This was the GTO (Great Teacher Onizuka) New Year special and, considering how it turned out, it might be the only special GTO gets this year. I’m not going to pull any punches on this one – as a fan of the summer series, I found it a huge disappointment.

Things begin badly at the school Christmas party where Onizuka (AKIRA) is dressed up as a Christmas tree.

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Introducing the main character in such a lackluster way is just horrible – especially when in the main series and the first special his entry into the scene was always a bit more . . . inspiring. But that’s not the main problem with the way things start.

No, my trouble with this special began with Kanzaki (Honda Tsubasa) hitting on Onizuka. As disturbing as it is to see a student interact with a teacher that way, that wasn’t too bad by itself, since we have some background about how the particular bond/attachment between them developed, and Honda-san plays the scene well. The trouble was with the reactions of the teachers watching the scene, who treated the behavior as normal. I’m sorry, maybe it’s a cultural thing, but is a student openly fawning over a teacher taken so blandly, even in comedy? Is it normal for a teacher (in this case Fuyutsuki played by Takimoto Miori) to see a student as competition for love?

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Okay, I might be overreacting to it, but what’s with this way of starting the show? There’s a total lack of tension or excitement, and the humor is . . . difficult to appreciate.

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After the credits, we get Saejima (Yamamoto Yusuke) on a bicycle. That’s good – that’s how the last special began, and we got some good fun out of that scene.

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This time, he saves Maria (Uno Misako) from a pack of unpleasants.

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There seems to be more going on with her, though. After Saejima leaves the scene, she tries to apologize to another man, but gets rejected by him.

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The students of Onizuka’s class seem to be in a carefree spirit, but there’s some tension around one of them.

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Meanwhile, Fuyutsuki still has trouble approaching Onizuka, and he hasn’t clearly expressed his feelings about her, either.

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The troubled student, Katsuragi Miki (Nishiuchi Mariya), keeps her concerns quiet as she joins classmates at a cram school . . .

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. . . where one of the teachers looks like he’s going to take an interest.

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Meanwhile, the Kanzaki-Fuyutsuki battle over Onizuka comes to its ultimate battleground – Onizuka’s bedroom! How does this happen?

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I have to say, though, that Honda Tsubasa-san was brilliant at pulling off her role as the obsessed Kanzaki. She was delightfully unsettling.

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Really, the whole Onizuka side of things is rather boring at this point, because the relationship with Fuyutsuki isn’t going to be advanced at all, so the romantic tension is a pure waste of time.

All the fun is centered on Saejima, who meets Maria again in a club.

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She recognizes him as the cop who saved her . . .

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. . . and starts to cozy up to him in a rather intense and suspicious manner.

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Miki comes to talk to Onizuka about her family trouble, but he decides to put a rain check on the conversation in favor of checking out what Saejima is up to.

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Apparently, Saejima is getting married to Maria!

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What’s going on here?

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Meanwhile, Kanzaki continues to stalk Onizuka:

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If the Kanzaki-Onizuka doesn’t make you squeamish, the relationship Miki develops with her cram school teacher will:

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He wants to hear about all her problems, but what’s his real game?

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Moving quickly, Saejima is absolutely serious about Maria. She’s serious about him, too . . . after a fashion.

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She even left a marriage certificate . . .

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. . . and her triplets for him to take care of.

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Okay, I really, really didn’t get this. And nothing in this episode did a good job of explaining why Maria would have to abandon her kids at all, nor how she could expect a guy she just met to take a marriage certificate left on the table seriously, and to take immediate responsibility for three children he knew nothing about. Yes, it’s a comedy, but I don’t remember this particular comedy stretching credulity this far before. They’re really pushing it.

I was happy to see Onizuka working with Aizawa (Kawaguchi Haruna) since I felt that her brilliant ability to scheme made her an excellent character, and that it really wasn’t put to use after she abandoned the ways of evil.

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Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like she’s really employing her old genius here, either. How is it that she became so lamentably normal?

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Miki meets the woman who is destined to become her new mother – the source of all her angst.

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The emotional upheaval caused by the idea of her father remarrying leads Miki to make an unfortunate choice . . .

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. . . seeking the solace offered by the teacher who has taken such an interest in her.

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He takes her to a club where he says girls like her get together to talk about their problems . . .

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. . . but there’s so obviously something foul going on here that it seems ludicrous that Miki would stay for an instant.

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But what does Miki’s situation have to do with Saejima’s Maria problem.

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By the forty-minute mark, it’s at least clear which student Onizuka is going to have to save:

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But it took us a long time to get to that point. Huge swathes of the first half of the special could have been skipped entirely or sped up. Unlike the last special, this show started extremely slow and it felt that they were stretching out what would have fit into a good one-hour GTO.

Even worse, there’s plenty of explaining they could have used the extra time to do. They made the audience swallow quite a lot of unbelievable stuff. Why did Miki have such a strong reaction against her new mother? A decent writer would have fleshed that out a bit more, somehow making Miki’s distress a bit more understandable. The character of Maria came off as totally inconsistent and I’m still at a loss about pretty much everything she did.

There was also no apparent awareness of what made the Onizuka of the main season and first special a hero. Here, he was largely a clown – a caricature of himself. In the other episodes, there had been a sense of hidden depth to him, but here he’s all surface.

However, the greatest problem with the episode was with the way they tried to explain away the actions of the main antagonist, the prep school teacher who lured girls into what can only be described as slavery.

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The writers ended up trying to make him a sympathetic character – someone who only did what he did to gain his father’s approval. I’m sorry, but that doesn’t fly. When Onizuka confronted this guy at the end, I wanted to see him punished severely, not psychoanalyzed. There is a limit to what a person can do before I consider him or her irredeemable, and this guy crossed that line by a mile. I didn’t care what kind of issues he had with his father, and the fact that the writers pretended it mattered showed that they didn’t fully understand how horrible the things he did were. They were following a formula where a person does bad things and we find out he was driven to do them for a reason we can all relate to. The problem with that formula is the illusion that you can plug any evil deeds into it and still make it work. It didn’t.

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Oh, and another thing – there’s one scene with Onizuka and one of the babies. If you’ve already watched the special, you probably already know the one I’m talking about. Irritated by Maria saying that she doesn’t care about the kids, he threatens to drop one of them from a height that would almost certainly result in the kid’s death. I . . .  was shocked. Now, Onizuka has a habit of doing things that are shocking, but we’re talking about threatening the life of an innocent kid here, and there are certain lines that really shouldn’t be crossed unless the character in question is a villain. To have a hero do such a thing to make a point was . . . unacceptable.

All these things added up to a very unpleasant picture. Take the lack of reaction to a student-teacher relationship at the beginning, an insufficient awareness of how despicable it is to sell children into slavery, and the threatening of an innocent baby’s life to make a point, and it seems like the writers of this episode are lacking any sense about societal attitudes toward young people.

I think I’ve made my overall verdict on this special pretty clear. A lot could have been solved simply by cutting lots of useless stuff out to speed up the pace and grounding actions in sensible rationale. Oh, and not threatening babies.