Reviewby Carlo Santos,
GTO: 14 Days in Shonan
Delinquent-turned-teacher Eikichi Onizuka has been laying low in his hometown of Shonan—if helping local foster children, stopping violent crimes, and making national news can be called "laying low." However, one problem child has been particularly troublesome: Miko Sakaki, whose criminal tendencies could soon end up getting someone killed. With some help from his younger comrades, Onizuka hatches a plan to scare Miko straight once and for all. Will Miko finally see the error of her ways and make up with twin sister Riko, or is she too far gone? Meanwhile, one of the foster home's staff, Shinomi, still can't get over her longtime crush on Onizuka—but the presence of a rival might finally spur her into action. However, Onizuka has other things on his mind besides love when he's asked to help foster child Ryoichi with a high-flying school project.
The "terrible twins" arc finally reaches its climax in Volume 7 of GTO: 14 Days in Shonan, delivering all the action and drama the series is known for. Gun-toting gangsters and buildings going up in flames? Yes, they're all there. A comical, harebrained scheme that Onizuka might just have a chance of pulling off? Well, he's been beating the odds this whole time, so naturally he's going to give it a try. And a poignant finale that hits right in the heart? Of course—it wouldn't be GTO without that human touch. It may look like a silly, lowbrow action series on the outside, but once again, it surpasses expectations on the inside.
The opening chapters of this volume make sure to fill up the action quota first, with Miko going on the run and ending up with a gun in her hands. It may all just be part of Onizuka and his kids' scheme, but that's what makes it exciting—an elaborate plan gradually falling into place, and the tension building up as the incurable problem child finds herself cornered. Then, when Riko steps in to confront Miko, that's when the drama kicks in: one last flashback looking at the twins' struggles together, and how Miko still has a chance to turn things around instead of throwing her life away. At times, it borders on being a preachy reconciliation moment—but thankfully, Onizuka's hard-edged attitude turns it into more of a tough-Love Lesson. That's the appeal of his character: the hero of this manga is someone who came from the streets himself, so his moral values are not commandments issued from on high, but lessons learned (and taught) from personal experience.
For all its achievements, however, that storyline only takes this volume as far as the halfway mark—and after that it's back to inconsequential short-story mode. Two chapters are spent on rival women competing for romantic attention, and while it does lead to another brilliant slapstick gag, the content is shallow at best and irritating at worst. (Sitting and complaining "Why won't Onizuka notice me?" is pretty much a guaranteed way to make him not notice you.) The following story, where Onizuka helps high-schooler Ryoichi build a human-powered glider in the most ridiculous way possible, at least adds some heartfelt seriousness to go with the action-packed antics. Even then, however, the series shows no ambitions of building up a new story arc—at least not until the final chapter, where some shady government activity suggests that the next big challenge is coming soon.
Onizuka's methods in helping troubled youth have never been particularly elegant—and that ideal is also reflected in the artwork, where a bit of clumsiness and clutter are the norm. This isn't so much of a problem during action scenes, where the characters can strike crazy combat poses, make wild faces, and let the sheer energy of the moment carry them through. As soon as they stop to talk, however, the visual shortcomings become clear to see. There's some stiffness to the anatomy—everyone seems to stand or walk as if they've been forced into that pose—and the backgrounds, detailed as they may be, are so heavily photo-referenced that they don't blend in well with the looser style of the foreground art. This also leads to messy-looking pages, where too many minor details detract from the main action, even though the panels themselves are laid out in straightforward fashion. The visuals fare best during big, dramatic scenes where individual panels are more spread out and the story's most important moments get the space they need.
There's one more competitor for space on the page, though: dialogue. Although none of the characters are especially talkative, and there are no big explanatory paragraphs waiting to be unleashed, the amount of back-and-forth chatter results in a pretty high word count. Still, most of it is enjoyable—the translation makes the dialogue flow seamlessly, with just enough colloquial brashness when Onizuka is mouthing off, while staying sincere when the characters have their heartfelt, dramatic moments. What isn't quite as seamless, however, is the ever-changing font: it's one thing to have the letter sizes vary (useful for showing loudness or emphasis), but all this switching between a hand-lettered style and a printed, sans-serif style is just distracting. At least the sound effects are handled more smoothly, with the Japanese characters left intact and small, unobtrusive translations placed next to them.
GTO: 14 Days in Shonan proves once again that it can bring different genres together and make them all work—for the first half of this volume, anyway. Not only does the series' most troubled youth finally get her comeuppance, but it happens in an intense life-or-death situation, accompanied by a poignant sister-to-sister bonding moment to help round things out. But these high storytelling ambitions, and the exciting visuals that accompany them, also make the volume's second half look disappointing by comparison. Even Eikichi Onizuka's colorful personality and his wacky don't-try-this-at-home exploits can only go so far with chapters that are basically interludes until the next big story arc. However, the fact that there is a new story arc brewing—and not too long after the most recent one—should be reason enough for fans to continue enjoying the series.
Overall : B
Story : B+
Art : C+
+ Brings together action, drama, and a touch of slapstick comedy as the Riko/Miko storyline comes to a satisfying close.
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