Great Teacher Onizuka (GTO): one of the most loved and inspirational manga in existence. Some even pursued a career in teaching after reading it! A story about a man with little in the way of education finding a place for himself in the world as a teacher; teaching kids with more education than himself lessons about life. A wonderful combination of hard-hitting drama, complete with characters with realistic, easy to relate to problems and plenty of over the top comedy. As well as being meaningful, it can inject warmth into even the coldest of hearts. Like mine.
The story is centered around a man called Eikichi Onizuka. Like near enough every 22 year old male, he wants the easy life; a life involving lots of money, women and respect. And he is determined to get it, taking a resume with him and going to job interviews at big companies. However, there are a few minor problems: he looks like a street punk, he has bleached hair, he barely managed to graduate from a fifth rate college and he boasts about his martial arts skills on his resume, also mentioning the fact he is a virgin. Needless to say, he gets rejected every time he applies for a cushy office job.
Close to giving up on the easy life, a chance encounter with an attractive high school girl, whom is having sex with a fat and bald teacher, changes his mind. After he comes to the shocking realization that teachers are surrounded by young and pure girls, he decides to become a teacher and fulfill his dream of marrying an attractive girl younger than himself. But his goal quickly changes once again after he helps a girl solve her family problems whilst on a teaching training course, and he decides to right the wrongs of the teachers who told him he was trash by becoming the greatest teacher in the world.
While the premise is a simple one, the balance between drama and comedy and the wonderful execution makes the simplicity irrelevant. Living in the storage room at the top of Holy Forest (a co-ed private school), Onizuka helps the students in his class (3-4) in numerous ways, varying from using his street smarts to stop bullies by giving them a taste of their own medicine to simply being friends with his more lonely students. Unlike other teachers who, just like in real life, only care about their job and the money, he goes the extra mile, involving himself with his students in an attempt to make them enjoy their school years in a way he never was able to. Whether it involves saving his students from getting beaten and/or raped or helping them appreciate life by tying them to the front of his bike and driving them off an unfinished bridge (seriously), he is willing to do it. To begin with his class hate teachers in general because of a past experience, but by the end he manages to unite everyone in his class and earn the respect of all.
However, I cannot claim the story is without its problems. Some of the arcs included repeat what has gone before and appear to have only been included just to pad out the series. And, by the end, there are many subplots left hanging, and in some cases it appears that the mangaka forgot to or lacked the motivation required to finish what he had started. Although these are in truth minor problems, largely ignorable because of how enjoyable GTO is to read, I can't objectively give the story top marks when it has so many minor but bothersome issues.
Nearly all of the important members of class four get fleshed out over the course of the story. Some more than others because a few get their very own lengthy arcs included, but even those who do not are usually heavily involved in the GTO proceedings. Rather than being driven by an over-arching plot, it is driven by numerous shorter stories that focus on a certain character or two, and Onizuka usually has to step in to help the character(s) involved. I think anyone who reads it would struggle not to find at least one character to add to their favourite character list: whether you are into a mommy's boy who protects his 27 year old (and often braless) mother from men at all costs (Kunio), a mentally slow but innocent and cute girl (Tomoko) or a girl with an IQ of 200 that masks her loneliness with her intellect (Urumi), there is a loveable character for everyone included.
The best thing about the cast is that they all have relatable problems real people have. Some are dissatisfied with their lives, some have family issues, some have been abused - there is something everyone can relate to. If nothing else, pretty much everyone should be able to connect with the characters when it comes to their feelings about teachers and the barrier that exists between teacher and student. And, while it is true that the solutions to the casts various problems tend to be over the top for comedy purposes, none of the meaning is lost. In fact, the addition of often hilarious humour prevents the story as a whole from being a total downer.
GTO is truly worthy of top marks when it comes to characterisation. The only possible reason I can think of to mark it lower is that not every subplot is seen through to conclusion, which is fairly bothersome for me since I became so invested in the lives of the characters.
Are you tired of seeing the same background art repeated over and over, with new character poses drawn on top? If you are, then look no further than GTO, where even small objects in rooms are drawn with detail and the backgrounds rarely repeat...or at least not noticeably so. Because of the detailed drawings and the unusually large amount of text per page, the volumes take me far longer than a 180-200 page volume normally takes me to get though.
I cannot stress enough how lovely the GTO art is. The character models are so well drawn and realistic that I actually found the female characters attractive (the mangaka deserves an award for 'Best Drawn School Girls Ever'). The expressions are spot on and everything looks as close to perfection as I can imagine a weekly manga ever getting. My only complaint is that, towards the end, some of the characters start to look like those introduced previously... But, to be fair, it is very harsh to criticize an artist for that when reviewing a 25 volume series - there are a huge amount of characters and keeping them all looking totally different is impossible.
In closing, GTO is a must read for everyone. It would be difficult for anyone not to be moved by the story and/or not get any laughs out of the comedy. Sure, it is perverted and a little silly at times, but that just adds to the flavour. It is safe to say the series has a little something for everyone, and that is why the series is a worldwide hit. If you do not own the series, go buy all 25 volumes, sit back and get ready for the sort of enjoyment very little in this world can provide you with.