Starting October 1990, manga author Fujisawa Tōru began his new Japanese comic series Shōnan Jun’ai Gumi (lit. Shōnan Pure Love Gang) in Kōdansha’s Weekly Shōnen Magazine. This would mark the beginning of a succession of manga titles, all of which featuring common protagonists and characters.
Shonan Jun’ai Gumi
Shōnan Jun’ai Gumi follows the story of Onizuka Eikichi and Danma Ryūji, two high school students and former bōsōzoku members who decide to abandon their delinquent ways in favor of attracting the opposite sex and losing their virginity (The word bōsōzoku refers to a motorcycle gang sub-culture popular among youths from the late 1970’s to early 1990’s in Japan). The scene is Shōnan, a coastal area popular for its beach resorts along Sagami Bay in Kanagawa Prefecture. While the first story arcs of the series are essentially comical misadventures that revolve around the duo’s unavailing pursuit of women, it is not long before Shōnan Jun’ai Gumi begins to show strong elements of drama, romance, action, and even mystery at certain points. It can be said that Shōnan Jun’ai Gumi is a story that crosses a spectrum of genres. The series covers a total of 2 years in the lives of Eikichi and Ryūji. It begins with Ryūji at 15 years old, while Eikichi is not long turned 16, and ends with both of them roughly 17 years old (although this is not explicitly mentioned).
Within several volumes of the series, it becomes evident that neither Eikichi nor Ryūji are able to stray from their trouble making origins for very long. They can’t help but make new enemies, getting into trouble with various bōsōzoku, the top dogs of rival high schools and even local yakuza. Without much delay Eikichi and Ryūji, more or less, abandon their reformative efforts. With that said however, both manage to retain their inherently high ethics and moral values. Shōnan Jun’ai Gumi is host to an extremely numerous cast of characters, which is an aspect that one may find quite entertaining and interesting. Although there is such a large volume of characters in the mix, the story lines never feel overcrowded. Instead of members from the vast pool of the characters in a constant struggle for center stage, different characters drop in and out of focus from story to story. This is what makes the device work. Intentional or not, it gives the reader something that feels like a real life high school experience, where one may not necessarily associate with the same person, or group of people, for their entire schooling progression. Rather, new people will often enter one’s daily life while others will disappear and perhaps resurface at a later date. The various characters of Shōnan Jun’ai Gumi add color to the story, complementing a core which comprises of the dual-protagonists Eikichi and Ryūji. Shōnan Jun’ai Gumi received a short animated adaptation in the form of five OVA episodes which were released straight to video over a period of 4 years. A five episodes of a live-action adaptation was also produced in a similar time frame.
Towards the end of Shōnan Jun’ai Gumi’s serialization Fujisawa Tōru authored Bad Company, a short prequel which acted as a complementary side story to the aforementioned series. Chronologically, Bad Company takes place 2 years earlier than Shōnan Jun’ai Gumi and opens with Danma Ryūji transferring junior high schools, where he encounters Onizuka Eikichi for the first time. The story line follows their progression from hostile enemies to close friends, and also depicts their first encounter with Masaki Kyōsuke and his bōsōzoku gang Midnight Angel (a group that Eikichi and Ryūji would soon join, but later break apart in an implied segment of their background). Contrary to Shōnan Jun’ai Gumi where Eikichi and Ryūji are more or less equal as two lead characters, it is Ryūji who takes center stage in Bad Company, with majority of the story being depicted from his point of view. Bad Company is divided into two parts, the first of which initiates the story with the above plot lines whilst the second, Bad Company 2, delves into Ryūji’s relationship formed with an older woman. Bad Company comprised roughly one volume’s worth of chapters in Shōnan Jun’ai Gumi’s original 31 volume release, however it was later released separately in it’s own standalone volume. Bad Company was also made into a live-action feature length film which was released mid-1998 starring Aoki Shinsuke as Eikichi and Amano Horinari as Ryūji.
Great Teacher Onizuka
In September 1996 Shōnan Jun’ai Gumi’s serialization came to a close. However, it was not long before Eikichi and Ryūji were revived in Great Teacher Onizuka. This series began publication in December that same year. Great Teacher Onizuka, or GTO as it is officially abbreviated as, takes place 6 years after Shōnan Jun’ai Gumi. Now in their early twenties, Eikichi and Ryūji have moved to suburban Tokyo, and while Ryūji has been successful in establishing his own motorcycle store, Eikichi is struggling to find stable employment. Due to a particular encounter with a high school girl however, Eikichi sets his sights on becoming a high school teacher.This time Eikichi very much dominates center stage as the protagonist in GTO, and Ryūji is essentially reduced to a minor supporting character who surfaces occasionally. We follow Eikichi as he faces trials and tribulations in a teacher training program, and in his search for a school willing enough to hire him, until he lands himself a position as homeroom teacher at the Private Tōkyō Kisshō Academy’s junior high school, at last. Although not teaching at a high school level as once desired, Eikichi soon becomes accustomed to his junior high school post as he realizes that his influence is necessary in the harsh school environment that he discovers. From suicide attempts, instances of long term truancy and relentless bullying, to dysfunctional teachers who are portrayed to value their careers over the welfare of their students, Eikichi encounters various issues that characterize a problematic education system of modern day Japan. With a strong sense of morality and steadfast philosophy, we see Eikichi use his unique methods to confront these issues on his newly decided journey to become greatest teacher in the country. GTO spans a total of 25 volumes, with its final volume having been published in April 2002. In 1998, GTO won the Boy’s Category 22nd Kōdansha Manga Award to much acclaim. Beginning in 1999 an animated TV series adaptation of GTO was broadcast on Fuji Television. The series was produced by Studio Pierrot, and spanned a total of 43 episodes over 2 seasons.
GTO Shonan 14 Days
In June 2009, seven years after the original GTO comic series had concluded, a new spinoff manga by Fujisawa titled GTO Shonan 14 Days began its run in Shōnen Magazine. In the beginning, GTO Shonan 14 Days is set at a time later than GTO events, however the series mostly consists of one very long flashback for almost its entirety. This flashback is roughly set between volume 19 and 20 of the original GTO, and is presented as an untold tale of Onizuka’s adventures. Due to a scandalous slip of the tongue on national television, Onizuka sees it best to lay low for a while until things blow over. He decides to return to his home town in Shōnan. Once having arrived, he meets Shiratori Ayame, a young lady who works at a juvenile care facility and happens to be a long time friend of Fuyutsuki Azusa, Onizuka’s co-worker and friend at Kisshō Academy. Onizuka offers to help Shiratori out with the teenagers under her care, and in return she invites Onizuka to move into the facility. Throughout the nine volumes that follow, Onizuka spends his time solving the various issues faced by the children housed at White Swan, Shiratori’s facility. GTO Shonan 14 Days concluded on the 14th of September 2011 with 70 chapters, and went on to spawn a short three chapter spin-off of its own. The spin-off stars a reformed pair of twin antagonists that appear earlier in the series, Riko and Miko. This short story was dubbed Black Diamond and was serialized in Weekly Shōnen Magazine from the 2nd to the 16th of November 2011. Black Diamond is also now compiled and printed at the back of the Shonan 14 Days final volume.
While an English version of the original GTO series is currently out of print, both Shōnan Jun’ai Gumi and GTO Shōnan 14 Days are receiving American publication from Vertical, and are available to purchase online at amazon.com here and here respectively. We encourage you to show your support to the author and publishers and buy yourselves copies of these great manga titles so that Bad Company, GTO, Ino-Head Gargoyle and whatever else is to come can be published in the future as well!