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Disclaimer: I'm not taking this series seriously, so don't expect any deep discussion or amazing revelations. These are my opinions only and should in no way be taken as fact.

Gokusen 2 - Episode 01

Plot: Panic stations! Homeroom teacher in jeopardy! Hospitalised! Possibly put off teaching for life! Why? That Class 3-D, of course. Welcome to Kurogin Gakuen, the high school for bright, brilliant students who are a joy to 3-D.

Yankumi's old nemesis and occasional collaborator, Sawatari, has a new position as the Head Teacher here, though not for long if he can't find someone to handle the bunch of young ruffians. The Superintendent, fond of playing with lighters and the minds of his subordinates, eagerly awaits Sawatari's solution to the problem. This can go one of two ways: he could potentially become Principal...or lose his job altogether. What's a man to do but request a new teacher, one with a sufficiently evil presence, iron will, martial arts qualifications and the sheer guts to flatten 3-D into submission.

Unfortunately for Sawatari, Mother Nature intervenes. Thanks to an oddly-strong breeze which doesn't affect the rest of the office at all, the next teacher in the tray to be processed is not the terrible-sounding Onigawara Tsuyoshi but Yamaguchi Kumiko, better known to students and the viewing public as 'Yankumi'.

No longer employed at Shirokin Gakuen, Yankumi has been forced to take less than ideal teaching positions for a high school maths teacher. She's currently out in the wilderness, lecturing elementary school students about sweating from the heart and supporting each other in nature, etc. etc. They're less than impressed, as are her bosses, who are not happy with the way the kids have been picking up yakuza slang from their teacher. For Yankumi, as we all know only too well, is the grandaughter of the third generation head of the Oedo Family and could become the fourth head if only she wasn't obsessed with being a teacher.

That she has no interest in taking over is completely lost on her grandfather's henchmen, Tetsu (the one with a crush on her) and Minoru (the affable idiot), who have come to bring her the news - a position at Kurogin Gakuen, which she is now available to take, having been fired. I don't know what the other teachers are complaining about - personally, I think the little kids sound kinda cute spouting yakuza slang!

And so it's back home Yankumi goes, to her grandfather Kuroda Ryuichiro, and his many henchmen, all of whom worship the ground she walks on and enthusiastically welcome her back from her half a year with the kiddies. I don't recall the chap labelled '2nd in command' from the first season but the subs tell me his name is 'Wakamatsu'; I, however, always think of him as 'Joey', because he's got the kind of face that says if he was in The Sopranos, he'd be called Joey. They have a nice little family dinner, during which Minoru and Tetsu vie to be thought well of by their beloved 'Ojou'. I like these domestic moments. No matter how bad things get for Yankumi on the outside, she's got her family to come home to, whether she plans to take over or not.

Next morning it's her first day on the job. Bless her, she's thrilled by the sight of so many polite students greeting her properly. Sawatari is also thrilled - in his case, by the thought of the new oni-sensei's arrival, a fantasy which vanishes the moment she walks into the staff room. The other teachers are expecting a monster and believe a mistake has been made. Sawatari, fists held up as though he can make Yankumi disappear by beating her up (hah!), engages her in the first of many staring contests. He'd send her home, but the Superintendent thinks it's great to have someone so young and pretty to teach the troublemakers and believes Sawatari's had a brilliant idea. Everyone else parrots this opinion in order to make themselves look better.

Once he's out of the room, everyone (except the instantly lovestruck Baba-sensei) immediately complains about 3-D. Cue ominous music and a secret rendezvous in the gym where Sawatari explains what's what. Under no circumstances must Yankumi betray her unsavoury origins. Sure, they were made public at the end of the first series anyway but hey, what's continuity got to do with anything?

Some things never change, though, and Yankumi's red tracksuit, essential to the teaching process, is one of them. Sawatari points out the classroom and leaves her to it. This class is so bad, they have their own building. Not just a tiny one-room place either but one that looks like it could be another school by itself. Inside and outside, it looks condemned. How much do you want to bet that when Kurogin reformed with all its bright, shiny new students, they built a new building for them all and left 3-D in the old one? I give them full marks for the inventiveness of their graffiti, though.

