The cast: Nakama Yukie, Namase Katsuhisa, Akanishi Jin, Kamenashi Kazuya, Mokomichi Hayashi et al
Let me start by saying that I *heart* Gokusen. I have the manga, I’ve watched all the episodes in the first drama series at least three times and I’ve even tried my hand at writing some truly awful fan fiction. All things considered, I really wanted to like the second live-action installment even though Sawada (Matsumoto Jun) wasn’t in it.
The verdict? The second series isn’t as much fun as the first one, and it’s really just a showcase for Akame’s debut. Having said that, it isn’t as much of a stinker as some reviews have made it out to be. Sure, the episodes follow a similar trajectory – Yankumi’s students get into trouble, she saves their butts, and everybody slowly begins to trust her – but it’s unfair to criticize the series because of this. These are high school students we’re talking about; no matter how fiendishly creative they are, there are only so many kinds of trouble they can get into. When you consider the manga, it’s difficult to stay true to the series without giving more weight to the yakuza characters in the story, and I am assuming that the network didn’t want people to think they were glorifying the crime syndicate, so that’s probably why the drama series turned out the way it did in both seasons.
There are, however, a couple of things that could have been done better. For a start, compared to the first series, there wasn’t really a strong sense of class cohesion here and the kids didn’t have much of a personality either; they were, for the most part, a sum of their accessories. What made Shirokin-tachi particularly endearing was that they had their own distinctive traits; you could see their characters evolving gradually as the show progressed. It wasn’t just a matter of them learning to accept Yankumi after having their asses saved. Take Sawada for instance. What started out as disdain soon gave way to a grudging acceptance, which gradually grew into admiration and possibly something else altogether.
Sadly, this just didn’t happen in Gokusen 2. Hayato (Akanishi Jin) is the leader of the gang only by virtue of the fact that he kicks tables and everyone follows him. Unlike Sawada, he isn’t particularly smart and there isn’t anything he does that the others can’t do themselves. As for Hyuga (Koide Keisuke), he could have been left out of the script and it wouldn’t have mattered one bit — there’s nothing he does that makes him an indispensable member of the gang. And while I like Takeda (Koike Teppei) and Tsuchiya (Mokomichi Hayami), they are, for the most part, the guy with the hairclips and the tall dude with the fan; everything else they do is pretty much secondary. If you’ve read the manga, you’ll know that Ryu’s (Kamenashi Kazuya) character is based on Shin but without the intuition and perceptiveness, which explains why Ryu just sits around, mopes and gets beaten up.
One of the things I really like about the first series is that it’s not always about Yankumi coming to her students’ rescue. In fact, my favourite episodes are the ones that show her scheming to get her class involved in whatever activity the school’s organizing, like the inter-class sports competition. It’s really nice to see everyone, not just the main characters, getting out of their little cliques and coming together as a class. And what’s equally nice is that you actually see them doing little things for her – like turning up for her English tutorials (never mind if Noda has to beg them and it’s for Fujiyama-sensei’s sake) and eavesdropping on her omiai.
Speaking of which, why is Yankumi such a martyr in the second series? It’s plain overkill to see her pleading for jobs on her students’ behalf and running half the length of Tokyo to get things done for them. I know she’s super strong but she’s still human – doesn’t she get tired? Doesn’t she fall sick? Not only that, how ridiculous is it that a group of at least 20 punks can’t take down a pint-sized chick? (No, I don’t care that she’s the yondaime, it’s still 20 against 1.) I do think the overall tone would have been much better if she had been hospitalized for exhaustion or something like that. Also, how about giving Yankumi some romantic respite? The woman is 25 and it’s about time she got some. Sawada, please come to your sensei’s rescue.
Also, why is practically everyone visiting her at home? Part of the appeal of the show is how she has to keep her background separate from her life as a teacher. It’s one thing to have two people know her true identity. It’s quite another when you have a troop of students and the head teacher popping by for a visit. If this is how things are going to be, you might as well invite everyone in the neighborhood to the house for tea and cookies.
I guess the producers wanted to capitalize on all the things that made Gokusen a hit in the first place and in doing so, they ended up exaggerating a number of things. However, like I said in the beginning, this isn’t a terrible series by any means. It does have its entertaining moments and if you like pretty boys with sensitive hair, there’s plenty of eye candy to be had – just don’t expect too much.
[Note: This was written back in 2006. I can’t remember much of what happened in the drama any longer except that it introduced me to Akanishi Jin and a whole lot of ero ero vids on YouTube.]