Reviews: Gokusen

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A good, grown up school series, from the teacher's point of view.
This review covers the manga only.

Gokusen is an interesting beast; it's a josei series (for young women rather than kids) that features many features of shonen (boys') manga series, but with a different take on it. It's set in an all boys' school but is told from the point of view of a young female teacher - who's the heir to a Yakuza family, and thus not your typical teacher fresh out of teacher college.

Series like this live or die on their ability to handle character, and this is where Gokusen excels. Kumiko, the young teacher, is fascinating - tough, idealistic, and with believable patterns of thought and behavior. Her students are done just right, too - most of them are mostly nice people underneath their juvenile delinquency, of course, but they really ARE young delinquents, really do get into trouble, do stupid things, fight, and all that. My dad used to work as a vocational teacher in a school for delinquent boys, and a lot of it is spot on. Kumiko's Yakuza family is of course a bit idealized, but even then, come across as really being gangsters, even if honorable ones, including a bunch of ugly bruisers.

In fact, ugly bruisers is what the art style of Gokusen does so well. It's not one of those Only Six Faces series; every student and every gangster is distinctive, and most of them are gonks, although not generally played for ugly comedy either. In fact, one of the series' messages is that these kids end up where they are partly because it's what everyone assumes they're going to become. Kumiko is geekily, dorkily cute most of the time, and there's very little fanservice except in the start-of-chapter full page illustrations. The one good-looking boy, Shin, is believably good-looking and really does stand out among the others.

There are plenty of comedic moments, too, which work within the overall mood.

My criticism of this series is that the filler level does increase over time, and there's some degree of repetitiveness and failure to move plot threads along. I find the chapters of Shin and the talking dog to be largely stupid, and not fitting with the tone of the series, for instance. Still, I'm going to follow this one to the end; it'd have to get really stupid indeed to make me not care to see what happens, and I like the characters a lot.
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