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 always seems as though there’s more dumb comedy in the Early Years manga than comes up in its sequels featuring Onizuka. Now, I’m sure if I went back and checked all of GTO this would not be the case – GTO has some monumentally silly things going on, and I’ve noted just last week how much dumb fun is in 14 Days in Shonan – but here Onizuka has the better excuse of actually being an immature high schooler, meaning that he and his friends lend themselves even well to situations that make one cry with laughter and weep at the stupidity of all involved.
First, though, we get some more epic fighting, as Onizuka still has to resolve his rivalry with Mafuyu, who is determined to take on Eileen, the one that killed his brother. Now, I figured out that Eileen was actually the name of a tropical event right off the bat, meaning it can be grating seeing everyone going around just NOT GETTING that Eileen isn’t a woman. But it leads to some interesting situations, as well as some epic surfing. We also get a very shonen moment where Onizuka is taking on a group of washed-out ex-military Americans, as he notes that saying ‘dreams will die’ and ‘know your limits’ is something that happens to other people. Oh, and showing them the wrath of a true Japanese person, of course. (It almost reads like the U.S. and Japan are rival gangs here, probably deliberately.)
After this, which takes half the volume, the other half is devoted to far shorter and sillier situations. We are reminded that this manga takes place in the late 80s/early 90s with Onizuka’s obsession with bootleg video porn. We see a chapter devoted to Onizuka’s mother, and realize just how horrible it must be trying to deal with a kid like him. There’s an amusing parody of Kindaichi Case Files where Onizuka and friends try to solve the murder of one of their own (spoiler: he’s not really dead). And after his mother finally throws him out, we see Onizuka and Danma moving into a roach-infested rathole of an apartment, which brings its own levels of disgusting humor.
And then there’s the Russian night vision goggles. First off, I really like how Onizuka and Danma are shown here as the leaders of their gang. Even though everything spiraled out of control because of their underlings being stupid and not getting the point, they still don’t back down from a fight, because, well, they’re leaders. Secondly, the idea of a shonen title spending this long discussing night vision goggles being used to masturbate while watching a neighbor strip through a peephole is simply mind-numbing. I’ve noted before that Shonen Magazine seems more ‘mature’ than its rivals Jump and Sunday, and apparently that was the case 20 years ago as well. This leads to an amazing finale, which for once features Danma as the stupider one. He likes to pretend he’s the more mature, especially given he actually has a girlfriend and has gotten lucky, unlike Onizuka, but the peephole situation (which I don’t care spoil) shows he can be even more perverse when it gets right down to it.
I can see why this was such a big success for teenage boys in Japan. Even though I doubt that’s the market for it here, fans of Onizuka should really pick up this prequel, which features less teaching but just as much badassery.