As you can see, morbid curiosity got the better of me after all.
I always knew that the remake wouldn’t be able to override the affection I have for the 1998 version but I have a soft spot for high school dramas and their promise of endless student hijinks, so I was hoping that it would be as entertaining as Gokusen (the first one) or Tumbling at least.
My first thought while watching this remake was: Did the brief to the production team specifically request them to suck all the life out of GTO or what? Even if you were to take the 1998 drama out of the equation, it doesn’t change the fact that this is a very uninspired and humourless adaptation of the manga. Where’s its sense of fun? Where’s the humour? And more importantly, where’s its heart?
I will not tell you the 1998 drama is flawless, perfect et cetera. As fond as I am of it, I will also say that it’s showing its age. Unlike some people who start foaming at the mouth whenever the word “remake” is mentioned, I don’t think it’s sacrilegious to give a popular series a makeover, not if it’s done properly, and I think it is possible to reboot GTO and give it a fresh spin.
This, however, is not the way to do it.
On the surface, GTO 2012 looks like a faithful adaptation of Fujisawa Tohru’s original work. It’s incorporated more scenes from the source material and this Onizuka also bears a closer physical resemblance to his manga counterpart — he has the bleached blonde look down pat, he rides a Kawazaki and he can pull a German suplex. But these are just cosmetic details. Strip them away and what are you left with?
A superficially written character that tries too hard to be cool (which is kinda missing the point because Onizuka isn’t an archetypal cool character to begin with.) In this remake, Onizuka is just a shallow caricature of his former self who doesn’t seem to have any sense of purpose at all.
Why do I say this? In the manga and 1998 drama, there’s never any doubt that Onizuka wants to be a teacher (albeit for slightly different reasons. Manga!Onizuka originally wanted to be one so he could score with high school girls. The 1998 drama toned down a lot of the manga’s ecchi-ness, which probably explains why his drama counterpart’s intentions were nobler.)
However you can’t really tell with this version. There is nothing to suggest that he genuinely wants to be a teacher. He’s a gardener who is given the job of babysitting Class 2-4 because of the German Suplex move that he pulls (by this logic, anyone who had decked the VP would technically have been a shoo-in for the position as well) and in the first two episodes, he seems more interested in hanging out with his friends than anything else. You don’t see the same kind of rapport that his predecessors developed with the students in their classes, which is really what this series is about, isn’t it? It’s not so much about Onizuka solving their problems as it is about him winning their trust and getting them to trust him in turn.
I gave this drama three episodes because I wanted to see whether things would pick up after episode two, especially after Miki told Onizuka that she’d have his back but nope, the chemistry between him and his students remains flatter than warm champagne. (And you can forget about Fuyutsuki. His relationship with her is non-existent but this might actually be a good thing.) Just take a look at the picture below. You mean to tell me that every time he “wins” a student over to his side, they’re just going to sit around in Ryuji’s cafe? Come on, drama. You can do better than this. Even the actress playing Miki looks bored out of her mind.
For me, whether GTO succeeds or flops depends entirely on how strong a character Onizuka is because he’s the one carrying the entire drama. AKIRA doesn’t have Sorimachi’s screen presence but that is not the main problem here. The reason why this drama doesn’t work is because of the sheer laziness of the script. Onizuka has been reduced to a bleached blonde male Mary Poppins who waltzes in and out of each episode saving the Problem Student of the Week from the Low Life of the Week — because beating up a bunch of thugs in a warehouse/abandoned building/carpark is the easiest way to show that he’s a badass, dontcha know?
And the sermons — I don’t think even Yankumi moralised this much in Gokusen. The third episode with the student who gets into enjo kosai (compensated dating) was such a bore with all the endless talk about the superficiality of appearances. Onizuka in the manga and 1998 drama is a man of action who leaves it to his students to figure out what they have to do once he’s done helping them out. This one spells everything out for them, presumably because either these students aren’t as bright as their predecessors or it’s easier for the writer to tell instead of show.
Suffice it to say: REMAKE, I AM DISAPPOINT. These three episodes are going straight into my trash bin. For those of you who are still interested, here are the rest of my thoughts on this drama:
1. I’m a real actress…get me out of here: I have no idea what Kuroki Hitomi is doing in this drama but she is the only flickering spark in this dull mess. I actually like how they updated her character and gave her a take-charge personality. Why couldn’t they have done the same with Fuyutsuki as well?
