Gokusen : Original Soundtrack Review

Album Title: Gokusen : Original Soundtrack
Drama Title: Gokusen
Artist: Ooshima Michiru
Catalog Number: AVCD-17124
Release Type: Soundtrack
Release Date: June 19, 2002
Purchase at: CDJapan


Tracklist

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01. Road of Gokusen Ooshima Michiru 2:49
02. Gang or Teacher? Ooshima Michiru 2:37
03. Memory of Mother Ooshima Michiru 2:43
04. Successor Ooshima Michiru 2:26
05. The Quiet Noise Ooshima Michiru 2:20
06. The Delinquents of the Sunny Place Ooshima Michiru 2:32
07. The Mother Ooshima Michiru 3:10
08. Adult Whom I Cannot Defeat Ooshima Michiru 2:07
09. Let’s Enjoy! Ooshima Michiru 2:07
10. Way Ooshima Michiru 2:50
11. Spreading out an Impression Ooshima Michiru 2:36
12. Tears Ooshima Michiru 2:56
13. To Run Down – Homeroom Ooshima Michiru 2:57
14. 14 Ê¥áܪ¹ªë«í«Þ«ó«¹ Ooshima Michiru 1:21
15. Accelerating Romance Ooshima Michiru 2:59
16. Young Girl Ooshima Michiru 2:57
17. Making Love – Anger Boiling! Ooshima Michiru 2:09
18. Road of Gokusen(Short ver.) Ooshima Michiru 0:19
19. Feel your breeze(Piano solo ver.) Ooshima Michiru 2:58

Review: After listening to enough drama OSTs, you come to realize that just like everything else, drama soundtracks also fall into stereotypical sounds and patterns. It’s not terribly surprising that the background music is prone to cliché considering how most dramas rely on run-of-the-mill premises and gimmicky plot.. As such, it’s perfectly reasonable to get excited when one finds a soundtrack that manages to separate itself from the forgettable pool that is the pretty piano tinkles and the sustained, mushy strings that make up every other drama OST.

Gokusen, a popular TV drama that first aired in 2002, is notable in that its soundtrack takes the music further than the usual stereotypes. A romantic comedy following Kumiko, the daughter of a yakuza boss, as she attempts to teach a class of students at an all-male school, Gokusen has a score that successfully captures both the lighthearted and sentimental moods of the show. Best of all, Michiru Ooshima (of Sora no Woto and Fullmetal Alchemist fame) composes memorable themes that are hard to forget. Instead of just going for the typical bland and tuneless harmonizing strings, she writes a soundtrack that actually builds itself a personality and a story.

In any case, all stories, even comedic ones, have a beginning. In this one, things open with the stately splendor of “Road of Gokusen”. The splendid march speaks of a newcomer filled with dreams and conviction raring to tackle the latest new opportunity, no doubt referencing Kumiko’s determination to ace her teaching job. The ceremonious march is a little over the top, but the exaggeration is perfect. After all, someone heralded by the pompous trumpet fanfare of “Successor” would be much too ‘esteemed’ and important to take a job teaching the next generation of upstanding citizens. With such an amusing premise established, it’s only a matter of time before the crazy antics start.

Road of Gokusen

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And yes, if there’s anything this soundtrack really excels at, it’s portraying those demented hijinks. As the title aptly suggests, “Gang or Teacher?” captures the hilarity that ensues when Kumiko’s unusual upbringing conflicts with her profession. Listening to the upbeat brass playing the off-kilter, bouncy tune, it’s easy to imagine the characters in exaggerated distress after the latest prank. A little less energetic but just as blithely absurd, “The Delinquents of the Sunny Place” and “Adult Whome I cannot Defeat” use groggily precarious melodies to create an atmosphere of bumbling ineptitude as the pieces stagger along half-drunkenly along. Then, there’s “Accelerated Romance” which does, in fact, accelerate. As the tempo steadily picks up speed, the ensemble scrambles frantically to keep up with the latest stunts, tripping with haste and crashing into an amusingly impromptu finale. Last but certainly not least is “Let’s Enjoy!”. It’s almost impossible not to hum along with the infectiously cheerful woodwind tune that portrays yet another energetic day of school for both Kumiko and her students.

Gang or Teacher?

