Thursday, March 22, 2012

Gokusen Review (2002)

Drama Rating: ****
Personal Rating: Loved it!

On the coattails of GTO comes another high school drama about Yamaguchi Kumiko aka Yankumi, an idealistic math teacher with a yakuza background who is hired to teach at Shirokin Gakuen high school.  Despite her class being basically composed of the most difficult kids in the school, Yankumi is determined see her class through to graduation despite their academic and extracurricular problems and teach them life lessons along the way.

*Spoiler warning*

Originally a manga series, it was unsurprising that this drama leans on its manga roots for some of its scenes and direction. Generally, each of the episodes are based on addressing her students issues in an inspirational manner, providing Yankumi with a lectern from which to impart her students with life lessons. However, the repeated plotlines where Yankumi goes to defend one of her students and beats up the offending gang gets a tad odious by the end as repetition starts to sink in. As it stands, Yankumi seems to be a strange mixture of GTO and Kinpachi sensei without either the recklessness or the seriousness of either drama. Additionally, the romantic arc was a dismal failure as well, something which I would have preferred they leave out.

Nakama Yukie has a strange penchant for overacting. Understandably, her character requires a bit of exaggeration to compare to her manga character but her 'cuteness' starts to wear a bit as you sometimes feel she should be a bit more mature as a high school teacher. Even in some of her more serious speeches, she seems to lack the gravitas needed. I mean, we can look at Sawatari Goro played by Katsuhisa Namase, Yankumi's arch-nemesis . Despite his goofiness, he is able to project a serious, contemplative demeanor when necessary. Generally though, his malleable face gives facial expressions more humorous than Jim Carrey and his one-on-one conversations with Nakama Yukie are priceless. Despite the silliness, the exchanges between the two are some of my favorite moments in this series. The students generally do a decent job with their roles given their experience levels but the rest of the cast was somewhat subpar. The school staff generally acts too silly to the point where it almost feels like a variety show. Perhaps they could take a page out of GTO and exaggerate only certain characters (like Yankumi and Goro) so that the contrast between them and the rest is more clearly defined.

The drama is filled with numerous catchy themes that range from mischievously naughty, with an almost cartoon-like character, to grandly imposing melodies.  Once in your head, the tunes are not easily forgotten as the jazzy sounds of the brass, particularly the trumpets, make for some memorable moments when cued at the right scenes. In an interesting twist, when the main themes are rendered on the piano later in the drama, it gives off a more reflective, thoughtful sound which adds some depth to the drama.

This was the second jdorama I ever watched (the first being GTO) and so I was still new to this whole school drama craze that seems to be ever popular in Japan. So despite the wacky and exaggerated storylines, the drama still left a deep impression on me as a highly enjoyable distraction from work or school. And if you look past the wacky goofiness of the extraneous characters and focus solely on the Yankumi and her class, their inspirational heart-felt stories might just make your day!

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