Gokusen Vol. #1 (also w/premium) - Mania.com

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Mania Grade: B+

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  • 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
  • MSRP: 29.95/39.95
  • Running time: 125
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Gokusen

Gokusen Vol. #1 (also w/premium)

By Chris Beveridge     November 01, 2004
Release Date: October 12, 2004

Gokusen Vol. #1 (also w/premium)
© Media Blasters

What They Say
Kumiko is the heir of the Oedo Yakuza family, but her dream is to teach the youth of Japan. She puts aside her cunning nature and lands a teaching job. Now Kumiko is determined to understand the teenage mind, teach higher math, and carry on a little romance. That is, if she can stop her loyal army of brutal hitmen from murdering any misbehaving students.

The Review!
Taking on the teachers' side for the story, Gokusen brings another comical look at the profession but with some slightly different twists.

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 pretty 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, we get a decent looking character shot here that lets Kumiko stand alone in her track outfit but with some of her yakuza styled manner to it, particularly with the sword. I like that they kept most of the Japanese cover and just made some slight re-arrangements but I didn't care much for the tagline added to the front. 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 opening 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)
For the most part, Gokusen will be continually compared to another series that shares some of the same qualities, GTO. When this series was first talked about the comparisons were pretty common and it was basically called GTO with a female teacher. While I can see the comparisons on a few levels and certain areas, there are plenty of differences between the two that really do break the comparisons and generally in significant ways.

Gokusen kicks things off by having a few new teachers showing up for their first day at Shirogane High School. This particular high school, while not rife with the underbelly of the student body, has some pretty bad kids in general and most of them are just the kinds that simply don't do anything. One of the new teachers is our lead character, Kumiko Yamaguchi. When she and another of the new teachers, a provactively clad woman, are given the basics of the school the assistant principal is very emphatic that they're style of clothing is inappropriate. Apparently it's recommended that teachers wear track suits since they're often running away from the marauding students. And thus Kumiko begins her life as a school teacher wearing a red track suit.

Kumiko is of course faced with a number of challenges. Her class is one of the more infamous ones that has a room full of students who don't do jack, they get into fights with other students and they have problems with students who've been expelled that come back to cause trouble and help out their old classmates. Kumiko's also got to deal with the problems of actually teaching the material she has and going through the rigors of having her teaching style going through a check by others. And as if all of that isn't enough, there's some secret conspiracy that she's unaware of early on where the assistant principal is working towards having the school taken over or bought out by someone if he can get the school to do as poorly as possible.

So you've got your usual deal where she tries to reach the students in her own way, has to deal with a strange assortment of both students and fellow teachers and administrators and also gets to deal with some of the parents and how they are. So it sounds like a fairly interesting show but there's still one more hook to it. Kumiko is actually the acting head of the Oedo yakuza family. Her parents died at an early age so she was brought up within the family pretty much by her grandfather and one of his men within the compound grounds. So Kumiko was trained to take on the position herself and has spent much of the time learning the ways of a yakuza as well as the sensibilities of one. And that's of the classical type of yakuza, not the high-action loner types that fill the movies. But the type that are more akin to the stereotypical samurai types and their lords.

Kumiko wanted more out of life than just that so she spent her time earning the right to teach and is now going through the trials and tribulations of that profession while still being the acting boss of the family. Her senses and training are naturally heightened but she's trying to keep it all a secret from the students and faculty. So she ends up in situations where she's almost a completely goofy geek to one where her "battle aura" is completely up and some of the punks in the class understand that and instinctively respect it. This starts to go down the path of one of them trying to uncover her secret while most are oblivious but slowly start to come over to her side since she's not your typical teacher. And of course, much humor ensues from the situation.

On the good and bad part of this release, I really have to give a big thumbs up to the ending sequence. While the character designs in the show are typical for a couple of the characters but otherwise the standard punk caricatures for the students, the end sequence does a great job of presenting them all in an almost classical style of artwork where they're close to "real" than anywhere else. It's a great disparity between the two and having the ending sequence like this is a really neat way to do it. On the bad side of things, one area where this release really falls flat on its face is with the on-screen text. During the full subtitle track version of this show, practically none of the graffiti and other on-screen text is translated. With the show revolving around school punks and it having a really rough edge to it, not translating what looks to be key pieces of graffiti, such as one the school sign or the class number sign, is just not right. It felt like some of the gags were just being lost due to that.

In the strange department, one of the shows gags involves that Kumiko, or at least the family, has a bulldog named Fuji. The dog, who wears the track outfits jacket, is given a voice in this and sounds like the wizened wise man of a yakuza family as he talks about some of the things that goes on. He's not exactly a narrator but sort of an observational piece that just feels really out of place during a lot of it. For the most part, I just didn't find him all that funny.

In Summary:
Gokusen is a really fun show, despite a couple of minor misgivings about it. The series has its comedic timing down well and it isn't an over the top laughfest from start to stop but rather the kind of show that keeps to its story of the students coming under the sway of an influential teacher. It does have some very "after school special" moments in a number of areas but those are well balanced out by the rougher comedy bits and the way Kumiko handles dealing with them. The way she's attempting to lead a double life in the show is a big plus since it adds some new dimensions to the show. Since the show lets her deal with both professions and keeps her in both worlds, it's a bit more expansive. Getting to see her as a fully respected family boss and then to go through the rituals of having a class inspection lets the show play a number of different things that normally would be kept to just one track instead. Gokusen will often be compared to GTO and it's not a bad place to start with, but Gokusen is definitely a show in and of its own and a very amusing one at that.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Textless Opening,Outtakes

Review Equipment
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.


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