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GTO Shonan 14 Days – Manga Mondays

Posted on: April 26, 2010

G T O! G T O!

He's back!

Last weekend, I stopped by the local Kinokuniya book store and noticed the new GTO manga by Fujisawa Tooru: GTO Shonan 14 Days. I remember hearing about its existence last year, but this was the first time I’d seen it in collected form. I snatched it up immediately, because I was a huge fan of the first Great Teacher Onizuka manga a decade ago.

Great Teacher Onizuka holds a special place in my heart for many reasons. It was the first book I ever read in Japanese, it was the first Japanese drama I ever watched, and it broke the mold for every other school drama in existence. The stories lost some steam after 14 volumes, but Onizuka’s force of personality kept the whole thing together with his wonderful mix of crude humor, slapstick, and shockingly empathic moments hidden under the rough exterior.

In the years since GTO ended, Fujisawa Tooru hasn’t quite been able to recapture that magic. Does a return to his signature character mean that he’s trying to cash in on previous successes, or is it actually worth reading? Thoughts after the jump.

One of the problems with the original GTO was its constant need to outdo itself. After the manga dealt with pedestrian school problems like bullying, suicidal students, and inattentive parents, the plots kept escalating (underground arm wrestling contest) and escalating (brain hemorrhage) until we saw Onizuka stretch our suspension of disbelief to the breaking point by coming back from the dead and jumping a motorcycle into a burning building (yes, that’s really how it ended). GTO Shonan 14 Days starts with a new cast around our beloved 22-year-old Eikichi Onizuka, and by giving him a new crew to work with, reminds us of everything we like about the Great Teacher Onizuka.

The new manga picks up almost immediately after the end of the original Great Teacher Onizuka, and after a few obligatory references to the events of its predecessor, gives Onizuka a familiar-yet-new setting to work with. While on the run from angry parents and more than a few police, Onizuka ends up in his hometown of Shonan, helping out at a shelter for problematic young teens. The kids are an eclectic mix of abandoned, abused, and antisocial children with one thing in common: none of them trust adults.

Both Fujisawa Tooru and his greatest creation are in their element in this new story, bringing back everything that was good about GTO. The comedy runs thick and dirty in the pages, as Onizuka uses every dirty trick he can to survive the kids at White Swan while trying to appease the demands of his own erection. Underneath that rough exterior (and a few more layers of rough interior) lies the same warm heart as always, though. That warmth shines through in his fierce refusal to repeat society’s mistakes with these damaged children. Just as before, there are a lot of “hell yeah!” moments sprinkled in the manga, where you cheer for Onizuka as he gives society a well-deserved middle finger. In the first couple of volumes alone, he punches an abusive father through a window, punches the chief of police in the face for valuing his job over his daughter, and gets the local biker gangs to cooperate with the police in a citywide search for a kidnapped girl. It’s just great scene after great scene in the manga so far, and I’m just as hooked now as I was ten years ago.

From the first three boks, it looks like Shonan 14 Days will be a great showcase for the enduring appeal of Onizuka. He’s the epitome of an overgrown man-child, but thanks to that very flaw, he connects with these kids in a way no one else could. He’s stubborn and slow on the uptake, yet admirable in his determination to make sure no kid gets neglected. He’s an irredeemable punk, but he’s also a cartoon superhero, sustaining beating after beating but always getting up so we know it’s okay to laugh, in the tradition of Buster Keaton and Jackie Chan. He’s a lecher, but… well, okay, he’s just a lecher and it’s funny, there’s nothing really redeeming about that part of him.

The best part of Shonan 14 Days, though, is that it gives itself a time limit. After two weeks of Onizuka’s over-the-top exploits, it’ll be done before it can strain our ability to believe that a dirty-minded teacher with a checkered past can be a hero. I really hope that someone picks up this manga and releases it soon, because this manga so far is just like its name: great.

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3 Responses to "GTO Shonan 14 Days – Manga Mondays"

Hell yes! I loved GTO. Do you think theirs any chance of a English translation?

The US manga market’s been down lately, and GTO is pretty dusty by many American standards. However, I think that the strength of this title gives it a chance. I’ll be keeping an eye out for it from either TokyoPop or Del Rey in particular.

Ah, thank you for you help! I will be on the lookout for news of a US release.

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