GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka (1999) Review

Synopsis

Meet Eikichi Onizuka. He’s 22 years old, a former gang leader, and he’s going to become the greatest teacher in all of Japan. Unfortunately for him, it will take more than brute force to become a teacher, and he will find that some of the students he faces can be more ruthless than any gangsters he’s ever encountered.

Review

While at first glance the story of a teacher doesn’t sound like a thrilling concept for a show, GTO succeeds in making the subject matter interesting, in large part by not taking reality, or anything else, too seriously.

To call Onizuka’s methods unorthodox would be a grand exaggeration. In fact, most of his antics would not only result in him losing his job but would most likely land him in prison as well. Nevertheless, his simple-minded solutions and blind luck supply ample hilarity and excitement.

Although this storyline takes place in a contemporary setting, the events seem almost pure fantasy, as the scenarios all range from outrageous to obscene and follow each other at a non-stop pace. Not only that, but the amount of luck that Onizuka seems to possess borders on the supernatural, and this seems to save him from some seemingly impossible situations.

The story begins with Eikichi’s desire to become a teacher, first for his lecherous propensities, and later for his desire to help young people. He struggles first to obtain a teaching opportunity, and then again in order to retain it. Apparently, his techniques and behavior aren’t viewed favorably by the majority of the faculty (I can’t imagine why), and the students in his class have a private vendetta against teachers and adults in general.

The students in class 3-4 are the worst of the worst, succeeding in scaring away all previous teachers, and even driving some mad. They orchestrate some dastardly and grotesque plans in order to get rid of their new teacher. Several of these students are especially hateful, hoping to not only remove Onizuka but also destroy his career or entire life. The sadistic and perverse mindset portrayed by some of the ringleaders is particularly chilling, making them easily some of the most sinister anime villains I’ve seen.

Despite all their nefarious machinations, the students did not count on the tenacity possessed by Onizuka. His blind dedication and fighting instinct lead him to confront his challenges rather than run away. This dedication wins over some of the less zealous students, but the others require more convincing.

Fortunately for him, his luck and unconventional style help him to avoid some of the student’s schemes. His selfless nature also becomes apparent when he saves the lives of these very students in several different situations. In fact, several times he chooses to act in order to save someone who considers him an enemy.

All of these elements combine in a manner that is highly entertaining to watch, despite being mostly hyperbole. Onizuka is a fascinating character and often bumbling nonconformist who stands tough and succeeds by sheer force of will.

For some reason, in the middle of the series, there are several episodes where he transforms from the nonchalant tough guy into a simpering, infantile super-pervert that is just painful to watch. Thankfully, he makes a gradual comeback towards the end of the show.

As animation goes, it’s very basic in style. Although some may be put off by the somewhat dated nature of the animation, the quality is certainly good enough to carry the story. The facial expressions are a standout, however. I’ve never seen such hilariously exaggerated facial contortions in any series before, and they certainly work well to emphasize the mood.

The sound quality is only average overall, but the soundtrack features two very catchy and fitting intros, that are worth hearing more than once.

Though the story’s mix of humorous, dramatic, and emotional elements tends more towards comedy, there are some poignant, disturbing, and significant moments. It is hard to express how skillfully this story compels the viewer through the use of multi-episode story arcs. Although some of the later episodes, in particular, seem rather formulaic, the show still manages to retain a huge amount of appeal through clever use of suspense and drama. It’s unfortunate that there’s not more of an overriding storyline other than Onizuka attempting to retain his job.

Conclusion

Onizuka is not your father’s teacher. In fact, he is probably no one’s teacher, even in today’s school system. If you can put aside the fact that he would be fired after the first five minutes of a class, then expect to be entertained by his unique style of teaching. Though the humorous elements make some of the more profound moments seem like filler, there are some significant moments that make the show worthwhile on multiple levels. For entertainment value alone, this series is a standout.

  • Audio: Average w/ good intro music
  • Video: Average animation, but great facial expressions
  • Plot: Dynamic and very episodic
  • Style: Cool, often crude, and crazy
  • Characters: Likeable, but sometimes unbelievable
  • Violence: Moderate
  • Language: Moderate
  • Nudity: Mild (plenty of crude humor)
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Episodes: 43
  • Rating: 4.5 of 5

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