GTO: The Early Years, Vol. 13

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.

GTO: 14 Days in Shonan, Vol. 4

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

It may come as a surprise to those reading GTO 14 Days, and noting its onging bevy of nudity and sexual situations (without any actual sex, of course), that it runs in Weekly Shonen Magazine, a title that supposedly has the same age 10-13 dynamic as its competitors Shonen Jump and Shonen Sunday. But Shonen Magazine skews much older than those two in reality, as readers of Akamatsu’s love comedies and the romantic hijinks of GE Good Ending could tell you. That said, talk to any 10-13 year old boy and I think you’ll find ‘boobies!’ is high on their list of priorities. And it’s not just the nudity: some of the pasts revealed in 14 Days are dark and definitely seem not for kids, but kids their age *do* deal with abuse and abandonment. Best not to sugarcoat it… or at least sugarcoat it with Onizuka’s brand of goofy humor.

It’s all about keeping a balance, and knowing when it’s OK to do action-adventure suspense stuff and when perversion is needed. Onizuka’s own life is balanced this way, as we’ve seen him use toilet humor and lechery as a mask to hide behind when he wants to avoid discussing serious situations. In the case of this volume, however, it’s Ayame and her shattered illusions that provide the humor. She’s gotten a biased sense of Onizuka through Fuyutsuki’s image of him, and was rather taken aback at Shinomi’s violent reaction last time. But here, seeing him ogling her in the bath, running around with his “tackle out”, and seemingly unable to take on assassins in a desperate emergency simply as they’re dressed like strippers, Ayame realizes that Onizuka really is just a horny guy after all.

Which is for the best, as now she can appreciate his better sides even more. It’s not as if knowing the ‘real’ Onizuka stopped Shinomi from falling in love with him, and seeing the brief instance in the hospital when she thinks he’s dead is rather touching, even if it quickly leads back to humor of the “how dare you make me reveal my emotions” variety. And his dogged persistence in helping these kids no matter what, getting them to see that they don’t have to turn out bad, and sheer nigh-invulnerability to physical attacks are also on display here, for those who love it when Onizuka gets badass.

Likewise, the situations these kids are in have to be deepened, or else their lives will be seen by the manga reader as a checklist. “Well, he’s solved Seiya’s problems, so who’s next?” But he hasn’t solved Seiya’s problems. He’s gotten him to think seriously about them, but there’s been pressure Onizuka doesn’t know about (not just twins, but evil twins!) and the end of this volume seems to have come full circle in that we see Seiya ready to confront his stepfather with violence. It’s also a good thing that we not only see a flashback showing the abuse that he suffered at his mom’s boyfriends hands, but also another showing his mother’s abandonment, and how it affected him just as hard. These are complex situations that Onizuka can’t just solve by punching people and giving inspirational speeches. Well, not ENTIRELY by that, at least.

Another cliffhanger for this volume, but I expect that nxt time we’ll move on to the twins Riko and Miko, who look to be even harder to get through to. (The twins are apparently popular in Japan – they got their own spinoff after 14 Days ended.) But for manga about inspirational, never say die teachers who nevertheless cannot resist looking at naked women, there’s no better than GTO.

GTO: 14 Days in Shonan, Vol. 3

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

After an action-packed 2nd volume of GTO, it’s time to take a breather and get back to some lighter stuff before we gear up for the next broken teen who Onizuka has to save. And hey, didn’t Shiratori-san say that there was someone else who worked at the White Swan? Who was even prettier than her? Could this possibly be the overture to… some romance?

Well, no. This is Eikichi Onizuka, so whenever romance rears its ugly head, he turns into the immature idiot that he is. (Yes, he’s also a heartwarming badass, but hey, facets.) First he tries his hand at seducing Shiratori-san via some red wine, which is a little creepy but it becomes clear that he’s not really going to follow through on it unless she’s awake and willing… okay, no, it’s creepy no matter what. Then when she falls asleep, he falls back on peeping on the other caretaker in the house, who we haven’t met before… or so we think. Much to his surprise and ours, the other caretaker turns out to be his old not-girlfriend Shinomi Fujisaki, who is, as you might imagine, displeased at Onizuka ogling her nude.

It’s great seeing Shinomi back in the storyline, as she makes a good love-interest contrast to Azusa Fuyutsuki from the GTO series proper. Whereas Azusa tends to be ‘he’s sort of a weirdo, but I can see the good heart inside of him’, Shinomi is very much in the ‘I’ve always seen the good heart, but WHY IS HE SUCH A FREAK’ school of lovers. As you might expect, Onizuka walking back into her life after disappearing years ago confuses the hell out of her, and she responds via violence in the best tsundere way. (Onizuka, who is very similar to her, responds by changing the subject and being over the top goofy, which we’ve already seen tends to be his way of avoiding serious issues.) I don’t expect much to be resolved here – this takes place during GTO proper, which didn’t resolve any romances – but it’s sweet to see them reunite.

As for the rest of the manga, we’ve resolved the parental problems that Miki had, and now that we know that she was merely the easiest ‘villain’ to take down, we know it’s only going to get worse. So we get a flashback to another resident of the White Swan, Ikuko, and her abusive mother, who was so bad social services had to step in. This is probably one of the best written parts of the entire volume, as it really gets into the ambiguous feelings kids have when their loved ones abuse them – and the stoic acceptance that it’s their fault for not being “good enough”. I’m not sure we’ll see more of Ikuko’s life later on, but I do hope that she manages to come to terms with her upbringing.

Then there’s Seiya, who would appear to be the next ‘project’ for Onizuka to fix. And once again, we see how Onizuka works – forcing the kids to ‘go too far’ in order to show them that deep down they really don’t want to take the final steps towards darkness. All of these manga – GTO, Shonan Jun’ai Gumi, and this spinoff – stem from the same genre of Japanese manga, which are about teenagers and family, and how much they feel abandoned and helpless. If Onizuka can help these kids reconnect emotionally, on any level, he’s going to do it. And it would appear that the fourth volume will be another action-filled one.