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[personal profile] piranha
this is one of those strange occurrences where i got sucked into something i would never think i'd be attracted to. i only watched the anime because i am following two of its seiyuu around; suzumura ken'ichi and konishi katsuyuki, and that led me to find the manga and then the first live action series, and now the second -- i haven't previously touched live action adaptation of manga at all.

the manga is josei (marketed at young women), and it has a strong female lead, which is always a good thing to see -- i am still amazed how japan with all of its gender inequality creates so much fiction with competent female characters who can handle themselves and don't need any guy to rescue them from distress. now, that would of course interest me, but it's also comedy, and i am very careful with japanese comedy because 95% of it misses for me. and indeed i am glad i didn't see the live action first, because it would not have had the same effect as the anime had; i doubt i would have checked out the manga and the anime.

yamaguchi kumiko (nakama yukie) has always wanted to be a teacher, and it's finally happening; it's her first day at shirokin high, an all-boys school. she's very enthusiastic and brimming with passion for connecting with young minds and sharing the education experience with her first precious students -- and yes, she is a dork. what she finds herself confronted with, however, are students who have been written off by everyone as worthless delinquents; students who don't trust any teacher -- or indeed any adults, and who are only marking time without any interest in studying. they would easily scare off a naive, new teacher, especially a female one. but yamaguchi only looks naive -- behind the sweet exterior lives the grand daughter of kuroda ryuuichirou; a powerful yakuza (japanese mafia) boss. of course she has to keep this secret, because the PTA would not approve of a teacher who's affiliated with the yakuza. not only is she the presumptive heir to her grandfather's position, but she's also trained in martial arts since she was a small child. ergo she can kick some serious butt.

that's the setup, and you can probably already see a lot of possibilities for amusing mixups, and indeed, they are delivered very quickly. her new class is in complete disarray, and the students are dissing her, while she tries to keep up her perky demanour. it slips a little when somebody throws a baseball at her while her back is turned. lightning fast reflexes kick in and she catches it in her hand without turning around, and glares back over her glasses. the class is quiet for a moment, but when she immediately switches back to kawaii yasashii mode (cute, gentle woman; a japanese ideal) they write the catch off as a lucky fluke. they are not the brightest lights in the sky.

all but sawada shin (matsumoto jun), a smart, level-headed redhead with a calm and aloof facade, who watches the action from the sidelines, who seems apathetic and uninvolved -- until he speaks, and then his peers listen. his calm facade cracks a bit when one of his friends is in trouble, and he often rushes impulsively to help them -- and then needs to be rescued by yamaguchi. :). she quickly figures him as the de facto leader of the class. sawada doesn't think the catch was a fluke, and starts watching her because he feels there is something strangely interesting about this new teacher.

of course we know how a storyline like this progresses; it's not like this is the first time an enthusiastic teacher takes on the rehabilitation of a group of misfits. what's cool about it here is that yamaguchi is shown as learning to become a better teacher at the same time as her students are learning to trust her. the first thing she figures out is that to gain trust one must extend trust, and she becomes a fierce defender of her students against the school administration, bullies from other schools, and the police. and things don't miraculously improve right away with everyone loving the new teach; no, there is plenty of resistance, and she's lied to, and to the very end things keep going wrong because these are teenage boys who've got problems.

this is not a realistic story at first glance -- yamaguchi can kick the butt of any comer, no matter how big a man. her yakuza family consists of the nicest gangsters i've ever seen. some of the humour is over the top; the vice principal and the other teachers are mostly caricatures. this is particularly so in the live action, which doesn't follow the manga or the anime very closely, and doesn't even use all the same characters -- the vice principal in the manga plays a very minor role, is a nasty, scheming piece of work in the anime, and a slapsticky, pompous, ineffective arse in the live action. generally when he comes onscreen i want to fast forward, and i only stick with it because nakama yukie is so very good, and her reactions to him are worth watching.

but underlying all the slapstick and funnier yamaguchi-in-yakuza-mode is a story that touches me. i am still not entirely sure what exactly does it. i got sucked in by sawada's slow discovery of what's behind yamaguchi's perky exterior -- it's fun to see a smart person put the puzzle together, and watch how yamaguchi tries to weasel her way out of potentially disastrous situations. the interplay between the effervescent, optimistic yamaguchi and the sarcastic sawada is great, and i like how the relationship grows slowly -- he becomes her confidant; the one whom she consults when she is trying to figure something out about his classmates. this isn't a "love at first sight" romance; in fact i am not sure it is going to be a romance at all; both the anime and the live action are agnostic on the matter, and i haven't finished the manga yet [1]. i very much doubt that yamaguchi would get involved with a student, even if she comes to realize what's going on in his mind (she has no clue as yet, and her romantic thoughts are elsewhere -- in the manga/anime she has a crush on the family's lawyer; in the live action the crush is a cop, the live 2 a teacher from another school). but it's obvious to me that sawada and yamaguchi make a great team; nevermind the age difference, and i wouldn't at all mind them ending up together. fuck, i am becoming a shipper for a het romance; i hope they're not going to take my homoerotic membership card away. shinkumi OTP!

i might have a little crush on sawada myself, come to think of it. i like smart, sarcastic people who catch on quickly to what's really going on, and make snarky comments from the sidelines, especially when those people are not all talk, but risk themselves for those they care about. and despite his smarts and insight into both his friends and yamaguchi he is still an awkward 17-year old at times, and i just go "awww" inside; the combination is deadly, *heh*.

