Unlicensed Spotlight – Gokusen

Gokusen Volume 1

Gokusen
ごくせん
MORIMOTO Kozueko
Josei – Comedy, action, romance
15 Volumes (complete, original), 12 Volumes (handy edition), 11 Volumes (bunko)
Shueisha (You)

Summary:

Kumiko is ready to start her first year of teaching at an all-boys school known for delinquents and slackers. The students of 2-4 have no interest in learning, let alone from some weird, fresh-out-of-college chick. Only one student, Shin, thinks that Kumiko is not as weak as she appears to be. And he’s right: she’s the granddaughter of a yakuza boss!

Review:

This series has been compared a lot to GTO: the two feature powerful (and unconventional) teachers and their students. However, don’t let this series being a josei fool you. Gokusen is about hilarious hijinks involving a mafia heir rather than some slice-of-life romance.

The main plot involves Kumiko hiding her identity while trying to teach her delinquent students. Stories usually follow along a similar path. First, Kumiko’s students get involved in some shady business (often involving other yakuza groups). Some students may get involved with fights with other students, or they may get involved in another yakuza group’s scheme. Either way, Kumiko has to come and save the day. That’s pretty much it for the entire series.

Yes, the overreaching plot is rather lackluster. So why do I enjoy this manga? It is a fun, quick-paced comedy. Think of Gokusen as an action-filled My Neighbor Seki or Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun. This series is not meant to move you; just sit back and enjoy the ride.  Chapters are short, so you are tempted to keep reading just one more. You know Kumiko (or her gang or her students) will triumph, but Kumiko has to try to come up with ways to hide her abilities and background. It’s not easy when she’s constantly running away from the police (despite her being a teacher) or using yakuza Japanese!

While most of the manga is about defeating the bad guys, the series has a lot of silly (well, sillier) chapters as well. From a boxing match that turns into a street fight while the ref is woozy to men competing while wearing fundoshi loincloths, author Morimoto does a good job of breaking up the repetitiveness of the “defeat the bad guys!” arcs. I especially love the side stories that appear late in the series starring Kumiko’s dog Fuji and Kumiko’s student Shin. Spoiler alert: one ends with Shin in a dog hat, clutching Kumiko’s bra behind his back. (It makes sense in context.) It’s episodes like this just make me laugh.

A few recurring plot points also help add variety to the chapters, like the chairman trying to expose Kumiko’s secret or, more significantly, Shin’s feelings for Kumiko (and her feelings for the Kuroda family lawyer). As for the latter, while the love triangle is present throughout most of the series, it isn’t a huge priority for the manga. The love story is incredibly light here. It isn’t until the bonus volume of side stories (Kanketsu-hen, 完結編, Final Chapter) that the romance is given a proper conclusion.

The manga includes a wide cast of characters. The manga has quite a few key characters for each of Kumiko’s two lives. At school, there’s the fellow female teacher, the principal, and five main students. At home, there’s the grandfather, his right hand man, Kumiko’s initial charges, and the lawyer. But those are only the main characters. The principal has a younger brother who hires a new teacher. The Kuroda family owns a nightclub run by a member’s wife. A couple of students’ parents show up. The sheer number of characters can be overwhelming, but the manga includes the names of the main characters in each volume to remind you who’s who. The few returning characters are also given a synopsis in-chapter to remind you of who they are. Otherwise, it’s not a big deal if you mix up or forget their names. Most of the key characters get at least one chapter or mini-arc devoted to them; outside of those sections, it really doesn’t matter if you forget what the characters’ names are.