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Let’s Enjoy

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However, Gokusen is still a romantic comedy, and every self-respecting J-drama has to have some, well, drama. Although not quite as exceptional as the lighthearted tracks, the heavier sentimental material is still relatively remarkable nevertheless. There’s conflict and ill-feelings aplenty to be found scattered throughout the album in the likes of “To Run Down, Homeroom”. Threateningly forbidding, the weighted strings and drumrolls make the piece an intonation of doom that’s more somber than anything one would expect from a drama. The atmosphere of surprising gravity is continued in “Making Love – Anger Boiling!” whose tense mood and abrupt bursts of sound make the track more suited to acting as a backdrop for a battle between two armies rather than an argument between individuals, especially with the clamoring trumpets and shrill strings. The consternation continues into “Spreading Out to an Impression” which is a little more standard in its execution than the previous two with its all-about-business strings layered over the aggressive beat as it accompanies Kumiko as she beats up all the obstacles in her way.

Making Love – Anger Boiling!

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And finally, the slow, reflective pieces and tender love tracks that are a trademark of every drama OST do materialize. One can hear Kumiko’s quiet but firm determination in “The Way”, whose ponderous ruminations swell into a heartwarmingly harmonious conclusion as she resolves to continue helping others as she strives for her dreams. “Young Girl” is a little more melancholy, but only in the nostalgic sense. Indeed, the peaceful melody gives a sensation of conclusion, as if everyone has received a happily-ever-after ending. However, there’s a feeling of yearning in the melody that suggests a wistful desire for the fun times with everyone to have continued for just a little longer. But no, just as everything has a beginning, everything also has an end. “An Important Thing…” sees a return of the initial theme in the form of a restrained graduation song, marking Kumiko and her students’ accomplishment of their goals and their readiness to move on to the next stage of their lives.

Young Girl

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An important thing…

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Comparing Gokusen’s OST to those of other J-drama’s, Ooshima’s involvement gives the music a fun, distinct personality that’s absent in all too many soundtracks. A mixture of over-the-top drama, pure lighthearted fun, and heartfelt sentiments, the music is never so uniform that the album becomes tedious. Instead of remaining satisfied with being just “pretty”, the soundtrack reaches towards higher aspirations. Indeed, Kumiko would be proud.

Rating: Excellent

About the author

Yu A musician with a fondness for anime, I love listening and talking about the music accompanying the shows I watch. I'm fond of classical styled music, but any piece regardless of genre can tickle my fancy. On the other hand, I'm awful at discussing anime because I'm so terribly easy to please.

6 Comments… read them or add your own.

  1. random says:

    Two years. It’s been two years since Ooshima last did a TV anime soundtrack. She’s only been doing work for anime movies lately, and her most recent soundtrack wasn’t even released. It’s so sad.

    Anyways, I like this but that’s a given since she’s one of my favorite composers. I still haven’t made time for her drama and movie soundtracks but hearing this is some good motivation to do something about it.

    • Yu says:

      I think she’s scoring Tezuka Osamu no Buddha this coming season, so that’s something to look forward to at least. Ooshima is actually insanely prolific in general, so you’ll be digging through her stuff for a a long time to come.

      Ooshima is definitely in my top five. I’ve fallen in love with the characteristic warm, full sound that her albums have. She’s also really good at coming up with memorable themes time after time, something that I’ve found most other composers have difficulty doing.

  2. Baka-Raptor says:

    Funny how I don’t actively pay attention to most background tracks as I’m watching and yet I recognize most of these tunes long afterwards. Perhaps that’s the sign of a good soundtrack.

    • Yu says:

      Yes! Exactly! Instead of acting as noise that fills in silent gaps, a good soundtrack becomes an integral part of the identity of a show. You should be able to hear the personality and plot of a show in the music. Recognizing the tunes a long time after watching a show is definitely an indication that the OST has done its job well.

  3. Well, you already know what my thoughts are on this soundtrack, and specifically, on “Let’s Enjoy” which encapsulates what I love so much about Michiru Ooshima’s compositions. It’s light, fun, and a nice change of pace from all those overwrought drama-y pieces that seem so pervasive nowadays. Effectively the factor I always look forward to whenever I’m faced with an Ooshima soundtrack it seems.

    • Yu says:

      No one does light and fun like Ooshima!

      Even so, she isn’t immune to the forgettable mushy strings. There are definitely a few OSTs of hers which I can’t recall anything about after listening to them a few times.

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