but it's not just about the crush; i like the theme of loyalty and friendship that runs through the story. i am usually come down on the side of misunderstood misfits. and i really, really like the idea of somebody like yamaguchi as teacher; somebody who is on the side of the students, who takes the time to find out what is really going on with them. and there are occasional small things that just get to me -- how the original nickname the class gave yamaguchi derogatorily, yankumi, becomes a term of endearment over time. and how yankumi can't quite restrain herself from ruffling her students' hair -- and how they all pretend they hate it, *grin*.

now to the criticism: the manga is a little plain; morimoto doesn't do backgrounds, it seems, nor shading of features -- in fact i just came across the first face that actually had shading: in volume 8. i've seen reviews where people said the art is "ugly"; and while that is probably true for the first few chapters, it starts to improve quickly, and is very nice after a few volumes . i think what they probably mean is that many of the characters are ugly -- yeah, this isn't a bishounen manga.

click images for larger versions.

i actually like that the characters are so distinctive. maybe i'm suffering from bishounen overload.
here's a page from the first chapter: compare with a page from volume 9:

sawada actually looks hot now, compared with the first sample. the art is considerably more inventive; look at the viewpoint in panel 2.

sawada does control his expressions in general, but due to general animation issues in the anime he is a bit ... blank; he has more life in the manga (and, not surprisingly, in the live action). but there is still enough for the emotions to come through.

hm. looking at this montage, it's not actually that bad. it just seems that way when when moving.

i've already talked about the slapstick humour. what there is in the manga doesn't bother me; the manga is fairly even in tone and maintains humour even through the more serious events, but it starts to bug me a bit in the anime, and actively annoys me in the live action. i just read a reviewer who thought the live action fell short because it was too serious; she wanted more slapstick -- it takes all kinds. yes, the live is more serious, but i like it for that. even though that mix of slapstick and serious emotion brings with it problems of sudden mood shifts, and can be jarring, it was still bearable in this case. yes, the serious stuff is sometimes preachy, yamaguchi excoriates stridently in the live (much less so in the manga/anime). i like her quiet conveying of life lessons better than the fierce speeches.

what bugs me more is the uneven acting in the live. nakama yukie as yamaguchi is fabulous; she carries the entire thing, and shifts from humour to earnest so well i find it really impressive. matsumoto jun (who also sings in jpop band arashi) portrays him decently, i think, if maybe a bit more broody/mopey than i had imagined him. acting by the supporting cast got very bad when people were expressing anger, and that threw me out of the story. the fights -- oh ghod, the fights. so bad. so, so bad. to do this well one would have needed matrix-quality CG, but the budget probably didn't allow for that. and so we get very obviously choreographed fight scenes, and nakama yukie looks stiff, like she's never taken even a single martial arts class. generally the people who get trounced do a better job. annoying are some oft-repeated silly mannerisms -- how she lets loose her hair when getting ready to fight -- yeah, because long, flowing hair is so PRACTICAL in hand-to-hand combat! and the script gets a bit repetitive -- we have a general theme of: youth does something wrong or is wrongly accused, yamaguchi rides in to kick the bad guys' butts, gives a stirring speech, bad guys run off, good guys are enlightened.

this gets particularly bad in the second live action. about which it's probably better not to say anything, but i will anyway. i haven't finished watching it (4 more episodes to go) because i simply had to take a break. it basically rehashes the first, with different students/teachers. i think they actually did this on purpose because it's too obvious; once again yamaguchi has a crush on some guy, and a rival for it, and the guy remains polite and distant. and we have a dorky person who is interested in her whom she (rudely) ignores. we're in a different school, but again she has the worst class. she's hiding her yakuza family again. the first fight with bad guys is again in a warehouse, and she breaks the chains to the entrance, etc. and the crisis-fight-speech-enlightenment is more pronounced, though maybe that only feels this way because i've now watched 19 episodes of this in quick succession.

the other disappointing thing is that sawada isn't part of the cast; it's like she never met him, and that felt a bit like a slap with a wet fish, especially after the bone the first live threw us at the end of the special (not gonna spoil it because it's cute). of the previous class we only retain kuma, who now runs a ramen shop. i don't feel that yamaguchi develops the same kind of rapport with the class; maybe having 2 fewer episodes has something to do with this, but it just feels... flat. the sawada replacement is a duo, which undoubtedly brings out the rabid fangirls -- akame (kamenashi kazuya & akanishi jin; famous jpop boy band members who also get madly RPSlashed). if there is slash for gokusen 2, it's gonna be with these two (what am i saying, "if"). i've loved kame ever since i first saw him in nobuto wo produce; a strange transference of affection for his character shuuji. he's much better in nobuta too; but the role in gokusen 2 isn't nearly as demanding either. while akame are initially at odds they are interesting; they become less so after they reconciliate. the flow of the story isn't as nice either -- the class comes around faster, it's like it almost takes no effort after yankumi gets the first couple to trust her.

my favourite actor from the top supporting cast is koike teppei as takeda -- he breathes life into the character. koike is new to me, but i'll watch for him now. hayami mokomichi starts out stiff, but gets better as the series progresses; except for the anger, which still feels overdone. the rest are mostly forgettable. there are again too many caricatures in the form of the other teachers.

i am debating whether to watch gokusen 3 and the final movie at all. not unless sawada comes back, i think. in any case, i'll finish the manga first; i am glad i don't have to let go yet.

i have things left to say about animation quality and sound, but i am fading out now.

[1] finished with the manga now, and yes, it goes into romance territory at the very end and in a couple of later specials. and indeed, yankumi doesn't get involved with her student; the involvement waits until after graduation. sawada is remarkably patient for a 17 yr old. well, this is japan. destined lovers are always patient, *wry grin*; they wait for years for their dense partners to come around.

and speaking of crushes, fujiwara motoo is still god. bump of chicken can make me happy even if i am down. i should order the new CD.

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piranha: red origami crane (Default)
renaissance poisson

July 2015

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