April celebrates more than fools it spotlights how important it is to have a sense of humor. Learning to take a joke(and dole one out when necessary) is essential to living life. Without stupid hijinks the world would lack in fun. Thankfully the Japanese are masters of unchecked absurdity. Comedy is a core element of manga as a genre and there is no subject off limits, no joke too out of bounds. This comedic freedom has given birth to series as innocuous as One Piece and as controversy stirring as Great Teacher Onizuka.
Great Teacher Onizuka, GTO for short, is the brainchild of writer Tohru Fujiawa. It chronicles the tales of a man named Eikichi Onizuka, a retired gang member and virgin, who is seeking to become a teacher. I mention these two character traits in particular because they define Onizuka as a character. His virginity is what drives him to become a teacher (and before you say anything, yes it is for the exact reasons you are thinking, he wants to bang his students) and he solves problems with violence. Now at this point most people would straight up ditch this series into a dumpster fire and even I will admit that the my synopsys so far sounds dicey. But what if I said that GTO was one of the best comedic manga I have ever read and that it is actually critically acclaimed? By which I mean that the series has actually received official literary awards and has spawned a fandom that numbers in the millions. Hard to believe? Well sit back because nothing is as it seems in the life of Eikichi Onizuka.
GTO is more than some perverted fighting manga. It is a cultural satire that focuses primarily on making fun of the Japanese way of life. Onizuka being a virgin is actually very much in line with most Japanese protagonists. The joke is that he is also a second-degree black belt and ex-gang member. Violence is not really the way of post-WWII Japan. Yakuza are looked down upon and the country has actually really struggled with severe issues in self-esteem and confidence. GTO throws all of this out the window. Onizuka is modeled after an American styled Yankee. Which in Japan is essentially a slang term for “thug.” He is skilled with his hands, good at combat, and is confident in the extreme, but for everything he has in brawn he lacks equally in brains. Onizuka is an act first and ask questions later kind of character and that leads to problems with his choice of profession.
First and foremost, Onizuka doesn’t know the first thing about teaching. He has absolutely no experience and his main motivator is a desire to sleep with his pupils. Secondly, the school’s other teachers and principal hate him because they know he has no idea what he’s doing and place him in charge of the worst class of kids in the school. By worse I mean that the group of kids he gets placed in charge of are criminals and soon to be drop outs. They are they dregs pulled from the dregs. GTO is a satire. Which means that hyperbole is Onizuka’s best friend and worst nightmare wrapped in one. Much of the series’ humor comes from putting Onizuka in scenarios that would never exist in real life; and by having him solve them in ways that are equally as outrageous and out of whack.
One of the first stories of the series is about a group of girls that are bullies. They do awful things to one of the nerds in class and by awful I mean straight up fucked. Naked pictures, torture, burns, GTO doesn’t hold back or mince words, remember the hyperbole works both ways. After this goes on for a bit Onizuka begins to catch wind of it and makes it his first priority to help. First he approaches the bullied nerd and inspires him with a speech about how the best way to beat bullies is to crush them. To bully them worse, to show them what it means to be seen as prey. This is classic GTO fun. The story takes a piece of generally accepted logic and slowly ramps it up until it becomes unrecognizable in its absurdity. Then it enacts said absurdity in the coolest and funniest ways possible. In this case Onizuka kidnaps the girls and sells them to an online group of perverts. Immediately there is this moment where the reader goes from being pro-Onizuka to “Holy Shit! What is happening?” Except just when the perverts are about to do the deed, forever condemning Onizuka in our minds, Onizuka and the bullied nerd come flying in through the window and proceed to beat the ever-living hell out of the bad guys.
This entire scene is a complete deconstruction of Japanese life. The bullying problem in schools, Japan’s perverted underground, even the confident and over the top Onizuka. All of it is poking fun at Japanese culture and it is doing it in a way that is fun. Every single situation Onizuka finds himself in is a hyperbolic version of itself. In another scene Onizuka has to save one of his students by winning over a hundred arm wrestling matches. His opponents range from a scrawny guy in the beginning to a giant man wearing a Jason Voorhees mask in the end. Every single one of these adventures is completely unrealistic and because of that GTO is given free comedic license. There is something magnetic about reading this manga and waiting to see how far things go. Reading GTO is like watching a “World’s Dirtiest Joke Contest” every single scene is an attempt to one up the other and it leads to a story that never stops entertaining.
It is this same hyperbolic structure that makes his quest to sleep with students funny. He wants to do it so bad and yet we as readers know that he never will. Which makes all the scenes that are motivated by that desire outrageous. Because there is never actually any real threat of it happening the readers are never really worried or offended. Instead we laugh uproariously as we wait to see how he is rejected this time. A wait that in GTO’s case almost always pays off.
GTO is manga at its finest. It pushes limits, sports fantastic art, and isn’t afraid of going for a laugh. Even if that means having Onizuka poop in a pizza box or perform a german suplex on a fellow teacher. That fearless determination on the part of Fujiawa is what elevates his work. If anything can be said definitively about GTO it’s that the writing is in full support of Onizuka’s brash and confident bravado. GTO goes places that most most stories wouldn’t dream of and it is in that unknown world that Fijiawa finds greatness. Which is something to celebrate. Especially during a month that favors fools because in that category, Onizuka is the king.