GTO: 14 Days in Shonan, Vol. 7

By Toru Fujisawa. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Weekly Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Vertical.

Another volume of 14 Days, and the lessons remain the same. Don’t let your past define you, don’t become a bad person just because society thinks you are, there are other people who really do care about you, etc. The telling of this can be somewhat melodramatic, but that works in the story’s favor, to be honest. Onizuka and his story is larger than life. Moreover, to every teenager who thinks their problems are the ABSOLUTE WORST EVER, every decision they make and conflict they have is this dramatic. Indeed, it’s telling that Kikuchi and Urumi’s solution on how to break Miko is simply to ramp *up* the drama.


That said, my favorite part of the volume came in between crises, as Shinomi gets back to the White Swan and runs into Urumi, who’s hanging out after assisting Onizuka with Miko. Seeing the most popular girl in Shonan Jun’ai Gumi meet the most popular girl in GTO is sort of a fan dream, and at the start it goes exactly as we’d expect: Urumi instantly identifies Shinomi as a threat and starts to systematically make her feel small and cornered, with the help of money and a typically oblivious Onizuka.

The best comes in the bath, however, when Urumi learns that Shinomi hasn’t actually gotten anywhere with Onizuka, and realizes that they’re not rivals but the same – doomed to be the ‘little sister’ who can’t be seen romantically. And the tension in Urumi *instantly* dissolves, as she suddenly regards Shinomi as someone to confide in (I don’t think she ever did that in GTO, so it’s impressive). They’re both probably correct, by the way – I suspect if Onizuka ever does end up with anyone in the future of GTO, it’ll be Fuyutsuki, simply as he actually sees her as a possible romance. In any case, Urumi’s juvenile solution to their frustration, and Shinomi going along with it, is a pitch-perfect ending to the scene.

Unfortunately, the real world is due to come crashing into the series. Despite a chapter that pushes the bounds of ridiculousness by having Onizuka literally fly for over a mile. The mayor of Shonan proves to be the sort who wants anything that might be a problem to simply go away till he’s re-elected, and his slimeball assistant appears to want to take advantage of that by having some of the ‘White Swan’ kids returned to the loving arms of their parents – even if those parents are abusive scum. Which means that, with only two volumes of the series to go after this, we may end up right back where we started, with Sakurako being in danger.

For all that Miko and Riko were a credible threat to Onizuka in the past couple of volumes, there was no doubt that they wouldn’t be won over (kicking their deadbeat dad into the harbor likely helped out a lot there). These guys, though, are far less likely to simply be misunderstood or uncaring. Yes, GTO may tell you that you need to stop feeling sorry for yourself and move forward, but it never diminishes what you’ve been through. Which makes this new threat all the more scary. That said, this is Onizuka, and I look forward to seeing how he takes it out.

GTO: The Early Years, Vol. 15

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.

And so, after much delay and a rescue by our friends at Vertical, the GTO Early Years series is now complete.It’s been a ling ride, and you can visibly see how much Fujisawa has improved and refined his art – Shinomi, for one, is almost unrecognizable compared to how she looked when we first saw her, and most of the characters have that ‘GTO’ look that we’re more familiar with from the sequel. What’s more, knowing he has to wrap things up, Fujisawa devotes much of this volume to our heroes’ two love-interests, showing how each of them compares and contrasts with their man. In particular, Shinomi demonstrates that, in her own way, she can screw everything up just as much as Eikichi.

When I reviewed Vol. 14, I noted that I wasn’t sure if the cliffhanger reveal would be played for comedy or drama. Very cleverly, this is actually used in-story – Shinomi, in a fit or misplaced jealousy, is ready to mock Eikichi mercilessly, only to suddenly find that he’s far more affected by everything than she had anticipated. In fact, things get so bad so fast that she desperately confesses to him – which he seems to pretend not to hear, something that he’s very good at indeed. (Note that in GTO 14 Years he’s *still* pretending not to hear Shinomi at times…) After a heart to heart and a good cry with an old mentor, Shinomi decides to go all out and give herself body and soul to Eikichi. This ends up going horribly wrong in the best GTO tradition, and in the funniest scene of the entire book. I had always been a fan of Onizuka getting together with Azusa, given I read GTO first, but Shinomi is making me waver a bit. She’s a perfect complement to his idiocy.

Nagisa, meanwhile, is having troubles of her own. Mostly that Ryuji is using their dates to have sex with her and not much else. And the sex isn’t bad, but Nagisa is a romantic. So when a guy at a nearby high school confesses to her, she’s depressed enough to actually go out with him. Again, Ryuji has always been slightly (but only slightly) more mature than Eikichi, so it would make sense that his own complement is the same. As we see later in the book, she’s trying to study and get into college so she can become a therapist and deal with… well, people like herself. (It’s likely been long forgotten, but Nagisa has disassociative identity disorder). Getting Ryuji to realize that she’s not just there for him to stick it in is tough. Luckily, she’s still completely devoted to him, and it all works out.

