Thursday, December 22, 2011

GTO Review (1998)

Drama Rating: *****
Personal Rating: All time favourite!!

Based on an anime, Onizuka Eikichi, played by Sorimachi Takashi is a former motorcycle gang member who very much wants to be a teacher.  The opportunity presents itself when he goes for an interview and the school's director unexpectedly hires him, much to the chagrin of Head Teacher Uchiyamada and most of the staff.  Unconventional and peculiar barely begin to describe the methods he uses to teach his class of troublemakers.  Despite their best efforts to force him out, Onizuka turns the tables to win over the hearts of his students, coworkers and audiences everywhere.

*Spoiler warning*

GTO is adapted from an anime and its roots are clearly seen in the sometimes exaggerated sequences, particularly involving Onizuka.  In this case, much like Nodame Cantabile, the exaggeration is a welcome element of the story and actually make the characters more believable in an anime-like way. In terms of the overall story arc, there are a few minor issues here and there but nothing particularly remarkable.  The episodic storylines allow the audience to get to know each individual character a bit more, developing an attachment and emotional bond between the viewer and the character. The strongest suit of this drama however, is not simply the story or the individual character, but the consistent focus on bringing out a wonderfully inspirational and uplifting feeling no matter how hopeless the situation. To this day, I have not seen this replicated to this extent in any other drama. Generally, I am also very sensitive about endings since they can make or break the drama. But not only did the highly anticipated ending, supposedly the highest watched television program ever in Japan, finish the story in a completely satisfactory manner, it far exceeded my already high expectations. GTO certainly set the bar very high and to this day, having watched over 200 dramas in the last 5 years, I think this ending has yet to be matched.

Sorimachi Takashi really makes Onizuka-sensei's character his own. I didn't know it at the time but this character was perfectly built for him and him alone.  While I am a little skeptical of his overall acting ability, for example in Hotman, he took this role like a dolphin takes to water. His perfect blend of natural exuberance, rebelliousness and morality was precisely what the script called for. This is one of those few times where, even if I'm not blown away by his general acting ability, I was thrilled with his selection for the title role. Matsushima Nanako's Fuyutsuki sensei was a great complement to his character and it seems to be little wonder that they ended up marrying each other in real life given their chemistry on screen. Nakao Akira put up a delightful performance as Uchiyamada, providing plenty of comedy relief.  The rest of the cast all put in truly very memorable performances as well from Oguri Shun to Nakamura Aimi.

'Poison' was a song I had in my head long after I had finished the drama as it definitely provided emotional attachment to the drama. There were a range of musical styles used, some with particularly strong percussion sounds but I felt it quite suited this particular series.

Being the first jdrama I ever watched, this drama was a beginning of sorts for me. I was entirely new to the jdrama world and little did I know I was about to watch one of the greatest live action series ever brought to the screen. To this day, GTO remains etched in my memory as a gripping, thrilling, emotional roller coaster ride. Once the ride started at 2 am in the morning, there was no stopping throughout the night until the entire drama was over at around 10-11 am.  In terms of the overall quality of the drama, everything was consistently pretty good and I would have rated this a 9/10 as there were various minor issues here and there. But with the spectacular ending and the unusual inspirational power of this drama, the drama as a whole is deserving of full marks and will definitely rank among my favorite dramas of all time.

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