not a great judge of right and wrong. Great Teacher Onizuka is great because he has the capacity to care. And, maudlin as that may be, it's what sets GTO apart from the anime dunces in the corner.

Love it? Hate it? Buy it.
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