Reviewby Carlo Santos, Sep 23rd 2012
GTO: 14 Days in Shonan
Even though he's away from his school in Tokyo, "Great Teacher" Eikichi Onizuka is still saving the lives of troubled teens. While helping out at a foster home in his hometown of Shonan, Onizuka learns that Seiya, one of the foster children, is plotting revenge against his mother's abusive boyfriend ... with a handgun. Onizuka tries his best to sabotage the plan, but the gangsters who gave Seiya the gun in the first place won't be so easily deterred. They put Onizuka in hospital and send out their enforcers, including two vicious twin sisters, to make sure Seiya does the job right. However, Onizuka will do whatever it takes—even fighting off a band of street thugs and bikini-clad assassins—to catch up with Seiya and stop the boy from committing a deadly crime.
Side characters and goofball comedy made up most of Volume 3, but GTO: 14 Days in Shonan returns to hard-hitting street action in Volume 4. This one resolves a cliffhanger in the very first chapter, then revs up the story once more to close out on another cliffhanger right at the end. Still, the spirit of humor is never too far away in the GTO world, and somehow even Onizuka's most violent exploits involve some kind of improbable slapstick. Where else is a gangster-turned-teacher going to crash through a billboard, stunt-drive a taxi, and get into a fistfight wearing a hospital gown ... while trying to help a socially disadvantaged kid? It's a strange balance, but this series makes it work.
The dramatic side of GTO comes out in full force with the Seiya storyline: after all, murder—even attempted murder—is about as serious as it gets. Yet Seiya's drastic scheme and the involvement of organized crime is more than just a shock tactic—several flashbacks show how Seiya's fractured family life led him down this path. Surprisingly, even the twin sisters who serve as the enemy's ringleaders get a flashback of their own, so that no one can dismiss any of these characters as simply "bad kids" in need of discipline. Rather, the story asks readers to sympathize and understand that such children are often the victims of poor circumstance.
But this kind of poignancy never lasts too long, and much more of the volume is dedicated to Onizuka's mad escapades through the streets of Shonan. In the first chapter alone, he pulls off some jaw-dropping feats (on a motorbike, no less), but the fun really starts in the second half after the hospital incident. This is where the mobsters put Onizuka through a gauntlet of over-the-top villains, and while some fans may find it too unrealistic—the sequence includes a cart-riding supermarket chase, of all things—there's no denying the entertainment value. In fact, it's one of those times that fanservice is logical and called for: Onizuka has always had a weakness for gorgeous, scantily-clad women, so why not use them against him?
The series' humor extends to more than just action, though. Tohru Fujisawa has knack for setting up well-timed gags in general, whether it's Onizuka's attempt to sneak through a bathroom window, a double-take moment in the hospital ward, or an unexpectedly slow car chase. Again, these are entertaining reminders that the series is never to be taken too seriously—although it does lessen the impact of the dramatic side.
Onizuka's manic energy as the lead character is reflected in the artwork, where our hero always seems to be doing everything at once. His contorted faces of pain, rage, and disgust are a constant source of amusement, and his physical feats—running right through a billboard, judo-throwing an opponent, outrunning a scooter, and more—are exaggerated to the point where they fill the whole page. With visuals like that, how can anyone not get caught up in the action? Still, this philosophy of drawing anything and everything that happens in scene is also the series' drawback, as the background details (which are often extracted straight from photographs) and screentones end up crowding the smaller panels, making the action hard to follow. Fujisawa also shows weakness in coming up with character designs: he gets plenty of mileage out of Onizuka's distinctive look, but most of the supporting cast (aside from the villains) are forgettable everyday folk, while female characters seem to be all drawn from the same bishoujo template.
Of course, it wouldn't be GTO without the lead character's loudmouth attitude, and Onizuka's brashness comes out in the dialogue without having to resort to much vulgarity. In addition to the colloquial, natural-sounding translation, this edition also makes use of different fonts and text sizes to denote various tones of voice throughout the story. Yes, Onizuka does yell a lot, and it feels that much more convincing when the words on the page look like it too. Sound effects are left in the original Japanese, and small translations are placed next to them as needed—with all the action going on, the impact on the artwork is minimal. One disappointment, however, is the lack of a language and culture glossary. The story does make a couple of casual pop-culture references ("Open those Nobita-kun eyes of yours!"—sadly, not every English-speaker knows Doraemon) that would have benefited from explanation.
Once again, GTO: 14 Days in Shonan manages to entertain through its particular blend of slapstick humor, street fighting action, and personal drama. If there was any concern about the series turning too much towards episodic comedy in the previous last volume, those worries are dashed away by an intense, action-packed storyline in this one. Somber back-stories for the characters in this arc add to the gravity of the situation, although never so much that the series ends up wallowing in misery. Instead, there's always another comedy outtake or fight scene just around the corner, helping to the lighten the mood—and the lively (if sometimes messy) visuals help too. Whether fans gravitate more toward the silly or serious side, GTO: 14 Days in Shonan has it all covered.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Covers the entire storytelling spectrum with drama-filled flashbacks, over-the-top action, and comedy outbursts.
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