And so we get to the final battles. There’s a group of new freshman entering high school, all of whom have heard about the famous exploits of the Oni-Baku Duo, and all of whom are now ready to pledge their lives to them and take over all of Shonan. This is somewhat disquieting to our heroes, who while they always unquestioningly defend their friends, and certainly enjoy being in a gang, fighting, and driving around on bikes, have never really had the ambition to take over the city. Or indeed do much at all. Ryuji sees his girlfriend’s fierce study and is blown away – he’s starting to wonder what to do with his life once he graduates. Onizuka is not quite at that stage (indeed, it will take until the start of GTO to push him there), but the two definitely realize they don’t want to be gang leaders the rest of their days, and something needs to be done.

As ever in the GTO series, events spiral out of control into complete madness, and talking everyone down is no longer an option. So the two of them decide to pull off an elaborate final fight (between each other, of course), and leave this world once and for all. Now clearly we’re not buying what they’re doing – we’ve seen GTO, after all, which shows them both as adults – but I think even readers seeing this back in 1996 knew this was all an elaborate put-on. And sure enough, it’s not even 15 pages before the reveal. Those 15 pages, though, are styled like a documentary/remembrance, with reactions ranging from anger to disbelief to genuine grief (Shinomi and Nagisa).

GTO and its prequels/sequels ran in Weekly Magazine rather than Weekly Jump, and the audiences are fundamentally different. But in the end, you can’t deny that GTO: The Early Years brings you some of the best in shonen ideals. Kids having fun, getting into goofy antics, and trying to get laid are contrasted with holding on to your dreams, always being there for your friends, and enjoying your youth while trying not to destroy it. Eikichi and Ryuji have walked a fine line between those ideals at times, but in the end have shown the main way to accomplish these ideals: a good heart. (And also possibly being a badass biker with ungodly stamina.)

GTO: The Early Years, Vol. 14

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.

One of the things I’ve always liked about the GTO franchise, be it Shonan Jun’ai Gumi or GTO or Shonan 14 Days, is its insistence on taking responsibility for your own actions while at the same time not letting that destroy your dreams. Onizuka choosing to become a teacher may have had a lecherous motivation at the start, but it’s been proven time and time again that his ability to motivate jaded young minds and make them see there are other ways is second to none. And it’s also seen here in the earlier title, as we meet Nao Kadena, a former young punk who drove around in fast cars and on fast bikes (because there was nothing else to do, of course) who is now returning as a teacher in order to motivate these kids to get better grades… by any means necessary.

Onizuka here is fairly admirable throughout. Even if he’s attracted to Nao and thinking with his genitals as usual, he still notes that there’s something off about her, and resolves to dig a bit deeper and find out (and if he happens to see her naked, well, bonus). It’s this desire to understand and help others that makes him such an attractive shonen hero, and helps us to understand why girls actually do fall for him.

Then we have the second half of the book, which opens with a scene which reminds you why, even if he has a lot of girls falling for him, he’s still a virgin. After being mocked by Ryuuji, who is off for a secret date with Nagisa (still locked up by her parents, I believe), Onizuka decides to lose his virginity once and for all. So he climbs 12 stories up to Shinomi’s apartment, breaks into her bedroom, removes her panties and prepares to rape her in her sleep. Now, I know this was meant to be played for comedy. I also get that Shinomi woke up, beat the shit out of him, and that everyone regards him as a complete idiot for these actions. But holy crap, Shonen Magazine! What kind of heroes are you rolling out here?

Of course, we can also guess he probably wouldn’t have been able to go through with it. When he meets up with a genuinely cute girl later at a karaoke bar, who seems to be almost too good to be true. Taking her to a love hotel, he confesses his desire, and she’s willing to sleep with him… but is clearly doing it because he wants to, not due to any feeling on her part. This stops Onizuka cold, and he walks out, noting that he wants his first time to have some sort of love behind it. (That sound you heard was my neck breaking from the whiplash from three chapters ago to this point.) This touches her, and so over the course of the next few days the two begin a genuine romance – much to Shinomi’s annoyance (yes, she still has a crush on him despite everything).

Of course, the final pages seem to indicate that this romance won’t last. I’m not actually sure if this will end in a comedic way or will be another ‘Onizuka saves a lost soul and teaches them to dream again’ sort of climax. We will see in Vol. 15, the final volume in the series. Till then, enjoy Onizuka, seen here at his best and worst.