Is Great Teacher Onizuka (GTO) the Best J-Drama Ever?

Long, long ago, before I ever knew anything about J-dramas, I did a simple Google search to find the “top J-drama.” It brought up the website JDorama.com, which ranks J-dramas through user voting. Leading the top of the list was the popular J-drama Great Teacher Onizuka (GTO). Manga to anime to J-Drama to movie to J-drama reboot. It’s been through a lot. But GTO was number 1 in 2005 when I started learning Japanese, and probably many years before that from its release in 1998. 11 years later, it is still as the top of their list.

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Is it really the top J-drama of all time?

First, the Jdorama site is a relic of Japanese J-drama discussion at a time when no one on the internet was talking about J-dramas. The site has been around since 2004 (possibly earlier), and it has not changed at all since then. You might have thought this site was dead when you see its layout, but it is what Google highlights at the very top of a search for top J-drama.

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This top 100 list has a lot of gems from the past 2 decades, and I agree with many of these rankings. Ikebukuro West Gate Park is a little too low for my liking (#55), and I don’t think Gokusen deserves the #2 spot. But is GTO number one worthy?

For those unfamiliar with it, GTO is a high school drama, and led a change from the typical sappy high school dramas of the 80s and 90s, and transformed the genre into a bad-ass version of them. At least that’s my take on it.

Do I think GTO is deserving of the top spot?

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This is a hard question for me because of my relation with it.

When I watched GTO in the mid-2000s I loved it. It was easy to understand and had a fun cast of characters. The music was cool, the stories were enjoyable to follow, and it introduced all new aspects of modern Japanese life to me. At the time, every person in Japan knew GTO. It was a phenomenon, though I was already slightly late to it by the time I got around to it.

I could sing the theme song for you (or at least hum it and occasionally say “poison!”).

The most memorable scenes still bring a tear to my eyes.

Watching it brings back deep nostalgic memories. Memories of starting to learn Japanese. Memories of living in Japan. Memories of learning about Japanese culture, famous actors, and why I should teach in Japan.

Because of all this, to me personally, it is the top J-drama.

However, for anyone who saw this drama many years ago and watches it again today, or is watching it for the first time now, you will notice a few things:

● The picture quality is bad (it’s old so this is to be expected)
● A lot of the acting was bad (especially from the student roles)
● It’s ridiculously cheesy
● The culture, way of talking, and interactions are all terribly outdated

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But then again, every TV show looks and feels like this when viewed in respective from 20 years later. So it may not be fair to compare it with TV shows today.

The verdict

Yes. Top drama. While there are other dramas that I probably enjoy more now, I think GTO has stood the test of time.

What do you think? Have you ever seen GTO? If you haven’t, go watch the entire series right now. Do you think it deserves the ranking as top J-drama?



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Adam

Adam

Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.

Comments

Is Great Teacher Onizuka (GTO) the Best J-Drama Ever? — 20 Comments

  1. I first saw gto about 4 or 5 years and i loved it. Id go as far as to say its my favourite show ever. I can watch it over and over again and i still laugh and cry everytime. Oh and that theme song…. Badass

  2. As of right now this is the only J-drama that I have watched, watched it 2 years ago, and I absolutely loved it! Yeah I could tell that it was pretty old & that the acting wasnt amazing but that made it feel more real to me tbh.I mean, who in real life is gonna react perfectly to everything?

  3. It’s so hard for me to say one drama is the best (since I love so many), but it’s definitely in the top 10 of all time. God there are so many good dramas out there!

      • No, it’s just too hard to choose. And it might change depending on my mood for that day, or even what I’m watching atm.

  4. I can’t remember when I watched GTO, but I do remember not liking it overall. I think there was one episode in particular where one guy probably should have gone to jail for a decade or so, but either nothing happened to him or almost nothing. I did like the soundtrack enough to get it though.

    • Maybe it’s time for a repeat watch again after all these years :P

      I think you might be referring to the stabbing episode, where absolutely nothing happens to the criminal.

  5. The first J-drama I really fell in love with was last year’s 問題のあるレストラン.
    After that I watched pretty much all of Yuji Nakamoto’s stuff I could get my hands on.

    I think that may have put the bar a bit high for me… I’ve been having a hard time recently finding tv series (period) that I enjoy as much as I did his stuff.

    I’ll definitely give GTO a shot.

    • Keep looking and you’ll eventually find stuff you can enjoy as much as even your favorites. There’s a lot out there!

  6. GTO is fun, but I certainly don’t think it’s the best, or anywhere close to it.

    Of course any list of ‘best’ is subjective. It does seem, though, that ‘cool’ dramas aimed at younger audiences get more attention from Western fans than the kind which may be high quality but lack that ‘coolness’ factor.

    What about 3-nen B-gumi Kinpachi Sensei? Another classroom drama, but totally groundbreaking in its willingness to tackle controversial subjects. Watching old episodes of this, we can get a sense of the way those subjects, things like teen pregnancy, suicide and homosexuality were dealt with, for better and for worse, in Japanese society from the 70s to the 2000s.

    Or what about a detective show like Furuhata Ninzaburo, with its enigmatic, eccentric lead, clever dialogue, great writing and fourth wall breaking format that make the show stand up quite favorably with classic Western detective shows like Columbo?

    There’s also the NHK morning drama (asadora) tradition to look at. 6 days a week, for over 50 years now, viewers across Japan have been captivated by these shows, which tend to last half a year at a time, and feature strong, sympathetic female lead characters.

    Oshin is probably the most beloved of all the NHK asadora – absolutely epic story, top quality stuff and in a lot of ways the ultimate underdog story. People didn’t just *watch* Oshin, they *cheered* for Oshin. Back in the 1980s it set new Japanese audience viewing records and aired throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East where it became mandatory viewing for untold millions and is still fondly remembered to this day – in some places it became one of the first things many people think of when they think of Japan.

    In more recent times, Massan became the first asadora to feature a Westerner in the lead role, a Scottish woman who moved to Japan after marrying the man now known as the father of Japanese whisky. Another great show, it singlehandedly created a boom for the Japanese whisky industry and provided a great look at Japan’s historical xenophobia in the context of the second world war.

    There’s also Amachan, a personal favorite asadora of mine and a brilliant sendup of Japanese AKB48 idol culture -set in a quirky little town that helped to create a massive increase to tourism in some of the areas hardest hit by the 3-11 tsunami disaster. Amachan became something of a cultural phenomenon in Japan a few years ago.

    None of these shows, except maybe Amachan have the ‘coolness’ factor that GTO did, but they’re all classics and they all deserve much greater recognition by Western dorama fans.

    • Thanks for adding in some classic recommendations (new and old). Of course it will be subjective, so it is good to see some varying points of view.

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