On the cover of the first volume, Mafuyu Kurosaki looks like your typical high-spirited shojo heroine — all big smiles in her school girl outfit. But the lead of Izumi Tsubaki’s Oresama Teacher (Viz/Shojo Beat) has a somewhat darker edge to her. The former head of a “straight-up delinquent” gang, she’s been expelled and shipped to a private school on top of a mountain with maternal instructions to “act like a lady.” For Mafuyu, this is no easy task: on her way to her new school, she happens upon a three-on-one street fight. She intervenes on behalf on the outnumbered party, little knowing that a.) the older man will turn out to be her teacher at her new school and b.) he also has a connection to her past.
A comic romance, Oresama Teacher initially had me considering it as a distaff switch on Great Teacher Onizuka. The two manga series share the same core element: an ex-delinquent struggling to stay on the straight-and-narrow. Though in this case the former gang-banger is the student, and as the story progresses, we learn that her teacher Takaomi also has his own colorful past. If this shojo romance isn’t as broadly slapsticky as G.T.O. (though it has its moments of physical comedy), both series get mileage out of their protagonists’ conduct disorderly personalities. In one memorable sequence, for instance, our hyper heroine struggles to sit still in class for the first time in her life, counting the minutes as they creep past. This reader could definitely relate.
Complicating Mafuyu’s resolve to change her fighting ways are her handsome teacher’s knowledge of her once wicked ways, plus the presence of another exiled delinquent, Hayasaka, who feels our girl’s “bloodlust” her first day in class. It’s Hayasaka who articulates the emotional high of the fight life: “I … feel good when I’m fighting. I forget all the bad stuff. At least I feel like I’m not the me that I used to be.” All three of the book’s main characters are trying to affect a major change in their lives: even the seemingly impervious Takaomi has become a teacher when we’re told “it doesn’t really suit” his personality. “There was something I couldn’t do unless I became a teacher,” he explains, though what this something could be is a story mystery.
Tsubaki depicts this all with a light hand, occasionally tweaking shojo visual conventions (at one point, Mafuyu asks if a character seen flowers in the background and the artist obligingly provides them in the panel) as well as the manipulative male storyline. Teacher Takomi proves to be a major game-player throughout the first volume — and at times comes across borderline creepy toward his new student/childhood acquaintance. “In public, he’s a great teacher,” our heroine notes at one point, “but his real personality is horrible.” If that’s not prelude to a budding teacher/student romance, I don’t know what is.