Fight-o, oh! Yankumi psychs herself up, slides open the door, and gets her first look at 3-D. Desks are everywhere, there's always a guy with a guitar, and adherence to the uniform is sketchy at best. There's also a guy who appears to have escaped from the set of 'That '70s Show', but in 3-D, outrageous hair and dodgy style choices are what set you apart from the crowd. You can always tell the class leader, though - they always pick the prettiest guy in the room. What this says about the way Japanese high schools work, I don't know, but hello, Yabuki Hayato.

Those of you unfamiliar with the way Gokusen works should note that the first few guys to speak when Yankumi introduces herself are always the most important. Sorry, Hyuuga, you're at the bottom of the regulars pecking order. We get to meet Hayato, Tsucchi, Take and Hyuuga while they complain about Yankumi's lack of feminine attributes. Okay, so she's wearing a tracksuit, but give the lady a break, will ya? Nakama Yukie's pretty, any way you look at it, and if you watch her in a certain couple of episodes of 'Mr. Brain' you'll mentally upgrade her from 'pretty' to 'unbelievably smoking hot, should always play psychos'.

3-D's idea of being prepared means having baseball bats, crowbars and other useful instruments of destruction handy for welcoming new teachers, so we know none of them would make very good Boy Scouts. Tsucchi obviously needs his eyes checked because he thinks Yankumi's getting scared, and Take has way too much practice playing girly girls. (I've never figured out how headbands and hairslides work as fashion statements for manly delinquents, but I guess in a class where you've got a member of KAT-TUN running the show, anything goes.) But they're gentlemen: they won't do anything as cowardly as hitting women. Perhaps Tsucchi could slap her with his ever-present fan instead. He towers over Yankumi - who doesn't? - but Hayato stops him reacting to Yankumi's provocation because fighting against a female teacher is just lame. So says the guy who appears to be settling down for a nap on his desk.

Yankumi knows how the series works; she immediately pinpoints Hayato as the class leader, the guy she has to win over and possibly attract in order to maintain control. Too bad for her, Hayato's already taken.

Roll call goes about as well as can be expected. Yankumi's first task for her precious students is an essay on their memories of high school life so she can get to learn about them. They are, understandably, quite appalled at the prospect of doing any actual work, especially since it would interrupt Hayato's card game (which he's destined to lose if he can't keep his hand facing himself and not the camera!). The students argue that they have no memories - for a few of them, I'm sure this is the literal truth - so Yankumi changes the title to their dreams for the future. They have some great dreams. Take wants to be rich, Hyuuga wants to be a pimp (he's not far off, the way he dresses), the '70s guy wants to be a Tsucchi volunteers to be the groom! Manly hug!

After discreetly breaking a pen to show the audience that she is quietly enraged, Yankumi makes it back to the staff room for some advice from her colleagues and to ask about her missing student, Odagiri Ryu. Sawatari orders her not to worry about it, but Shiratori-sensei, the pretty, fluffy one all the boys like, enlightens her, with the help of Yankumi's latest unwanted admirer, Baba-sensei. They tell her Ryu is under orders not to come to school - he can graduate without it, thanks to a deal between his father and the superintendent. Odagiri Ryu, it seems, is one hell of a delinquent and has been the cause of violent incidents since junior high. Because of the subs, the impression I get is that Ryu was the cause of the incidents rather than a participant - namely, that he had lots of young, thuggish admirers who all fought over him. (I'm sorry! I watch Gokusen for the feelgood factor and the eye candy! You can't take it seriously!) One month ago, Ryu got into a serious fight with Yabuki Hayato - also Shiratori's type! - and the deal was made that Ryu would graduate without attending school.

To a true, passionate, dedicated teacher like Yamaguchi Kumiko, this is unforgiveable.

