This is really a delightful little show. And at just 13 episodes (on 3 discs), it doesn't require a huge investment of time. It's silly, cute, charming and hilarious. For some reason I seem to have a sort of romantic fascination with the yakuza (thanks to Yoshiki Nakamura's Tokyo Crazy Paradise), so I may be a little biased toward a show like this. I should note now that the show does contain some language, and that tends to turn some people off. But it is about the yakuza after all, so what did you expect?
Well, alright, it's not strictly about the yakuza. Gokusen (based on the manga by Kozueko Morimoto) follows 23-year-old Oedo clan heir, granddaughter of the current Kumicho, Kumiko Yamaguchi. Her dream in life is to become a teacher, so with her grandfather's blessing, Kumiko heads off to Shirokin High School to teach her very first students - the troubled delinquent outcasts of class 3-D. Though her desire is to become a teacher and not the clan heir, and she hides her family from the school, her previous life has made her remarkably well prepared for dealing with such a class. Fortunately her students aren't as bad as their reputation. Though they talk and act tough, deep down they're caring and loyal. Unfortunately, they don't trust adults, especially teachers. So Kumiko must prove to them that she truly cares for the well being of each of her students, a challenge her background has made her apt for. It's especially challenging when vice principal Sawatari is doing everything in his power to to find a way to shut down the school.
The show focuses not only on Yankumi (the nickname given her by her class), but the students themselves. A core group of them in particular - quiet and cool Shin, quick to fight Minami, purple haired Uchiyama, large and tough Kumai, and Noda. Kumiko is seen most often pulling them out of trouble and teaching them various lessons. Though poor Shin, who develops a very cute little crush on Kumiko, is always being rescued by her, even when he tries to be the hero instead. Off to the side is Kumiko's yakuza family - Kumiko's grandfather Kuroda (the Kumicho), tough-looking Kyo, the enthusiastic Minoru and Tetsu, Kumiko's dog Fuji (who will sometimes provide a sort of narration for the series), and the family's lawyer Shinohara (who Kumiko has a crush on).
I really loved Kumiko's yakuza group. Tetsu and Minoru are great comedic relief, and their devotion to Kumiko is hilarious and sweet (as is Kyo's). I also thought it was great that Kumiko's students sort of become her own mini-yakuza group. The best parts of the show of course are the moments when Kumiko gets really fired up about something and forgets herself, slipping into gangster speak or becoming violent, right in front of everybody. And then does a complete 180, returning to her sweet and cheerful self like it never happened in an attempt to cover up her actions.
There's a 3 season Japanese live action drama to amuse yourself with as well, although only the first season focuses on the students from the manga/anime, and she gets a whole new class after that. There was also a theatrical LA movie that came out this July. I currently have plans to talk about the drama at a later date, when/if I get around to the second and third seasons (I recently completed the first, but as the other two are about different students, I don't have much interest at the moment).
Media Blasters released the Gokusen anime on DVD in America. Extras included clean credits and English voice actor outtakes. I watched the show in English (I think I watched 1 episode in Japanese, for comparison), and was pleased with the dubbing (though there's nothing wrong with the Japanese dub either).
In other news, FUNimation is releasing the live action Mushi-Shi on DVD at the end of the month! Hooray! I was so disappointed I couldn't go see it at the film festival last month, and thought I'd never get to see it. So thank you FUNi!