J-Drama Review: Great Teacher Onizuka


onizukaI’ve had a personal goal this year to solidify my Japanese language skills. Having been exposed to it as a kid in Taiwan around my grandparents and studied it on my own on and off while immersing myself in Japanese anime fandom, I decided it was time to really give it some serious focus. It’s one of those languages that I feel comfortable around and am pretty familiar with, but I don’t really have any actual fluency. It seemed like a waste not to pursue it.

So in this endeavor, I realized that my watching of Japanese anime has taught me a lot of profanity that would probably be inappropriate for casual use or useless sentences such as “I am a vampire princess”. Aside from an audio language program (which I will review later), I decided that watching J-Drama would be helpful way to expose myself to more everyday Japanese language usage.

Some of the weird premise stories and romantic dramas I found just seemed a little too gag-inducing to get through, so I was quite pleased when I found the drama Great Teacher Onizuka, or GTO for short. Based upon a manga that had been made into an anime and also previously made into a drama in the 90s, the story is basically about a societal outcast Onizuka who is unexpectedly a very effective high school teacher. At first glance, Onizuka looks more like a biker gang thug than a respectable citizen of society. Despite being annoyingly somewhat of a pervert and a former high school delinquent, the guy actually really cares about his students and prioritizes friendship over anything else. (It helps that this live action version has to be more toned down than a manga or an animation, so stupid fan service is at a minimum). His thug qualities actually come in super handy when his students cause or get into some serious trouble.

The acting is not exactly of the highest caliber, nor is the production or any sort of conceptual art. Also, sometimes the over-the-top attempts to recreate anime in live-action scenarios can get pretty ridiculous. However, the series is very much driven by the characters and plot. There is more than enough conflict, and it’s kind of a breath of fresh air when really stuck up stupid ideas of class and gender and obsessive compulsive education get blasted by Onizuka. The moral of the story is usually that friendship and moral character more important than money, social status, or perceived beauty, and I think most viewers appreciate something like that.

As a teacher myself, the basic premise of the story struck a chord with me personally, and I liked that it really kept the romance to a minimum. Overall, the plot is not too repetitive, the over-the-top aspects of the story just kind of cracked me up, and I especially enjoyed the “special series” where he went to Taiwan. However, for the Taiwan special, I was disappointed that the obasan there didn’t speak fluent. That should expected!

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