WARNING: this review contains information which some may consider to be spoilers. This page covers volumes 3 and 4 of the GTO DVDs and volumes 5 and 7 of the GTO manga.
When you think of the words "anime" and "manga" do you think of stories with robots and people with magical powers? Or do you think about stories set in classrooms and involving teachers and students? Either answer is correct, because there are anime and manga titles involving robots and people with magical powers, but GTO is a comedy title based on a teacher and his students.
GTO stands for "Great Teacher Onizuka," after the central character, Eikichi Onizuka, who would like to be the "greatest high school teacher in the world." Onizuka's students are an average mix of students, not a class filled with 'gifted' students as in Head of the Class or a class of 'slower' students as in Welcome Back Kotter. There are very bright students in the class, and average students, but there is also one girl who is pegged as slow, being called "Slo-mo-ko" as a play on her name, Tomoko. Thus the "hook" to GTO is Onizuka himself, without the awkward set-up of his students being sterotyped.
Eikichi Onizuka is just 22 and is an ex-biker and karate champ. He has a quick temper and a quick mind. He has probably never been kissed and is very eager to change that particular aspect of his social life. Eikichi is blond and in static scenes in both the manga and anime, he appears to have very Western facial features. But when he is angry, his face appears to be almost a caricature of Japanese facial features. This was confusing at first in the manga, but was carried over very consistently in the anime.
Both the manga and anime of GTO from Tokypop carry ratings of "OT: Older teen age 16+." There are some references to sex, and Onizuka smokes like a chimney in every scene outside of the classroom. Of the four GTO pieces discussed in this article, three have covers which show Onizuka smoking a cigarette. Many of the plots in GTO would not be shown on network television in the US, such as when Onizuka enters a student in a beauty pageant or when he sees the vice-principal of his school groping someone on the commuter train.
A side note about the manga: in simple terms, a "manga" is a Japanese graphic novel, a long comic book. Tokyopop publishes their manga titles with the catch-phrase "100% authentic manga," meaning that they publish them in the United States the same way that they are published in Japan. They are read from right-to-left, which sounds confusing, but Tokyopop includes a chart (in the back, where "page one" would be in a left-to-right book) to help you figure it out. Each manga cover is a little bit smaller than a DVD case, and a little bit thicker. It is a handy size to read, and once you make your way through one chapter (about 20 pages), the format will be second nature to you.
The GTO anime is based on the manga, with the same storylines. The broad strokes are exactly the same, although some of the smaller details are changed. For example, in one plot, Onizuka gives a costume to a student to wear: in the manga, the costume is Cutey Honey, but in the anime it is a bunny suit similar to the ones worn by Playboy bunnies. Another small change involves loose change: in the manga, the coins have fallen out of Onizuka's pocket, but in the anime, it is a coin that he finds. There is also a live-action series of GTO, but we have not seen it thus can't comment on how well it adapted to live-action.
None of the changes that we noticed harmed the plot, and some of the deleted aspects actually made the anime a stronger piece by taking away elements that distracted from the central character of Onizuka. An example of this is the story segment about the vice-principal on the train (mentioned above): Onizuka's reaction to this reveals a part of his character (unexpected loyalty), but we see it in other segments of the anime, and this scene is unneeded.
Each volume of the manga has nine chapters of about 20 pages each. To give you an idea of how fast the anime progresses compared to the manga, we read Volumes 5 and 7 of the manga, and watched Volumes 3 and 4 of the anime of DVD, and the story on the two DVDs started at the same point but went two episodes past where the story was at the end of volume 7 of the manga.
Back to the basic plot: Eikichi Onizuka is a new teacher, without full status yet at his school, so he must prove himself constantly. At one point, to save his job he must take a standardized test with his students and get the highest score in the country. Being new and so young, he has unusual ways of reaching his students, and this sometimes causes resentment from a few of the students. It also causes friction between Onizuka and the vice-principal. Onizuka attended a university which is variously called "third rate" and "fifth rate" -- this annoys Mr. Teshigawara, a teacher who attended the best university in Japan. Mr. Teshigawara is constantly trying to get Onizuka fired, because in his eyes, a graduate of such a low-level college does not deserve to teach alongside someone such as himself. Onizuka also happens to flirt with Ms. Fuyutsuki, a female teacher who is the object of Mr. Teshigawara's rather unhealthy obsession. And on a comic note, Onizuka constantly butchers the name Teshigawara, never quite getting it right but always fueling Teshigawara's hatred.
One student in particular, Miyabi Aizawa, despises Onizuka, and she calls in her ultimate weapon: Urumi Kanzaki. Urumi is a brilliant student who has scored so high on I.Q. tests that she need not ever attend school at all if decides not to. (Basically the school wants to claim her as their student, so they let her do whatever she wants rather than lose her to another school.) Urumi has not attended class all year, but as a favor to Miyabi, she comes back to class, Onizuka's class. Urumi has a well-earned reputation as a student who terrorizes teachers, a student who knows more than her teachers and is not afraid to demonstrate that in front of the entire class. Urumi also has an annoying habit of causing explosions and physically injuring teachers in mishaps that can't always be traced back to her. She sees Onizuka as a new challenge, and Onizuka sees her as a student badly in need of a lesson.
Like Onizuka, Urumi Kanzaki is blonde, so they both stand out in a crowd. Urumi has one brown eye and one blue eye, adding a dash of mystery to her appearance. After a shaky start, Onizuka and Kanzaki hit it off, and after she fakes a suicide attempt on a rooftop, Onizuka inadvertantly bumps her off the roof with his butt as he bends down to pick up a coin. They land in garbage, and Onizuka thinks that she is dead, a situation which she uses to get him to do her bidding, including buying her several fancy meals.
The extras on the DVDs include character sketches, previews of other Tokyopop titles, choice of language (English or Japanese), and English subtitles. You also have the option to watch the episodes without the opening and closing credits, which is nice if you are watching the entire DVD (5 episodes each) at one time. Each DVD also has an extras section called "Gone Wild" in which you can see just the scenes in which Onizuka either loses his temper or is imagining something. The insert in the DVD case has "cultural notes" arranged by episode: this is a nice touch for casual viewers who don't have the command of Japanese geography, food, and language that some otaku (fans of anime and manga) do. Volume 4 includes Part One (about ten minutes) of an interview with the series creator Tohru Fujisawa.
GTO is a fun way for a non-otaku to ease their way into manga and anime: the teacher-student scenarios are easier to relate to than stories with characters who wake up one day with magical powers. Some of the situations in which Onizuka finds himself are ridiculous, but no more so than on sitcoms which air on American television.
Rating for DVD and manga: 16 UP
Running Time of DVDs: 125 minutes (5 episodes each)
English-language site for GTO manga
English-language site for GTO anime on DVD
Suggested retail prices: $29.99 for the DVDs, $9.99 for the manga