Gokusen (Vols. 1-5) by Morimoto Kozueko

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I have an actual paper list of manga and anime that people have recommended to me, and last night I thought that I should pick a random one and give it a try.  This is how I ended up up reading the lion’s share of Gokusen, a 1999 manga about Kumiko “Yankumi” Yamaguchi, a high school math teacher who is also a yakuza clan head.

SPOILERS

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Sometimes, I’d swear we did certain kinds of feminism BETTER back in the 1990s than we do now. Obviously, that’s not true across the board, but Yankumi (who is often referred to by her yakuza title “Ojou”) runs around this entire manga in a track suit and is physically capable without having had to be the victim of sexual assault.

Instead, the backstory around Yankumi’s abilities involves an older yakuza ‘brother’ that she admires and who is tasked with being her caretaker. When she begs him to teach her to fight he sounds like he’s going to be a sexist pig. He says, “Look, you’re a girl, you can’t win against bigger guys.” But, instead of stopping there, he goes, “Good thing fighting isn’t only about power. Let me teach you how to go for the balls,” basically:

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…balls, gut, and throat.

Yankumi is no nonsense in a way that almost reads like a butch lesbian, but she breaks that stereotype, too, by being head over heels for the family lawyer.  Years and years before “Brave,” she defeats the arranged marriage trope by saying that she’ll only marry a man stronger than she is and soundly defeats any suitor.

I mean, much of this story is pretty run-of-the-mill, but I found Yankumi extremely refreshing as a character.

I have a number of friends who complain about how anime/mnaga women are always too giggly and baby girlish for their tastes. I haven’t tried to watch the anime for Gokusen (it’s not on Crunchyroll, though one was made, as well as a live-action TV series,) but I can’t imagine they cast Yankumi that way, unless they’re having her code-switch between her “softer” teacher persona and her gangster one for humorous effect.

If you like the general trope of the gangster doing mundane things, ala Gokushufudou: The Way of the House Husband, you may enjoy this as well. It’s clearly an early influence on some level, conscious or not.

For myself, I read five volumes in one sitting. Do I feel super compelled to finish it? *shrug* Had I started reading earlier in the evening I may have continued through to the end without blinking an eye.

A note about the art: it’s very crude. As someone on one of the sites I frequent complained, there are sections of this manga that are words floating on empty panels. The backgrounds are often nonexistent. The drawing is… well, after a while I found that it fit the story and the characters perfectly, but it took some time to get used to how unrefined it is. Some of that might be 1999, but some of it might be intentional. These characters are not slick or polished–they are simple, brutal, and not trying to be something they’re not.

Like the art.

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