Great Teacher Onizuka (often abbreviated to GTO as we will be doing here), is one of those anime shows I took for granted, having watched it far too young to fully grasp the ideals and life lessons it was demonstrating — I simply did not respect or take on board the teachings it was presenting to me. I have redeemed this past failure of myself by returning to it more recently, and since my taste in 2D men has slightly improved since then, everything Onizuka stands for could not be any more appealing and inspirational.
So, here’s a toast to one of my favourite teacher characters within the medium – better late than never, right?
Who is Eikichi Onizuka?
Onizuka is the complete antithesis of what a teacher should seemingly be. As a previously well-known member of a biker gang, he aims to become a teacher for questionable reasons from the get-go — but through his unique perspective and confidence in his ability to provide a younger generation with his own teachings in a rather unconventional way, he demonstrates that he is a valid and valuable teacher. He becomes a role-model and ideal mentor to his students of 3-4 at Seirin, as well as to the audience, in the most surprising of takeaways.
Onizuka is a lot of things you would expect from his background — he’s unashamedly rude, hugely perverted and utterly and absurdly brazen to name just a few problematic traits of his. And as a teacher, he barely functions appropriately for the job, and most definitely not as a traditional one due to the fact he fails to teach standard classroom subjects.
But what he does do right he does so in overabundance, through his unorthodox actions as a mentor to these troubled kids, and with how he articulates the lessons he has to teach in his own unique way.
Why we love Eikichi Onizuka
The class of 3-4 are a formidable force who have driven out each and every one of their previous teachers, but they meet their match with Onizuka, whose headstrong and relentless pursuit of connecting with them proves immediately intriguing for even the most troublesome class members. And as someone who stays true to himself despite what everyone and anyone thinks of him or perceives him to be, he becomes the ideal role-model for the students. This alone is worth commending, and it goes even further in how he demonstrates his inner strength as a teacher.
Onizuka shows a remarkably massive amount of loyalty and consideration for his dear students, even going as far as to risk his own life for theirs, and confronting their trauma with them. He ultimately wants the very best for each and every one of them, and demonstrates this by tackling their personal issues to seek satisfying answers and outcomes for them.
His theory is that by relieving them of their emotional turmoil, they will in turn greatly improve their behaviour and attitude. He takes the time to understand them, thereby proving himself to be their ideal teacher when so many others have failed; past teachers of the class never saw the members’ potential, nor expressed an interest in helping them to overcome their demons.
Onizuka is also endearingly dumb, resulting in many humorous scenes (not the mention the plethora of iconic, silly faces he pulls) that further showcase the ways in which he successfully bonds with his students — and often surprises others who are familiar with his reputation. The major pull of this characteristic of his is how it is integral to his way of teaching; since he’s someone who wears his heart on his sleeve and has brawn rather than brains, he tends to show how fearless he is on a regular basis by leaping into action for the benefit of his students — even when they don’t ask for it or even deserve it.
In the end, his way of understanding and helping these difficult students results in these youngsters wanting to aid him however they can. It’s a clear sign of heart-warming development for all of the students, with their bond with Onizuka becoming a give-and-take relationship over time. But despite this, he still knows and reminds them that he is the teacher, and he will not be needing help from them. He’s here to influence and inspire them, after all, and he most certainly succeeds in that goal.
Why you’ll love Eikichi Onizuka
Onizuka is clearly a very upstanding guy despite all of his questionable traits. He presents good morals, a genuine desire to help others through his own means, and he continuously presents valuable life lessons. Possibly one of the most defining and important ones is the significance of living in the moment, since he teaches his students that their past does not define them, and that the future doesn’t need to be a scary prospect.
Instead, he takes the time to spend joyful and exciting moments with them during their education to provide them with a happy and adventurous school life. Because that is exactly what he believes everyone should follow as his way of living.
And that’s not all. My favourite overarching message of GTO is how it represents everyone as being worthy of something, no matter how they may initially appear or come across. Sometimes all it takes is an honest attempt to understand one another to get to the bottom of why an individual behaves the way that they do, and help them be the best they can be. Even with Onizuka himself, the element of “don’t judge a book by its cover” is significant here, as Onizuka, despite never being a teacher before, succeeds and excels in touching the hearts of his troublesome classroom students — even if he is not conventionally appropriate for the job.
It is obvious to point out, but GTO would simply not be the same nor as impactful if it was not for Onizuka himself. His shameless character traits equipped with the ability to be genuine, honest, and treat his students as friends makes for a character who both the characters and the audience can depend on. He is often laughed at and toyed with when others want to make him look like a fool, but it never affects him — he’s bigger and better than that, and we all should be too.
Ultimately, with his unpredictable behaviour and unorthodox teachings, Onizuka embodies extremely important life-lessons worth taking on board — such as to remember that we all amount to something and should always retain a degree of self-worth no matter who we are. We should be a voice of support for those who need it, and a source of encouragement for those struggling to realise their true potential. Onizuka is not just any old teacher within manga or anime, he remains as a solid source of inspiration to everyone who has experienced GTO.
Watch GTO now on Crunchyroll.
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