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Gokusen - Season 1 - Movie Poster
Original Title:

Japan 2002

Number of Episodes: 12
Running Time: 45 min.

Comedy, Drama

Toya Sato
Taro Otani
Naoharu Takahashi

Yukie Nakama
Jun Matsumoto
Katsuhisa Namase
Ken Utsui
Misaki Itoh
Yuko Nakazawa
Ikki Sawamura
Tomohiro Waki
Satoru Saito
Ken Kaneko
Hiroki Narimiya
Ryosei Tayama
Osami Nabe
Yuma Ishigaki
Tadashi Sakata

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Story: Yamaguchi Kumiko (Yukie Nakama) is an idealistic, yougn teacher who gets a job at Shirokin Gakuen High. She warmly welcomes her new class, but Yamaguchi has to find out, that she has gotten the short straw at school. Her class consists of the worst thugs and wanna-be gangsters, who have everything else in their head but learning. The class leader is Sawada Shin (Jun Matsumoto), who is always very quiet and has his heart at the right place. It's just that he has been let down by adults one time too often.
Yamaguchi's initial attempts to win the students' trust remain without success, but as time goes by the students realize that their new teacher in fact always is on their side, no matter what, and keeps supporting them whereever she can. This not only includes Yamaguchi shielding her students from hateful head teacher Sawatari (Katsuhisa Namase), but also means that she fights for them with bare fists, while also giving them important lessons in life. However, there is one thing that neither students nor the teaching staff should find out: Yamaguchi is actually the daughter of a Yakuza leader, prefering her job as a teacher to becoming the new leader of a gangster organisation...

Review: "Gokusen" is not your standard high-school drama series. With a lot of fresh humor, which is always very Japanese and therefore quite wacky, this lighthearted comedy show makes for a compelling series, despite its sometimes more serious undertone. Unfortunately, latter fact proves to be the evident downside of "Gokusen". Over and over again we are bombarded with educational monologues of Yankumi, who always wins over her listeners despite the initial doubt of her students. Therefore, the show is compelled to get something artificial to it, which becomes even more bothering when looking at the fact that the humor is actually simply great at times. No doubt, it's all about slapstick, but it works out nonetheless, thanks to oddball characters and some off-the-wall moments, which certainly will make you laugh out loud. That is if you are into Japanese humor, of course. If that's the case then you will have one hell of a fun ride with "Gokusen", despite its minor flaws.

The main premise may already sound familiar, but a female teacher who in reality is a Yakuza member is still something that serves fantastically as the groundwork to weave some funny stories around it. Yankumi, as she is called by her students more or less fondly, is idealistic, also lives in her own world of dreams and has something innocent about her, which is also carried by her appearance. With her glasses and pigtails she somehow depicts your typical picture of a shy wallflower, even though she certainly is everything but that, as we find out later. Although she gets bullied by her students at first, she only overlooks this behaviour as long as it takes place within the borders of what's justifiable. As soon as her students cross the line, she also shows another different side of her. Most of the time she only shows this new face of hers when it comes to protecting her students, though. Shin and his buddies always end up with problems and Yankumi fights their battles for them - literally.

As a Yakuza-daughter Yankumi, naturally, knows how to stand up to any challange and so she even beats up a whole bunch of gangster, if these thugs think of hurting her students. There isn't anything great to say about the fights themselves, sometimes you can just tell that they are merely posed, but what gets really annoying is Yankumi's general appearance during those scenes. She takes off her glasses, opens her hair and suddenly there is a new person standing in front of us, whose gaze can make your blood run cold. The first two or three times this may be somewhat stylish and cool, but before long it really gets annoying. The show has the same problem on other ocassions, too. For example: The students get into trouble in every single episode and Yankumi eventually gets them out of it, while also providing them with an important lesson for life. As time goes on, this just happens to get repeated too often, so that Yankumi's speeches become very contrived.

Instead of focusing too much on this more serious aspect of the show - and in fact, some few episodes are so serious in tone over a longer period, that it becomes quite bothersome - "Gokusen" would have done well if it had completely put its focus on the humor. Because that's where the show really can score. Yankumi often shifts to Yakuza language when she gets excited, she surprises her students on the most inappropriate ocassions and before long even manages to build a buddy-like relationship towards them. The humor is always inventive, not really smart, but it always hits the right notes. For most part this is thanks to the characters, of whom head teacher Sawatari stands out the most. He doesn't only produce some laughter because of his appearance and his hair cut alone, but also manages to create a truely comical role. In further roles you get to see Itoh Misaki ("Train Man - Series"), as a beautiful teacher and ex-"Morning Musume" member Nakazawa Yuko, who all do a great job of bringing some charming characters onto screen.

At home Yankumi shows her true self, which means that she oftentimes scolds her "subordinates", and still seems to be the daughter of a Yakuza boss, even though there is no doubt that her path is set and that she won't take over the "family business", yet instead wants to stay a teacher. A decision her father is approving. Every time Yankumi finds herself in a dead end her father sets her back on track. Utsui Ken depicts the Yakuza boss as a good-natured and loving father, and not as the kind of person you would expect a Yakuza boss to be, which once again shows that "Gokusen" simply wants to be lighthearted entertainment and nothing more.
A little bit sad though, is that many of the supporting characters remain quite shallow. Yankumi even has a small love story with a policeman, which is only sketched out, however, yet this policeman as well as his partner and many of the teachers at school remain colourless.

The chemistry between the characters is great, which makes it easy for us to forgive the unnecessarily overdone serious moments and educational speeches of Yankumi, as well as the fact that Yankumi herself also could have been elaborated better. Nevertheless, Yukie Nakama ("Shinobi - Heart under Blade") does a fantastic job of portraying this wacky character of a loving teacher, who always wants to be there for her students.
The relationship of Yankumi and Shin depicts something like the show's center. Shin is the representative of the class, even though he is of the quiet and cool kind. At first he denies Yankumi any access to his train of throughts, because he has been disappointed by adults one time too often. But eventually he has to understand that Yankumi is different. This slightly dramatic touch fits pretty well into the series, if it weren't for the overdone drama that can also be found every now and then, and which can't be called convincing.
Despite all that, the creators/directors deliver a show that is a lot of fun and provides you with nice humor, as well as refreshingly wacky characters. No wonder that there is already a third season being aired at the moment. Definitely recommendable!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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