GTO: The Early Years, Vol. 11

By Toru Fujisawa. Released in Japan as “Shonan Jun’ai Gumi” by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Weekly Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Vertical.

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Tokyopop released the first 10 volumes of the SJG omnibuses, but then stopped 3 years ago (they seem to have stopped before they folded, in fact, so we can ascribe it to mediocre sales more than anything else, I expect). Luckily, Vertical has picked up where they left off, and say that if sales are good they may go back and re-release the first 10. That said, this is not GTO: 14 Days in Shonan, where you can simply hop right into the story with minimal info. The series was up to Vol. 21 and 22 in Japan (the volumes collected here), and it shows. New readers are advised to go here to catch up on the characters so as not to be confused.

That said, it’a not impossible to read this without huge knowledge of what has gone before. I had fallen way behind in my SJG reading, but was able to pick up where I left off with minimal confusion, mostly as this is a delinquent manga, and so just expect lots of people hitting other people. When Onizuka was in GTO, and even 14 Days, he still gets into tons of fights, but at least there he’s slightly more successful at not wanting to get involved in them. Here, in high school, there’s simply not enough impetus (beyond “getting laid”, still his primary motivation) to not be the leader of a gang. Mostly as Onizuka and his best friend Ryuji are *really good* at being gang leaders. They don’t do evil stuff, they inspire loyalty, and they protect the weak. They’re the gang you only see in Japanese manga like this.

Of course, Onizuka is still recognizable even if he’s younger (though, being that it’s school, be prepared for everyone to say Eikichi more than Onizuka – it is his first name, after all). Mostly in his complete inability to score with the opposite sex. By now we’re far along enough in the series that his friend Ryuji is living with his girlfriend, the sweet (at least sweet NOW) girl Nagisa, but Onizuka still strikes out, for the exact same reasons as in GTO: he’s an absolute idiot about it. And just like in GTO, there are girls who are clearly in love with him and would be happy to be with him if he’d only get a clue. Chief among these being Shinomi Fujisaki, who clearly likes him but is also far too similar to him for things to work out. (It doesn’t help that he sees her as a little sister.) I like the girls in GTO, who come in many different types and varieties, and the gang aspect of the plot means we get a lot who can kick any guy’s ass. Shinomi is, along with Azusa and Urumi from GTO, one of the most important women in Onizuka’s life. Expect to see more of her.

There’s also some terrific comedy here – the author likes to break up all the gang fights with one-shot chapters that are hilariously silly. Here we have two opposing tough guys trying to outbluff each other, only to have everything completely ruined by the escalating war between their respective girlfriends. Possibly the funniest chapter, though, was seeing Golgo 13-esque huge guy Usagi and his family, who are all named after Sailor Moon characters – and all look like they stepped out of Fist of the North Star. Despite having a punchline that you can see from space, it still works beautifully.

Be warned – with GTO and 14 Days in Shonan, you can sit through the manga without necessarily being a fan of big, epic fights. (well, just about.) That’s not something you can do here. GTO The Early Years shows us how Onizuka came to be the guy we know, and that means a lot of gang wars, fights, and blood. No one is killed – this still runs in Shonen Magazine, after all – but it’s a manga about young kids who get into a lot of fights. If you can respect that, there’s a lot to love here. Well, except maybe Onizuka’s hair. He did himself a big favor when he lost the perm.

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