With another summer full of blockbusters upon us, it's time to do what they do best and look at some manga sequels, prequels, and sequels. We'll start with a series that was sold as a prequel to a popular series, but in reality it's more like the popular series is a sequel to it.
GTO: THE EARLY YEARS - SHONAN JUNAI GUMI, by Tohru Fujisawa. First published in 1990 and first published in North America in 2006.
Eikichi and Ryuji are two of the baddest high-school hooligans in Hanagawa prefecture. Together they are Oni-Baki, a yankii duo infamous for their ability to beat down any and all comers. They're also a pair of doofy high-schoolers looking to lose their virginities and are willing to do ANYTHING to make it happen. Their latest efforts to pop their cherries at a summer resort nearly work...until they discover that their dates are also their homeroom teachers. Meanwhile, things get more complicated when a couple of girls set their eyes on the boys first out of revenge, then out of admiration.
As a fan of Great Teacher Onizuka, I thought I knew what I was getting into with this series. If this was the prequel to GTO, then surely I'd just be in for a younger, dumber, more yankii-fied version of the same! What I wasn't expecting was for it to turn out to be a big, dumb, raunchy shonen rom-com. I also didn't expect to love it as much as I did.
If you're expecting the Eikichi and Ryuji here to be the same cool dudes they were in GTO, then you may be in for a disappointment. Eikichi may still be the outrageous one and Ryuji may be the more stable of the two, but in this story they are very much dumb, hot-headed, horny teenagers. That does mean that most of the chapters fall into the familiar rut of them trying to score and ending up denied by circumstance or ending with them getting into epic ass-whuppings, but the story never crosses the line into spiteful cruelty. We're meant to sympathize with the boys in their quest for vag and marvel at their sheer badassery and epic loyalty to one another in true, old-school shonen fashion.
So what of the rest of the cast? Honestly, the only two who show up often enough to be worth noting are the teachers-turned-love interests, Ayumi and Mariko. Ayumi gets the lion's share of backstory thanks to bad times with an ex-boyfriend, but most of the time she tends to be a dere-heavy variation of tsundere. Mariko tends to be more of a tag-along, always urging Ayumi to take a chance while snarking from the sidelines. Apparently this dynamic was so nice that Fujisawa wrote it twice, as the high-school girls Aina and Momoko share similar sort of personalities. They will feel like familiar sorts of characters to those who have read GTO: manipulative girls motivated by petty reasons until Eikichi comes along and straightens them out.
I wonder if publishing this series in omnibuses was the wisest choice, as after a while the seemingly endless shift between wacky rom-com antics and bombastic brawling. Still, Fujisawa injects it all with a loose, raunchy sense of humor that's only enhanced by Christopher North's translation, and that makes it an absolute delight to read over a quarter of a century after it started.
If you're familiar with Fujisawa's style, then you'll definitely have an idea of what you're in for here. The guys are ruggedly yet boyishly handsome (when they're not rough, ugly caricatures), and the girls all have the same generically cute face. The action tends to be a blur of motion and blood, which is good for getting across the power of a punch but doesn't lend itself to panels that flow smoothly from one another. That being said, Fujisawa absolutely lets loose when it comes to Oni-Baki's reactions. There are loads of kooky lizard-like grins, bug-eyed expressions of shock, and enormous, exaggerated boners complete with sound effects. It really reinforces the comedic bent of the story and while it's not as polished as his later material, it's a delight to look upon.
While GTO fans will get a bit more out of this than newcomers, Shonan Junai Gumi does manage to stand up on its own as the sort of balls-to-the-wall action rom-com that have fallen out of fashion in shonen manga. It's a fun, raunchy ride, although I question how long it can keep this pace up before it gets too repetitive for its own good.
This series was published by Vertical, and previously by Tokyopop. This series is complete in Japan with 31 volumes available. All 31 volumes were published as 2-in-1 omnibuses and are currently out of print.