Back in the classroom, Hayato's just won at darts, so he's obviously better at that than he is at cards. His ears prick up immediately when Yankumi asks about Ryu; the others answer for the sole reason that Yankumi is blocking the dartboard and they have nothing better to do while Hayato goes to sulk by himself. Bless Hyuuga, he tries to stop Yankumi upsetting Hayato with disturbing questions about his fight with Ryu. Everybody knows it's a touchy subject. Despite being friends before the fight, everyone now swears up and down that Ryu was just some guy in their class, and they weren't friends at all. Cue significant look from Take when Hayato insists that he and Ryu aren't friends. Unwilling to discuss his failed love life further, Hayato walks out, trailed closely by the rest of the gang. (Close-up of Mizushima Hiro with terrible hair and a massive earring.)

The rest of the class are basically just there as flunkies and Exposition!Boys. They tell Yankumi that Ryu (gasp! horror!) betrayed Hayato, and has since been working part-time with dangerous people. (Better than working full-time with them, surely?) This gives Yankumi the convenient excuse she needs to turn down Baba-sensei's offer of dinner - she's going to Ryu's house to talk to him in person and possibly offer him some relationship counselling. No such luck. The housekeeper intercepts her, says that Ryu only comes home in the mornings and no one's in right now.

Walking around town showing Ryu's picture doesn't get Yankumi anywhere until she runs across Tsucchi and co. attempting to extort money from some hapless guy while Hayato plays billiards. Cards, darts, all he needs is a hunting rifle and a fishing rod to complete the set. Yankumi's interference and persistent questioning about Ryu annoys Hayato into telling her where Ryu works...sort of. He gives her the correct name of the club, but gives her totally misleading directions.

She spots the club on her way home. Inside, a little part of me is squealing that Hayato does actually know where Ryu works, so he obviously hasn't lost all interest. Unable to get inside, given the way she's dressed, Yankumi goes round to the back door. As chance would have it, Ryu emerges from the door almost immediately, looking delectable in black as he moves crates around. They have one of those standard conversations where Yankumi attempts to convince [insert name of rebellious student here] that school is a wonderful place and teachers can be trusted, while [same rebellious student] is convinced that teachers will only protect themselves. You know how it goes.

Some jerk from the club comes out to find out why "Ryu-chan" is slacking, which Yankumi uses as an excuse to talk about the nature of friendship. Ryu's inhuman prettiness is the only thing that keeps me watching this scene. He's also quite a canny fellow, seizing the opportunity to a) test Yankumi's promises and b) make some money into the bargain. He wants to go to school, he swears, but he's in debt to the guys in the club and he can't go to school until he pays them back the whole 300,000 yen. (I can see Kame racking up a bill that high just on accessories, but what on Earth would Ryu spend it on, especially when you consider he comes from money?)

Yankumi, of course, vows to come up with the money somehow. Her bank account is sadly lacking and although her henchmen are more than willing to help, they don't have much to offer - the one guy only has lottery tickets. Kuma, Yankumi's former student who now owns his own ramen shop, isn't doing well enough yet to hire her on as a part-timer, so she has to work all sorts of odd jobs at strange hours to make the money. While looking through the ads for jobs, she becomes distracted and almost falls down the stairs, but is saved by this season's love interest, the "so nice and bland, he could be part of the furniture" Kubo-sensei, who teaches at the nearby school for girls. Since she doesn't learn his name at this point, however, she thinks of him only as "Burberry-sama", after the Burberry handkerchief he drops at her feet. Look out world, Yankumi's in love.

After breaking up a fight between Sawatari and a random 3-D student, Yankumi gets a lecture. The housekeeper snitched. Ryu's father is rather annoyed that Yankumi went to his house, and would rather she didn't bother them again. Sawatari, needless to say, thinks it's all unnecessary. As far as he's concerned, once 3-D have graduated, the last of the trash will have left the school and Kurogin's rebirth will be complete. (Sounds melodramatic, but so does the BGM at this point, which is more suited to some pretty young pilot climbing in his Gundam and going off to fight in space.) Battle of the teaching philosophies! Precious students vs. Trash.

It's easy to see why Sawatari and so many others believe 3-D are trash. When Yankumi enters the classroom, the chaos only continues, with the students ignoring her greetings. (Randomly, am I imagining things or did I just see one of the students wearing a cravat?) When you have to yell at your students about the meaning of greetings and basic courtesy, you have to wonder if there's any hope for them, if they can possibly be reformed in the three months before graduation.

