Great Teacher Onizuka inspires kids, otaku alike
In this issue’s Otaku Corner, we’re going to time travel back to the late ’90s/early 2000s to focus on an anime classic that is situated in a high school setting. Instead of having a student wishing for their romantic sempai to notice, the main character is an interesting fellow: A former motorcycle gang leader who barely graduates from a lesser-known university who tries his luck in teaching high schoolers. Who is this man? He’s Eikichi Onizuka also known as “GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka.”
Based on the manga of the same name by Tohru Fujisawa, the anime takes viewers along Onizuka’s journey from former gang biker to game-changing teacher. Onizuka applies at Holy Forest Academy expecting that he would be teaching high school female students who would fall in love with him. Instead, he’s assigned to Class O, consisting of troublemakers and blackmailers. After saving a Class O student from committing suicide twice, Onizuka uses his skills of tough love to reach out to the students. After noticing Onizuka’s brave actions, the school’s Chairwoman offers Onizuka the teaching position, provided he would have to live in a school storage room.
As the anime continues, Onizuka befriends the class-o students who tried to get him kicked out and joins him in various typical anime situations ranging from helping a female student get her big break in acting, to keeping a promise to pay for a school field trip to Okinawa. Onizuka pulls through with his promises while driving the school principal Hiroshi Uchiyamada crazy with either Onizuka’s crazy luck or his precious Cresta sedan being totaled by Onizuka nearly every episode. In the anime’s last episode, Onizuka uncovers a sinister plot by a corrupt teachers union to pin a former Holy Forest student’s suicide on a Class O student. Onizuka takes matters in his own hands by taking the blame, exposing the teachers union’s actions and flees to America where he continues teaching at a California high school while showing his new students how he does things.
Let me state this: Onizuka is a teacher I wish I had in high school. Knowing when to dish out discipline and support to at-risk kids is an artform. GTO accomplish this goal as an anime high school series by showing that teachers can be among those who are major influences in kids’ lives. Noriyuki Abe, known for his work on “Bleach,” keeps true to Fujisawa-san’s original work – showing how Onizuka adds tough love and teaches life lessons to students while mixing comedic elements. I felt invested with each episode, which provided life lessons and fun along the way.
Credit goes to Tokyopop and its CEO Stuart Levy for maintaining GTO’s originality and casting impressive English voice actors such as Steve Blum to play Onizuka, Wendee Lee as school director Sakurai, and Onizuka’s love interest, Azusa Fuyutsuki. Levy showed excellent wisdom with additional top names such as Tony Oliver, Richard Epcar, Michelle Ruff, and the late Robert Papenbrook to play voices of various characters. Papenbrook gets special recognition for his role as Principal Uchiyamada whose beloved Cresta sedan is always either totaled or stolen during encounters with Onizuka’s exploits. The music for GTO is top-notch with the first session opening theme performed by L’ Arc-en-Ciel and the second opening theme done by Porno Graffiti. After seeing the complete series of GTO, I’m now in the hunt to acquire the manga volumes, if I can still find them.
“Great Teacher Onizuka” is a definitely among anime’s greatest series. For GTO to convince a non-high school anime viewer like me to take another look at this genre, I was impressed. I have a piece of advice for inspiring teachers-to-be: Study hard and follow the way of Eikichi Onizuka. And, for those current and former teachers who give their best to their students: Thank you for all you do. We at GI salute you!
Brandon Beatty is associate editor of Gaming Insurrection. He can be reached by email at brandonb[at]gaminginsurrection.com