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Does this look familiar?

For those of you unfamiliar with “Great Teacher Onizuka” by Fujisawa Tohru, you are missing out on a great story.  It’s a manga that chronicles the adventures of 22 year old Onizuka Eikichi, ex biker gang member who wants almost more than anything to become a teacher.  Initially, Onizuka’s motives are clearly to become surrounded by high school girls that he can then perv on, but after he gets hired as a teacher it becomes quite clear that there’s more to teaching at this school than meets the eye.  If you haven’t read the first two volumes of the manga, then turn back now because that’s what happens in the first episode I’m about to talk about.

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Yes, that’s him in the tree branches. Yes, he’s peeping.

To those of you who are, then you probably know about the GTO TV drama and movie that aired in 1998-1999.  This live action adaptation featured Sorimachi Takashi as Eikichi Onizuka.  Although it contains much less panty shots, violence and internal-combustion-powered chases compared to the manga, it still managed to capture the essence of the series and Onizuka’s character extremely well.  I don’t know anyone who had a bad thing to say about the series, and personally I found it to be very motivating and well worth your time watching.

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Never a letdown.

Already saw it?  Loved it?  Then I have good news for you.

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He’s back.

Onizuka is back again in a brand new drama series to retell the story about the infamous Class 2-4, this time portrayed by Nagata Akira.  The first episode covers roughly the same events as the original live action but with a different start.  Onizuka is working as a part-time landscaper that’s working at the school the story takes place at.  He stops by the school cafeteria for the infamous milk-to-German-suplex incident.  The blackmail is done by Anko instead of Nanako, and rather than have her classmates/friends help her she enlists the help of yakuza.  In the 1998 version, he intimidates and then coerces the students responsible in order for him to keep his job.  In the 2012 version, Onizuka beats up the yakuza responsible for the “teacher and student” scandal photos.  They come back for Anko afterwards asking reparations, and Noboru is faced with a difficult decision similar to one that drove a wedge between him and his former friend in the not so distant past.  Because Anko is the one responsible for bullying Noboru, we see more of his back story as well.

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Anko and Noboru have a damaged past friendship, unlike the original series.

I’ve only watched the first episode as it’s the only one I could find that’s been fansubbed right now, but so far there are already several key differences besides the plot.  Most importantly that I can tell is that Ryuuji and Saejima are still separate characters (they were combined in the 1998 series), and Onizuka is also housemates with them rather than having his own apartment.  Anko is also a single character like in the manga, instead of being merged into Miyabi like the old drama.  The final difference that may not really be important after the first episode is that Onizuka was not hired until the very end of the episode, after resolving the problems with Anko’s family.  Other than these things, the series is rife with familiarity.

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“Onizuka Eikichi”?!

Instantly recognizable as the titular character with his bleached hair, earrings and general demeanor, Nagata also gives Onizuka a slightly rougher and hot blooded personality this time around.  He is quicker to fight, quicker to shout, and all around much more of a dangerous looking guy.  With Sorimachi, I felt like Onizuka was a passive, slightly book-dumb but genuinely warmhearted guy who just happens to have a fearsome side.  Nagata’s portrayal of Onizuka in the fight scenes brings to mind Aoi Takuma from Battle Royale II.

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Let’s get dangerous.

The acting as a whole is alright, some characters are portrayed better I think (Sakurai is portrayed as much less casual and more of an authority figure) while others are worse (Uchiyamada is quite hammy this time around) but honestly it’s very hard to outdo the original series.  The time period of the story has been updated in the new series by the use of smartphones late in the first episode, but they managed to secure Onizuka’s signature bike, the Kawasaki Z750RS.

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The Z2 is a very rare classic motorcyle.

So, here comes the million dollar question.  Should you watch it?  If you’re a fan of the series like me, you probably feel ambivalent about the whole thing.  It’s a new take on the GTO story, yet the original live action was so awesome so it can’t possibly be better.  Fortunately, I think that this new series takes enough of a departure from the old one so that the two are not directly comparable anymore.  Onizuka and Fuyutsuki have more chemistry together in the 1998 series, but I think that’s done on purpose.  The two have had only minor interactions in the first episode of the current drama, but we shall see what the future holds.  I will definitely be keeping up with this new series, and would recommend it to both veterans and newcomers to the world of Onizuka.

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Oh yes.

-Sho

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