The yelling doesn't go down well with Hayato, who does the exact same thing Ryu did when confronted by Yankumi - grabs her collar. Perhaps they used to go round and intimidate people together. Either Yankumi's standing on a step or Jin hadn't had his growth spurt yet, because she appears to be taller than Hayato. Yankumi quietly orders him back to his seat; Hayato realises he can't possibly win this one and with a little flick of her collar to make sure everyone knows he's doing this of his own free will and not because anyone told him to, he sits back down. The class is so shocked, they actually listen when she tells them to sit down too and lectures them on how their brand of delinquency is incredibly immature and embarrassing and totally not cool at all. Cue mass exodus...and another significant look from Take. You know he'll be the first one to crack.

After the advert break it's 'Kizuna', so we must be about two thirds of the way through the episode. Aww, Kame. Write more songs like this. I'm not sure how appropriate it is for BGM while Yankumi works on a construction site, though. Kuma spies her directing traffic in another of her part-time jobs one night, and even Hayato and co., who appear to be a bit inebriated but probably aren't, spy her at work in the snow. Take looks again. Yep, he's ready to crumble. Somebody get Hayato out of the snow before he catches cold.

Eventually, Yankumi has the money. Back to Frentzen, which is actually closed, but the staff are sitting inside having drinks and smokes. They find Yankumi's self-introduction hilarious. Perhaps they've forgotten that Ryu is technically still a student. They're more impressed by the money. They leave it up to Ryu, who was apparently blending into the bar like a particularly gorgeous chameleon. He'll take the money, but he's not interested in being saved. It finally sinks in that Yankumi has been deceived. Stunned, she's escorted from the club, too distraught even to notice Kuma approaching on his bicycle to make a delivery.

Kuma, consequently, overhears the guys complimenting Ryu on his "aww, poor me" acting skills and Ryu trying to get in good with the grown ups by treating them to a meal. Kuma refuses the money, since he knows where it came from and he has no qualms in telling Ryu about it. You can see Ryu starting to feel the slightest twinge of guilt, as well he should, because Yankumi is curled up in her room, crying her eyes out at the way Ryu is destroying her faith in human nature. Her grandfather, who is the most loveable gangster ever, has words of love and wisdom - and alcohol - for her, all of which help. A bit. Eventually.

Next morning, Yankumi has a surprise encounter on the way to school. It's Ryu, returning the money, with a promise to pay back the rest, on the condition Yankumi never comes near him again. Perhaps he plans to mail the remainder to the school. Hayato and co. arrive just in time to see Ryu walk away, looking criminally pretty in his civilian clothing, while Hayato is more of an untucked mess. I think he and Take are wearing more lipstick than Yankumi.

Take opts not to use their shared love of cosmetics as an ice-breaker when he attracts Yankumi in the corridor by looking all helpless and vulnerable. He asks, softly, if she thinks Ryu will return to school, and explains that he, Hayato and Ryu were friends since elementary school - always together, which is why he wants them to graduate as friends. Yankumi promises she can make Ryu return to school, but Take is sceptical. She smiles as he walks off, though - she knows she's got him. 1 down, rest of the class to go.

Ryu's out on the grass by the river before work, thinking over the lectures he's received. Does he really belong with a bunch of dangerous older guys in a club? Or should he be back at school, cutting class with Hayato and the rest and pretending not to care about anything?

He's made his decision by the time he arrives at work, and it's one that makes him instantly unpopular with his bosses. He wants to quit. They don't want to let him go. I can understand why. Luckily, Kuma was making a delivery at the time (these guys must be his best customers) and phones Yankumi at work to alert her to the emergency. Ryu's being beaten to a pulp in one of the many deserted warehouses that appears in Gokusen, with the door closed and chained.

