When you see a show, movie, or even a game that you used to love re-emerge via a streaming platform or a remaster, you might feel hesitant to revisit it because it might not turn out to be as good as you remember.
It’s not rare that something made in the 2000’s or earlier doesn’t age well in present-day; the advancement of technology in games and animation can make something as monumental as Shenmue was, now feel like a slow trog through an ancient prototype of the Yakuza games.
A lot of old media can feel dated because of their quality, but quality isn’t always the problem. People still love to play classic Pokemon games despite their graphics, and shows like Yu Yu Hakusho and Sailor Moon are still highly bingeable and enjoyable anime despite their dated animation. The problem after quality is content, which brings us to the topic of GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka.
Way before Animax and AXN brought more niche genres of anime to Philippine cable TV, Filipino anime fans watched anime primarily through ABS-CBN and GMA. It was through these channels that we got to watch classics like Flame of Recca, Cardcaptor Sakura, and Fushigi Yuugi (they were even Tagalog-dubbed). These were the daytime anime I watched in the living room after school, but late in the night there was one anime I had to watch in my room with the doors locked, and that was GTO.
GTO was my first exposure to anime that catered to more mature audiences. When I found out that GMA aired reruns of it during the late-night hours, I sometimes stayed awake just to watch it. There were two things my young and naive self loved about GTO, one of which was the level of pervertedness and sexual themes it had, considering it was aired on television. Pre-pubescent me, still unaware of the existence of actual adult material, found GTO exciting to watch simply because every now and then there was a scene of a woman in her underwear, and that was rare to see on TV.
The other thing I loved about GTO was its protagonist, a former biker gang leader who went on to become a teacher, despite his poor intellect and history of street violence. Onizuka was a cigarette-smoking, rule-breaking, perverted idiot, yet somehow when he was on-screen, I could think of no one cooler.
When I saw that GTO was now available on Netflix, a part of me felt excited to watch it again, but another part of me was sure that present-day me would not in good conscience be able to enjoy it. Onizuka, after all, is a pervert who wanted to work as a teacher to hit on high school girls, and that’s the kind of guy we’d rather see in prison than as a protagonist in an anime. But now that I no longer feel the need to protect my fond memories of GTO, I decided to watch the first 12 episodes to see how it holds up.
The first episode of GTO starts with Onizuka staring up a woman’s skirt as she goes up on an escalator. Two delinquents then attempt to extort him, saying they’ll report him to the police if he doesn’t hand them his wallet. Onizuka beats up the two delinquents, sharing that he’s a karate black belt, and then hitches a ride on his friend Ryuji’s motorcycle to the school where his teaching career begins.
It didn’t even take a hot minute for the show to take a turn for the inappropriate as it starts off with its hero looking up at someone’s panties. The rest of the episode continues with Onizuka fantasizing about having a 16-year old high school wife at the ripe age of 22. At this point, is the show living up to my fond memories of it? No. The cool anti-hero I enjoyed on-screen as a single-digit-year old is now someone three years my junior, someone I’d have looked down upon and reported to the police if I saw him on the street.
But I didn’t want to stop watching just because Onizuka no longer represented everything I thought to be cool. GTO could not have gotten as popular as it was and still is (a live-action prequel is currently in the works) if the entire anime could be reduced to boobs and underpants. Onizuka is a pervert and GTO doesn’t shy away from depicting him as one, but what else is there to see beyond that?
In the first twelve episodes, Onizuka goes through a series of trials trying to prove his worth as a teacher. The first is when he attacks a groper on the bus only to find out that the groper was the assistant principal who’d be interviewing him for a teaching job. He fails the interview, but when a group of expelled delinquents come to assault the assistant principal, Onizuka is offered a teaching job as long as he gets rid of them.
As the assistant principal screams insults and hurtful words at the expelled students thinking Onizuka would come to his defense, Onizuka wraps his arms around the assistant principal and German suplexes his head into the ground. This is followed by Onizuka giving a speech, saying that it’s not the delinquents at fault, it’s the teachers who treat them like degenerates. The students are acting out because they’ve been demeaned and looked down upon by the very people who should be helping them. Finally, a redeeming moment for GTO, and one that does live up to my good memories of it. The lunch lady who witnessed the whole suplex incident is revealed to be the principal, and she hires Onizuka to deal with a whole class of trouble children.
The suplex incident is the first example of Onizuka taking the side of his students in a conflict, and it’s basically the show’s formula for future conflicts. Every conflict stems from his students having problems at home, with their peers, or with their teachers, and each one is resolved by Onizuka trying to protect and understand his students (to the extent that he’s even jumped off the roof several times trying to rescue students attempting suicide).
While the show is still sprinkled with distasteful moments of Onizuka fantasizing about girls, the scenes where he shows concern for his students when their parents and teachers were cold and robotic, reminded me that this was also something I loved about the show. GTO tackled problems like bullying, suicide, and parental abuse, which was unheard of in popular anime at the time. When GTO is whimsical, it can border on the inappropriate, but I want to give it credit for its serious moments because the show doesn’t joke or make light of the real problems that high school students face in everyday life, even today.
Now that I have both good and bad things to say about GTO (Teacher Onizuka = Good, Pervert Onizuka = Bad), I want to address the main problem I have with it: the scenes in which women, especially high school-age women, are depicted in compromising situations, either wearing scant clothing or through an “upskirt” shot.
I remember watching another anime on AXN back in the day called Boys Be, a shoujo anime about boys and girls meeting and falling in love. In one scene, a male character gets into a bicycle accident because he was trying to catch a sight of a woman’s underwear as her skirt was being blown up by a gust of wind. I wondered at the time, what’s the big deal with seeing women’s panties? Why is this also a thing on GTO?
Prior to doing any research, I thought that having a male character peek at a woman’s underwear was just a distasteful and poorly-thought up plot device in 1990’s to 2000’s anime, used to depict a character as a hot-blooded man on a sexual conquest. I was distraught to find that it had been a thing since the 1960’s, and that there’s a word for it: panchira.
It’s a relief that panchira is no longer a common occurrence in recent anime, but in GTO it feels like the one huge mistake that dangles over my head as I watch each episode. When Onizuka is out saving his students from whatever predicament, I keep thinking back to the first episode where he’s sitting in a subway and looking up a woman’s skirt. And that’s just one of the scenes where Onizuka is shown doing something inappropriate. It’s these scenes in GTO that cast a long shadow on a hero who would otherwise be worthy of admiration.
I propose that the best way to revisit GTO is simply to not forget about its problematic scenes. The anime shines in its depictions of the real problems high school students regularly face, but falls short on modern standards of what is and isn’t appropriate when it comes to fleshing out Onizuka’s perverted-yet-pure character. It would be wrong to think of GTO as only being a good anime, because we can’t ignore the parts of it that we wouldn’t let slide in shows and movies today. As long as we keep in mind that the world has changed since then, and that we wouldn’t allow such scenes to happen without backlash today, GTO may still prove worthy of a rewatch.
Or, you know, just watch Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.
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