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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
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
Half corny/half bad ass haha. But only because of the emphasis on the one English word poison.
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?
It’s time for you to stay expanding your Jdramas!
Indeed I have a long list of Jdramas that I want to watch haha but I’m just so into anime & variety shows that it’s hard to find the time :D
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!
You don’t have one particular one you love especially above even your favorites?
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.
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.
Is the new version any good?
I like the new version a lot, for what it’s worth. Cheesy, but in a good and enjoyable way =)
It’s not so bad. Akira is no Sorimachi, but it has its own charm to it.
Sorimachi is the only Onizuka in my heart.
He is so perfect for the part and doesn’t need the blonde hair.
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!
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.
The live action drama version of Great Teacher Onizuka is certainly considered by many fans as one of the best Jdramas, but I don’t think it is THE BEST. For one thing, I feel that the manga and the anime versions of GTO are far better than the Jdrama version. I think it would be sad if a Jdrama that has better versions in other mediums (Ex. manga, anime, films, etc.) is named the best drama ever. In addition, during the period when the GTO drama was filmed and aired, Takashi Sorimachi, its main star, was on a roll. He had a string of awesome dramas (Beach Boys, Over Time, and Cheap Love). Those shows, along with the shows mentioned by the others, should be considered when determining which drama is the best of all time. Perhaps, even Sorimachi would acknowledge that he is best known for having played Onizuka, but in my humble opinion, GTO is only one of his best dramas.
Oshin is the best j-drama ever. It is still the highest-rated Japanese drama of all time (average rating of 52.6%, with one episode rating at 62.9%!!!). I like Great Teacher Onizuka just fine, but let’s be real; not even GTO has come close to matching Oshin’s ratings and global impact, and I don’t think any drama nowadays could as far as I know.
I’m super late but YES! I couldn’t agree more.
GTO (Takashi Sorimachi) is just the best!
I felt in love with the tv/movie adaptations & was using my savings just to buy them & let me tell you, I was poor.. T_T But, it’s worth it!
What made me love the adaptation instead of the original stories (manga/anime) because the sexual issues/fanservices in the manga version were too much. So, the way they were depicted in the drama seemed just right for me :)
Talking about cheesiness, I find that recent jdramas are just as much cheesy as the old ones. Just see the moment Kaoru’s long speech towards Kenshin in the last battle in Rurouni Kenshin (2012). Guh, please spare me from this long & cheesy lecture about virtues and just move on with the movie already!
GTO is incredibly cheesy at times, but can still bring the tears :)
If takes GTO in now age. As similar as Breaking Bad in Asia. Even I don’t speak Japanese and English is only foreign language for owning. But must say Great Teacher Onizuka has deeply influenced my lifetime since childhood. Until present, Takashi Sorimachi & Nanako Matsushima are still my ideal of spouse. Also, it hugely helps me finding the most ideal of lover by personal at the same time. Finally, I found this answer in last year while broken the funny barrier with the personal stuff. If lemme say something, I think it’s pure & positive as maximize even far beyond the common sense in living.
Wondering you cannot understand my English, cause it’s purely self-studying and lost everything since could watching R-15 alone the age. Every word include huge of lots information as you see.
If my girlfriend/wife is a Chinese people who live in Japan over dozen year? Actually she has became formal-staff in Kyoto Animation. So believe she still remember the wonderful days during two months in internet. And yes, pretty enough. Hope the day we can meet each other in reality as re-connect. ?
BTW: Noboru Taki is very funny inherit from Onizuka, and the most ideal standard lover is Kaori Miyazono. ?
Excuse me? Did you tried to watch such like Forbrydelsen, Bron|Broen, Borgen, Engreanges etc non-English speaking of Japanese dubbing works? I know it’s out of the topic but foreigner study Japanese who notice ’em certainly in the process.