Not for long. Yankumi breaks the chain, slides open the door, and does her standard slow-motion walk of intimidation, to be met with the usual response of disbelief and laughter. Guys like this don't care about the special relationship between homeroom teacher and precious student, of course, but Yankumi drives the point home by taking her hair down, removing her glasses, and felling them all with a single move. Gokusen is easily the worst case I've ever seen of bad guys defeating themselves. They trip over, accidentally knock themselves out when Yankumi blocks, fail to make any kind of connection with her whatsoever yet go down when she so much as breathes on them. She could probably destroy an army and it would be believable in this series. Can anybody stop this woman?

Student and teacher rest and recuperate by the river, where all significant scenes take place. Ryu's a prickly one, doesn't like her fussing over him. If your name's not Yabuki Hayato, don't touch - or else. Ryu can't understand why Yankumi would help him after he deceived her, but he'll understand the nature of promises eventually, and the sacred student-teacher relationship. And Yankumi's...uh...special nature. But she trusts him now because he cut the ties with the club himself, even if he refuses to trust anyone at all.

Next day at school, there's trouble first thing in the morning. It's an emergency! Ryu's turned up at school! And the end theme is playing, which means we're in for trouble that won't get resolved till next week! Teachers on one side, 3-D on the other, Ryu approaches Yankumi solely to tell her he didn't come to school for her, then heads straight for Hayato. Okay, Ryu, we know why you're here... They do one of those little avoidance dances with their eyes - funnily enough, just as the credit for 'Kizuna' appears on the screen - and Hayato says he hasn't forgiven Ryu and drives the point home by taking a swing at him. Ryu throws himself at Hayato - no, not like that, they've got an audience - and now it's a proper brawl.

Actually, I take that back, because Ryu went for Hayato's shirt collar and if you look when the camera pans back to Hayato, his jacket's open, his shirt's open, and the vest underneath is visible - Ryu's clearly trying to strip him. The Superintendent watches from the window, most amused by the scene below. Perhaps he ships Ryu x Hayato?

Hyuuga tries to get between them, which is probably unwise because everybody in the crowd gets soaked when Yankumi throws a bucket of water over them. (Jin didn't look so good with wet hair back then, I have to say.) How did she get up to the roof so fast? Doesn't matter, she's only up there to make one of her speeches anyway. Thank goodness it's the end of the episode so I can tune it out!

Obligatory Akame commentary: It's no great secret that I'm watching this series (for the second time) for two very good reasons. I actually like their friends as well - I think they've got a nice group this time - but basically, I'm in it for the Ryu x Hayato interaction. So far we've got Hayato's total inability to remain unaffected whenever Ryu's name is mentioned, his knowing where Ryu works even though they haven't spoken for a month, the way their friends try to smooth everything over to keep him happy (you know it must be so much easier for the class when their two leaders get along), and his obvious hurt over the Great Betrayal, details to be revealed next episode. Ryu can't just go back to school and waltz right into the classroom like nothing's happened. No, he's got to go right up to Hayato and make it a challenge, because if he doesn't, he knows he might as well turn around and walk right back out again.

Best Scene: For me, the best scene of the episode was Take telling Yankumi about himself, Ryu and Hayato. He wasn't being hostile, he was being hopeful - and to talk to a teacher about it, he must've been desperate. That's when Yankumi wins over her students - when they have nowhere else to turn and she's the one who makes it right. Second place goes to 3-D revealing their dreams for the future - you work hard on being a pimp, Hyuuga! Hayato's probably got some hats he can lend you!

Conclusion: It's probably not fair to write a conclusion since I've seen the series before and I know what happens, but still... There's nothing complicated about Gokusen. The first episode does exactly what it should: sets the scene, gives us Yankumi's colleagues (who's an ally? who's an enemy? who's just a nuisance?), sets up the class dynamics (who's the leader? who are his flunkies? who are the quirky but ultimately forgettable guys destined to get beaten up every episode?) and takes the first step along the path of Yankumi winning over her delinquent class. There are no surprises and if you've seen one episode you can probably predict the rest of the series, right down to Yankumi's speeches.

But hey, if you're watching Gokusen 2 for the plot, you might want to consider trying out more j-dramas.
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mec: Photo of Fluff (Default)

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