J-Drama Review: Gokusen

YankumiAfter watching all the Great Teacher Onizuka episodes plus the movies and specials, a friend of mine informed me that there was a girl version of GTO called Gokusen. I was happy to have another series to watch, as I wanted to continue immerse myself in more conversation and contextualized Japanese while I work through the audio Japanese language course. Plus, it’s another “teacher” based drama, so I felt I would enjoy it, too.

Gokusen’s main character is a young lady, nicknamed by her students as Yankumi, who specializes in working with delinquent high school boys. At first, she seems like a naive new teacher who is going to be crucified by a class of the worst and most troublesome students at school, class 3-D, which means they are in their third and last year of high school and are the lowest performing students in school–in other words, lost causes. The teenage boys intimidate her, ignore her authority, and threaten to beat her up, and at the end of the day, they think they’ve scared her into leaving like they have every teacher before her. What the guys don’t know is that this unassuming little woman is actually the daughter and primary heir of a major yakuza clan. Not only is she unfazed by their tough guy acts, which looks like child’s play compared to what she’s dealt with as a yakuza, but she is also a devastatingly effectively fighter. So, she basically deals out tough love for all her students by never giving up on them and beating the living daylights out of anyone who lays a finger on them.

Of course, like GTO, this show is a little over-the-top and often tries to emulate anime in live-action, which comes off as ridiculous, but overall, I actually enjoyed this even more than GTO. I think GTO was better in story and character development, and it also was less annoying in terms of cheesy romance and the like. Yankumi gets pretty annoying when she’s getting all googly-eyed over her latest crush. GTO also has more plot and character complexity. However, I think I just personally related to the Gokusen female teacher situation, as some of the events in the story were sort of overly-dramatized versions of some of my own real-life experiences as a teacher.

For example, there are quite a few times where I practically busted a gut laughing when the delinquent high school boys were fighting. Often, they would not realize that she’s there until she suddenly comments on the fight or eggs the combatants on, because she believes a good fist fight showdown between two people is good for development of moral character and strong friendships. Now, I’ve absolutely never encouraged fist fights between my students, but, in Yankumi Gokusen style, I have in fact had to stop plenty of fights between young boys who were twice my size.

The first time was on my third day as a public school teacher, where I was walking to the office and saw two boys throwing their hands at each other. At first, I wasn’t sure what it was that they were doing, but then I realized they were actually punching each other. The reason I had not been able to positively identify that they were fighting at first was because their form was super duper bad. There was almost no weight or trajectory behind their punches, so they were basically engaged in a battle of glorified light slapping of each other’s faces with t heir poorly formed fists. As a brand new teacher, my initial instinct was to pull them aside and be like “Look, here’s how you made a real fist…” but of course, my professionalism and adult authority kicked in, and I stepped right between the two of them and pushed them apart and firmly told them to follow me to the principal’s office. They complied no questions asked. People later were like “You stopped the fight between those two big guys?!”, but really, it was no big deal because if you had seen their weak punches, you’d know there was really no fear of being actually hurt by their strikes. I’d been hit much harder by a karate sensei, and it wasn’t even in sparring, which I suck at.

Another notable teacher experience that the Gokusen series reminded me of was when I had seen a group of students gathering around two boys. I had just stepped out of my classroom and I was wondering what all the fuss was about, so I walked towards the crowd. The two boys started pushing each other, and just as I realized it was a fight and had crossed my arms and opened my mouth to stop it with my teacher voice, a student standing right next to me said, “GO AHEAD MAN! THERE’S NO TEACHER HERE!” I’m pretty short, and I’ve got the Asian youth genes activated at all times, so the kid basically didn’t realize I was standing right next to him. As soon as he said that, I turned and stared at him in disbelief. He turned, saw me, jumped in shock, and quickly high-tailed it away. The crowd dispersed and the fight was over before it started.

Gokusen had moments like these, that were much more extravagant and unrealistic of course. Still, I just couldn’t help but relate to the story and character as a teacher. I think if I hadn’t been a female teacher myself with the experiences I have had, I probably would have liked GTO better because I think overall it’s a lot more well put together as a series. Structurally, Gokusen gets a lot more repetitive, and each time Yankumi saves her students, the writer or writers seemed to felt this need to make it more and more extravagant. First she breaks down a door, then it’s a steel fence, then a wall, and eventually she’s breaking through concrete industrial overpasses to save her students. Also, the actress who plays Yankumi is like a total twig. Would have been nice if she had looked like she had some protein in her diet. Also, a little more actual combat training could have made the “fights” a little more believable, but whatever. I guess the silliness and unrealism is part of the awkward charm of the show.

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About tinabot

Tinabot is a writer, teacher, and ninja. She and her students write and publish their work. Her debut teen kung fu romance novel The Legend of Phoenix Mountain is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
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