by Tohru Fujisawa
published by Tokyopop; $9.99 US
Eikichi Onizuka has completely unrealistic job expectations and values what he thinks of as honesty too highly. His version of truth-telling is to force every detail of his life and hobbies, including a goofily trendy hairstyle, on those interviewing him. He’s too young and unexperienced to know the value of discretion or the difference between hiding something and tact, which he considers lying. Obviously, he’s got some growing up to do.
We’re told in an early text box that although his hobbies include “porno vids”, he’s a 22-year-old virgin. To cheer himself up after yet another job rejection, he goes to the local mall and sits under the escalator so he can stare up girls’ skirts and spy on their underwear. (I don’t know why he bothers, since the artist draws the skirts so short you can see panties anyway.) He’s a tough guy with a lot of bravado, but with the black belt to back some of it up.
Already the reader has a great sense of this character, and it’s only eight pages into the story. The art’s a big help, since the lead is appropriately shady-looking but with a kind of charm in spite of it all. An old friend points out that he’s still acting like a punk kid, hanging out with college buddies, avoiding any grown-up choices. His attempts to coast through life makes him a relatable young adult, regardless of cultural background.
The story has a wonderful sense of place, with dark Tokyo neighborhoods setting the mood. Since details like racing bikes and the right car are significant to the lead character, it’s important that these trappings are realistic, and a solid, skilled job is done with them. It’s also impressive to note the way the different sizes of the dialogue balloons illustrate voices fading in and out and the relative volume of conversation.
A pushy high school girl lets Onizuka pick her up, and soon she’s crying on his shoulder about trouble with her boyfriend. When Onizuka finds out that the boyfriend — a short, poor, bald man — was her teacher, he decides to become a teacher so he too can date high school girls. This fascination with the schoolgirl image is not just a Japanese trait. Innocent women often have appeal to insecure men.
With his new career choice, Onizuka’s going shopping for jailbait who have to respect him. That way, he can get past his own insecurities. His emphasis on being a *great* teacher is just one example of how with him, it’s all-or-nothing as a way of avoiding hard work. If it’s all-or-nothing, then it’s not likely all, and one can settle for nothing while still claiming that one has high standards.
His idea is that he can become a great teacher by looking like a great teacher, and darned if it doesn’t work for him. Appearance counts for a heck of a lot. No wonder the kids are so screwed up, with a flaky generation of young teachers who are only in it for the money or other benefits.
In an example of poetic justice, Onizuka gets a class full of guys just like he used to be. They introduce themselves by spitting in his face before moving on to blackmail. For someone who’s supposed to be a tough street-conscious guy, he’s awfully naive and idealistic. It’s also obvious to other how to manipulate him, since his sex drive often thinks for him.
Then he’s pushed too far, and uses his unique skills to solve his problems. Along the way, as expected, he learns more about himself and what he will and won’t do. This book is an enjoyable coming-of-age story with an edgy approach that incorporates urban fantasy, satire, and real emotion without taking any of it too seriously.