2. Wasted potential: Many have talked about Kawaguchi Haruna’s turn as the scheming Aizawa Miyabi and I think out of all the shows she’s acted in, this is her most polished performance by far — too bad it’s got to be in this remake of all dramas.
Her character is a lot more insidious and manipulative than her 1998 counterpart, and a lot of the bullying she does is of the psychological variety. I found it interesting that she knew just what to say to rile Miki in episode 2 and had there been a better writer and director attached to this drama, it would have been quite fun watching her go up against Onizuka. I was also hoping for a showdown between Miyabi and Miki, given the little exchange they had at the end of that episode but alas, this drama ain’t going to deviate from the manga where it actually matters. I’ll admit I’m curious (though not curious enough to sit through another seven episodes — fortunately there’s Tumblr) to know her reason for acting out. I’ve a feeling it’s going to be quite different from the manga because of Kawaguchi’s image and all.
3. You are the weakest links. Goodbye. (If only): Not going to lie. I can’t stand these two.
I never thought that Fuyutsuki in the 1998 drama was a great character. However she did have a credible back story and she grew over the course of the drama. Plus, Matsushima Nanako and Sorimachi Takashi had fantastic chemistry together. Takimoto Miori’s Fuyutsuki, on the other hand, is a non-entity with zero personality who exists to be picked on by the Vice Principal. You could remove her from the drama and it wouldn’t make a difference. Even if the production company had been forced under duress to cast Takimoto, couldn’t they have given her character another name?
Speaking of the Vice Principal, I have no idea what’s going through the mind of this writer. Deviate from the source material if you must but this character is so one-dimensional and useless that it would have been better if they had just transplanted the character from the 1998 drama to this one. As with Onizuka, all traces of the VP’s personality have been flushed down the toilet. What you have is a sour, miserable old fart who’s just hellbent on getting him fired. Thank god for the mute and FF buttons.
4. When did GTO become a Saturday morning cartoon?
Seriously? GTO & Friends? WTF?! Why is Onizuka staying in Ryuji’s house when he should be rooming on the school rooftop? Save for cheese, these two bring nothing of value to the drama. The character of Saejima, in particular, has been butchered so terribly that I want this writer exiled permanently. And good god, Yamamoto Yusuke, I think you’re cute in interviews but please be more discerning with the kind of projects you accept. Remember: Quality over quantity, darling.
5. Full of Fail: If the photoshop skills on display are any indication of the quality of either drama, then it’s safe to say that the 1998 version pwns the crap out of the remake.
I would have thought that 2012-tachi would have tried to make it look as if Onizuka had filmed a sex tape or something but this is all kinds of lame and sad. The 1998 one looks like it was done by a pro. This, on the other hand, looks so fake that I can’t believe anyone would feel outraged by it. You mean these kids have actually gotten their teachers fired because of crappy looking shit like this? Come on, drama. Is this the best you can do?
6. Meh: Class 2-4
Bunch of idols and Johnnies with sub-par acting skills using this drama as CV fodder. I will concede that the kid playing Murai is kinda cute though someone should change his DramaWiki picture. He looks like he’s nine there.
To conclude, the 1998 drama might have been a loose adaptation of the manga but it was faithful where it mattered and retained the manga’s racy sense of humour and mischief. That, for me, is one of the key things about the series. GTO isn’t a dark or preachy story. Even though it deals with serious issues, it never loses its sense of fun.
The same can’t be said of this 2012 remake. It may contain more scenes from the manga but many of them have been so poorly condensed and spliced together that they don’t make much sense when you think about it. Let’s take the first episode for example. Why would Onizuka go so far to help Noboru get revenge over the girls who’ve been bullying him when he’s not even his teacher? Similarly, why would he go to Anko’s house and destroy that wall — because of that five-minute sob story she told him at the playground? Since when did Onizuka become such a sap?
GTO 1998 was a drama of its time that spawned not only a popular anime series but also several clones that have tried to replicate its formula, with varying degrees of success. The remake, on the other hand, doesn’t quite seem to get what made its predecessor such a hit back in the late 90s and as a result, just comes off as a generic high school drama that brings nothing new to the genre. Suffice it to say I will still remember the 1998 series ten years from now. This remake however is likely to remain just a blip in my memory.
Related Post: An Oldie But a Goodie: Great Teacher Onizuka (1998)