Anyways, as you would expect of a comedy, the characters tend to be eccentric and downright silly. Kumiko herself may be able to teach high school mathematics and knock out grown men with a single punch, but she’s also an idiot who will leap first, think later. A ski mask? A perfect disguise in broad daylight! Fellow female teacher Fujimoto has a not-so-subtle interest in cute boys and is proud of her figure. The principal has a habit of taking his clothes off. Minoru and Tetsu are strong, scary-looking brawlers, but they can’t hold a candle to Kumiko’s abilities. Even the police and witnesses are pretty inept: they confuse a high school student for an old man. Basically, almost everyone in Gokusen has a screw loose, so don’t expect much in terms of realism in Gokusen. (Not that there’s much realism if you believe Shin is really talking to Fuji…)

The art is pretty simplistic. It’s also not very shoujo- or josei-like. If you tend to like sparkles, pretty boys, or elaborate spreads, then Gokusen will leave you very disappointed. (I bet upon first glance, most readers would think this is more seinen than josei.) Kumiko hardly ever dresses up; she spends most of her days in a track outfit. Outside of Shin, the lawyer, and a few unnamed students, most of the men are…shall I say, a bit lacking in the looks department. Fujiyama’s claim to fame is her large bust, and most of the men have large scars (and are large themselves). The backgrounds tend to be minimal, but the action is incredibly easy to follow along with. The abundant whitespace makes the pages bright, especially since there isn’t a lot of silly or emotional screentones. However, it takes Morimoto a while to get used to drawing the characters. Shin in particular looks quite different in the beginning, not looking nearly as attractive as he’s supposed to be. Despite the large cast, only a few are (unintentional) visual clones. Morimoto draws a wide range of body types, hairstyles, scars, and eyebrows to add individuality to her characters.

Chance of License:

As a Shueisha series, Viz Media would likely have first dibs on the series. However, You manga are extremely rare in English. In fact, I can’t think or find a single title! (Let me know if I missed one.) Gokusen is also 15 volumes long (16 if you add in Kanketsu-hen), which is long for a josei series. The Japanese version has already cut the 15 volumes down to 10 in the bunko version, but even that may be too long. If licensed, I imagine eight omnibuses would be the ideal release. Omnibuses would cut down on costs significantly and make it more likely buyers would pick up the entire series.

Comedy series can be tricky to sell in the U.S. Look at Gintama: a hit in Japan, but the series was dropped here by Viz Media. In addition, comedies often can attract readers, but many people would rather actually own something that will really move them or make them think. Gokusen is also pretty episodic; readers could easily buy just a few volumes without missing too much. On the bright side, Gokusen could attract a wide range of fans. Shoujo/josei readers will love having a physically strong heroine, and shounen/seinen readers will like the fights.

Translating the yakuza speech as well as deciding how much Japanese to keep may also be a pain for a company. Should Kumiko be called “Ojou” by the Kuroda members? “Young Miss”? Should her grandfather be called “Sandaime”, “Third Generation Leader”, “Boss”, “Master Kuroda”, or something else? What about kaimen versus menkai and other yakuza speech? Gokusen is very Japanese, so it needs a good adaptation.

The manga is on the difficult side to read for those unfamiliar with Japanese. The lack of furigana and abundance of yakuza slang is tricky.

Final Comments:

Gokusen is a light read, but it’s fun for all kinds of manga fans. Morimoto also ends it at a respectable 15 volumes. The length combined with the side/filler chapters means the series doesn’t overstay its welcome. The josei market in English is pretty small, and Gokusen would be a welcome addition.

Media Blasters released the anime under the title The GokuSen.

Gokusen was also made into a television drama with several seasons and a movie. A TV station in Los Angeles broadcasted two seasons of the drama. Otherwise, the drama is unavailable outside Japan.

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5 Comments

  1. Leafさんの夢が。。。

    OMG I would love to have this. The drama was fantastic.

    Reply
    1. Krystallina

      I’m a little surprised Crunchyroll doesn’t have the drama.

      Reply
      1. Leafさんの夢が。。。

        Right? Then again, they don’t seem to have a lot of jdramas….

        Reply
  2. The Otaku Judge

    I suck at math so it’s a relief that none of my teachers were able to deliver knock out punches.

    Reply
    1. Krystallina

      She makes her students do laps on the track. At least with her punches, you’re knocked out. But you have to suffer through all 30 laps if you make her angry.

      Reply

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