Bit of a gamble, this. For the first time, Vertical, Inc. is resuming a manga series that was previously being issued by another publisher. In this case, the publisher was Tokyopop and the series was GTO (Great Teacher Onizuka): The Early Years. It's an interesting parallel tie-in with Vertical's other GTO-themed offering, which I covered previously.
Early Years is, as the title implies, the story of GTO back when he was just "O": Eikichi Onizuka, young punk with an idealistic streak that tends to put him on the wrong side of most fights. Years deals with his time in a high-school gang along with his buddy Ryuji Danma, and much of what goes on is a lot like what Onizuka-the-teacher would himself be dealing with years later: gang wars, trouble from the wrong side of the law, trouble from the right side of the law, and the endless ways Onizuka can get rejected by women.
Most of what goes on in this volume is episodic adventures sandwiched between a few longer plotlines. Among the latter: Onizuka rescues a girl who is being dragged by degrees into a slavery/prostitution ring (not that saving her is going to allow him to score with her, mind you) and incurs the wrath of hardcore gangsters along the way — although they're impressed enough with Onizuka's brio to let him walk. Even more problematic, though, is when Onizuka faces down "Joey", a kid who's not only gone over the edge but (as Ray Bradbury once put it in one of his stories) is a fall-off-the-cliff-and-no-bottom-to-hit. How's Onizuka, brawler extraordinaire, supposed to deal with someone who not only doesn't feel pain but positively thrives on it?
Vertical's previous manga offerings have all either been new acquisitions that they've started from the beginning, or a few retranslations of previously-issued titles. This is the first time they've explicitly picked up where someone else left off, and that limits its possible appeal a bit. If you start here without any context, you’re liable to be a little lost. To compensate for that, though, they've posted some notes to help prospective readers keep everything straight. Me, I walked in more or less cold, picked up most of what I needed to know from context, and laughed myself out of my chair all the same.