Sunday, February 3, 2013

Review: GTO (2012)

Alternate Title: GTO
Starring: AKIRA, Takimoto Miori, Shirota Yu, Yamamoto Yusuke
Genre: School, Drama
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Episode Count: 11
Specials Count: 2
Synopsis: Onizuka Eikichi,  a former bike gang member, goes to work for Meishu Academy as a part-time gardener. After witnessing Yoshikawa Noboru attempting to commit suicide, Onizuka scares the boy off the school's roof. He investigates further, learning that Noboru is being bullied by Uehara Anko and her friends. Onizuka befriends and helps Yoshikawa to confont Uehara. Seeing Onizuka’s unusually effective problem solving skills, the school’s director, Sakurai Ryoko, makes Onizuka a teacher despite opposition from her assistant principal. Onizuka is then tasked to straighten out the particularly difficult students of Class 2-4.

There aren't many who haven't heard of the manga, Great Teacher Onizuka. Some may even know Shonan Junai Gumi and Bad Company which also focus on the life of Onizuka with those series set before he becomes a teacher. As well as those mangas and an anime series, the 2012 version of GTO also has another live action to live up to. The previous live action outing was released in 1998 so there was quite a bit of time between the two versions. Perhaps later, I'll do a comparison of the two series or manga to series.

There have been very few Japanese dramas that I've enjoyed enough to watch more than once or twice. I went into this series expecting not to like it. There had been a lot of hype when this was being cast about Jin Akanishi playing Onizuka. I was very grateful when it was announced that Akira would be taking the lead role instead. Akira is perfect for the role of Onizuka. He visually fits the part as well as being able to pull off the physical demands of it due to his background as a dancer with EXILE.

From the first episode, it's clear how the series will be. Onizuka (AKIRA) is a tough guy with a soft heart. He's a simple man who sees things how they are. When Uehara Anko (Shinkawa Yua) tells him that there is a cold wall between her parents, I doubt that she was talking about the wall that separated their bedrooms. She was most likely referring to an emotional wall that the adults had created as they drifted apart. To bring about the collapse of that emotional wall, he creates a hole in the physical one. He tells the children that when they're faced with a wall, they'll need to take it head on, otherwise nothing will ever change. It's good advice, delivered in a way that they won't quickly forget.

Onizuka's straight forward way of attacking problems will ultimately cause him quite a bit of trouble as Class 2-4 tries to rid themselves of him. It's not exactly Onizuka that they hate. It's any teacher who happens to have the misfortune of being assigned to their class. They believe that teachers (and other adults) are only out to hurt them. This is a misguided way to try to protect themselves. It's not that they're truly bad children. Each has their own issues whether it's with family or feeling inadequate. However, it's often during the series that I found the kids to be overbearing and annoying.

His problems don't end with the kids in his class. The adults are often at odds with him from Uchiyamada Hiroshi (Tayama Ryosei), the assistant principal, to parents of the students. The only people who seem to be truly on Onizuka's side are Fuyutsuki Azusa (Takimoto Miori), the other teacher for Class 2-4, and Sakurai Ryoko (Kuroki Hitomi), the school's director. Aside from those two, Onizuka is supported by his best friends, Danma Ryuji (Shirota Yu) and Saejima Toshiyuki (Yamamoto Yusuke). Both men would drop everything to come to Onizuka's aid. Ryuji is often seen as the voice of reason whenever things get out of hand. Saejima, however, is quite a handful as a corrupt cop with a love for nearly every woman he sees.

The biggest downfall of the series is that sometimes the acting can get quite cheesy. I suppose this is true of most Japanese dramas. Despite that, it is still a very enjoyable series overall. Akira is very believeable as Onizuka. It was fun to see Shirota Yu and Yamamoto Yusuke in a series together after Hana Kimi. I'd happily recommend this to anyone looking for a school drama with a bit of comedy. Put your expectations aside and enjoy it for what it is.

Rating: 3/5

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