Gokusen Vol. #2 (of 3) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Sunday, January 16, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, December 14, 2004
What They Say
Math teacher by day, crime lord by night, Kumiko struggles to keep her double life a secret. But star student Shin is getting closer and closer to the truth. She has to keep her head while bailing her students out of trouble and stopping the countless turf wars that all seem to involve the school. Worst of all, a legendary brute of a senior returns, and he knows that nothing improves a school's cultural festival like baseball bats!
As things settle into what you could call routine, Kumiko's days don't get easier but they do get more interesting.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series has a pretty standard stereo mix to it with only a few areas of really noticeable directionality to it. These typically come in some of the sound effects moments such as a weapon moving across the soundstage or a very clear and distinct voice coming from one side of the screen. The bulk of it is center channel based though and sounds clean and clear throughout it. We had no problems with dropouts or distortions on either language track during regular playback.
Originally airing in early 2004, Gokusen is presented here in its original full frame aspect ratio for its transfer. The materials for the show are pretty good overall but Gokusen isn't a show that has a really high budget or a look to it that gives it a really glossy feel. The color palette is fairly dull but well represented and the bulk of the colors maintain a good solid feel to them. There's a touch of cross coloration in a few scenes but nothing terribly noticeable unless you're pause-stepping through them. Aliasing and color gradation issues are basically non-existent and the transfer looks good for the most part.
Using the same cover as the Japanese release but with a re-arranged Japanese logo and the addition of the English logo, this cover goes with the image of one of her subordinates plus that damn strange dog in his track suit going for the cool pose against a very purple background. I like that they kept most of the Japanese cover and just made some slight re-arrangements and the tagline used this time is better than the first volume. The back cover has a lot of shots from the show provided in a couple of different strips that separate up the small summary and the short list of the discs features. The shows production and technical information is all easy to find and understand. No insert was included in our copy of this release.
The menus go for simplicity here with a static image that's basically the front cover but with the menu selections and a portion of the ending song playing to it. Some of the cursor movements are a bit awkward due to the layout and moving down to the second row isn't always intuitive, particularly in the episode/scene selection submenu. Access times are nice and fast but unfortunately the disc did not read our players language presets.
The extras for the opening volume to the series are pretty light with a textless closing included as well as several minutes' worth of outtakes. As is the standard with outtakes, they vary wildly from some amusing gaffes to just the usual flubs.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With another set of episodes of Gokusen, the show continues to follow its own road but the similarities to GTO are also either completely blatant or just intentional homages at this point as we follow Kumiko leading her double life of teacher and acting yakuza clan leader.
This volume has some good material to it and it deals with one of the problems that I was hoping wasn't going to be dragged out for the entire series. With Kumiko keeping to her double life, she tries hard to keep everything separate and as far away from each other as possible, particularly since she's convinced that if anyone will figure things out it'll be Shin and he's the last one she wants to find out about things. But even as careful as she is, she still does things that give it away easy such as climbing over the school grounds wall to where a waiting car is. This lets anyone in the area see what's going on, which of course is seen by Shin and Kumai. Being as curious as he is, Shin gets Kumai to follow and next thing we know they're sneaking around the clan's home, which only leads to much more trouble when they get caught.
The drama goes really high in how those in the clan try to cover up Kumiko being there by claiming she owes money due to her grandfather, someone they saw earlier in the hospital. Kumai ends up falling for it completely since it's such a basic and simple lie but it's also the basic and simple lie that nobody should believe, which helps to foster the Kumai is an idiot mentality that's easily pushed here. This is kind of one of the problems that I still have with the show in comparison to GTO is that half the kids really aren't all that swift nor all that interesting that it's not something where you can connect with them as easily. Shin's the only one that really generates any interest which is obvious because he's the only one that's drawn in a halfway attractive way.
One of the better episodes on this volume is where the class heads off to Okinawa for their class trip. This of course is one of the most glaring episodes as you wonder just how GTO inspired it was, but it does play things differently once in Okinawa. The best part is how they have the entire boys class going from attraction to attraction but never stopping at any of them for more than a few seconds before the teachers realize something in there won't work and will cause problems, such as an entire girls school of hotties at one place. The guys make their own plans to escape though and spend the day causing the teachers to chase them extensively, thereby tiring them out and making it so they can sneak out easier at night.
This leads to the group we follow coming into problems with a couple of local gangs, once again of course, and puts some of them in immediate trouble. Though it does bring in Kumiko's tough side as she gets to stare down several gang leaders and prove through her stance just how powerful she is, it's an episode that works but at the same time just drags out a bit. One of the best moments though is when Kumiko gives off her dragon aura and it's powerful but the opposing gang members' aura is represented by the tiniest of mice that just flails about. It's a great interpretation and really puts things into perspective.
One area that was nicely covered in this volume without going too far for trying to manipulate the viewer is going into Fujiyama's history a bit. We get to see her experiences during her first year as a teacher when one of the kids in her class almost died, which relates to a more current concern about one of the students in the school. Fujiyama's been a fairly paper thin character for the most part until now but this episode does a nice job of giving her a bit more personality, and a sense of humor, when she explains her travels after she quits teaching the first time around and we see her in a bikini and enjoying the nice tropical weather. Giving her a bit more of a well rounded and curved character only serves to help Kumiko as it gives her someone better to play off of.
One nice change for this volume is that the amount of Italian-inspired language has been toned down considerably though it is still there. The New York mafia lingo, as stereotyped by Hollywood, was pretty prevalent in the first volume but isn't nearly as bad here I thought. The amount of cursing is still the same though and I have to wonder just how properly that's all being translated. While it's not on a fansub level that we used to see years ago, it is something that seems questionable on some parts.
Gokusen continues to be an amusing show that does carve out much of its own direction but there is still plenty of material in here that keeps drawing parallels to far more popular shows and that only works against it. The yakuza side of things takes a back seat for a lot of this volume and its episode but it still plays a significant enough role early on to keep it a key part of things. The bulk of the show is enjoyable but I wish they'd never introduced that dog with his thoughts being understandable. Or the track jacket he wears. Or his smoking habit. Or his drinking habit. It's just not funny.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Textless Closing,Outtakes
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Media Blasters
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2