If one were to travel into the universe of GTO: 14 Days in Shonan and look up Badass on Wikipedia, I would find the article deficient if a picture of Eikichi Onizuka didn’t appear as the illustration of choice on that page.
GTO stands for Great Teacher Onizuka, and the adventures of Onizuka and his stupefying excursions into rock-ribbed machismo have been chronicled in both a manga and its subsequent anime adaptation. Both were translated into English, but are now sadly out of print. Enter Vertical, Inc., who have been looking to broaden their manga offerings. Rather than reissue all of GTO, which would have been problematic at best, they elected instead to bring English-speaking audiences this previously-untranslated follow-up series. It’s a gamble, but not a reckless one, and the presence of previous GTO stories doesn’t create a major barrier for newcomers.
I should know, since I’m something of a test case. I walked into GTO:14DiS with admittedly hazy memories of the original story — no plot specifics, just a general understanding of the overall storyline. It took only a few pages to get everything straight. At the age of twenty-two, former juvenile delinquent Onizuka has decided to turn his life in a new direction: he’s a schoolteacher. That said, most of his lessons are closer to life-coaching than conventional remedial instruction. He’s also known for his, uh, unorthodox approaches to reaching problem students … and when all else fails, he can always fall back on his brawn and brawling to make his point. He’s a pop-culture embodiment of the Japanese concept of ketsudan: steely determination in the face of all odds. (One of the adventures in the previous series involved him taking and passing an exam after having taken a bullet to the stomach.) The only Manliness Point he hasn’t scored so far is losing his virginity, and his (failed) attempts to do so make for a regular running gags in the GTO-verse.
14 Days opens with Onizuka deciding to take a hike from Tokyo and lie low after making a total ass of himself on national TV. (It’s a long story.) He elects to spend some time in Shonan, a stretch of the Japanese coast that’s best known for being a favored hangout for toughs of all stripes — meaning he’ll fit right in as long as nobody tries to kill him. Unfortunately, he’s barely even off the train before being embroiled in trouble: when he spots a girl shoplifting, she turns the tables on him and accuses him of being a groper. The cops are in the middle of forcing a gun down Onizuka’s throat when he’s bailed out by the girls’ own teacher. Her name’s Shiratori, and she runs a special school for difficult children (the “White Swan”). What’s more, she knows of Onizuka’s astonishing track record with similarly troubled youth, and is only too happy to invite him to stay at their place. The shoplifter, Katsuragi, was — what else? — a student of hers, and a particularly difficult and recalcitrant one at that.
“Everyone here is a victim of selfish parents,” Shiratori explains to Onizuka as she walks him from room to room in the White Swan. Case in point: Sakurako, a self-cutter whose violent father shows up to take her back home. Onizuka makes a stand to keep her out of Daddy’s (clearly abusive) hands. Because we’ve seen Onizuka suck up and dish out so much punishment already, it doesn’t come off as outlandish when he sends the guy flying out a window with one punch: it’s just par for the course with this character. What’s harder for him to deal with is well-connected thugs. Earlier on, Shiratori phoned some rent-a-brutes to teach Onizuka a lesson, and he gave twice as good as he got — only to find that the reason Shiratori is able to summon the cops on such short notice is because of her dad being one himself. This sets the stage for a long-term conflict between the two of them, one where the stakes are apparently limitless: Shiratori’s parting shot for the volume is to douse Onizuka in kerosene and set him on fire … well, it’s kerosene and water, 50/50. She does it mostly for the pleasure of watching the poor man wet his pants in front of everyone.
All of this falls right in line with the way GTO has worked in the past: put Onizuka in horribly adverse situations, surround him with people who want nothing more than to kick his ass into next Wednesday, and watch him not only triumph over them but make them into hardened allies. The whole concept of beating the bad guys by making them into friends thanks to the sheer force of your personality is a standard shonen manga staple: it’s hard to imagine Naruto, Luffy or most of the rest of their ilk without that trait.
What makes GTO stand apart is the way those situations are derived out of the rough-and-tumble of the lower tiers of modern Japanese society (albeit with a lot more color and invention than you’d get from, say, the pages of the Asahi Shinbun), instead of being set in a synthetic fantasyland. It’s one thing entirely to use a Clone Jutsu to clobber your opponent, and another thing entirely — one a good deal more immediate — to let someone else wielding a baseball bat get the first strike in so you can beat them down, because by now you’re inured to that kind of punishment. Probably funnier, too.