Review: Hammer Session

Introduction:

In J-dramas, manga, and anime, schools often serve as a key setting for the main characters. Of course, how the classes, students, and teachers are portrayed tend to vary substantially, and even the time allotted to the school’s existence or relevance can change too. Even so in all three mediums a genre has immerged where a non-traditional teacher helps straighten out a classroom, and in doing so leaves a lasting, positive impression on the students, teachers, and the administration. In this genre Gokusen and Great Teacher Onizuka, two of my favorite series, dominate in popularity both in Japan and the worldwide. Many other series however, before and after, take this same model and use it to create similar shows. Hammer Session, based on the manga of the same name, is such a show. As I expected the overall development and themes in Hammer Session are equivalent to the genre standards; however, I found Hammer Session, with its delightful mix of characters, ordeals, and humorous interactions, still managed to captivate me and breathe new life into this seemingly overused genre.

Story:

In the beginning of Hammer Session the audience is immediately introduced to a pair of inmates who are being escorted to prison. One of the inmates only known as Otawa No. 4 is a first rate con man famous in the criminal world. Otawa No. 4 has evaded the police for many years until his recent capture. Everything is going according to plan until suddenly while in transit the police van’s electric system goes awry, and the van holding the police and captives alike careens straight into a body of water. Upon recovery of the van neither Otowa No. 4 nor the other inmate are found, and while presumed dead by the police chiefs one detective is not swayed and swears to capture Otowa No. 4 at whatever cost.

Come night time the two captives appear alive but tired, and they decide to rest near what appears to be a school. Only a few minutes later the felons hear something strange and discover a man attempting to burn down the school. The man frightened from the appearance of two strangers tries to back away and in doing so he drops his hand-made torch, therefore starting a fire which gets the attention of the principal who suddenly appears before the three men. Together they all assist to put out the fire started by the arsonist who the Principal recognizes as the long awaited teacher sent to the school.

To show thanks the principal brings the three men into his office and offers the two felons food, and while the felons snack the principal tells them of the school’s troubles, how students aren’t behaving, and how teachers are at a lost how to help them. Otawa No. 4 then regales the Principal of a fool-proof way to fix the school, only then to reveal to the Principal’s disappointment that this is merely a story of lies. Otawa No. 4 instead insists honestly that one can “impress people’s minds”, a skill which, unknown to the principal, he’s used for years as a con artist. Otawa No. 4 says truthfully what must be done is a ‘Hammer Session’, where one destroys the wall’s in one’s mind as Otawa No. 4 did in his lie to the Principal earlier. Suddenly the police appear at the Principal’s door, and the Principal, only then learning of the visitor’s true selves, decides that instead of turning them in he will make a deal with Otawa No. 4. Otawa No. 4 is then offered sanctuary at the school, but to stay he has to play the role of the long awaited teacher and help transform the school.

What follows is a zany, albeit often emotional school drama where, like its many precedents, each episode tends to focus on one student in need of a “Hammer Session”. Otawa No. 4, now known as Hachisuka sensei, obliges, and while serving his role as teacher begins to gradually transform the school through his hijinxs, unorthodox teaching methods, and spirited zeal. In the process he is assisted by Kaede, a devoted friend to all, Ryoko, the Principal’s daughter, the real Hachisuka and Imamura, felon #2.

Characters

In shows of this nature the number of characters featured can be quite overwhelming. Of course, the students alone provide a significant bulk of the characters; however, one can easily narrow down a few key players that help, directly or indirectly, Hachisuka sensei turn the school around.

One of my favorite characters, aside from Hachisuka who I’ll reserve discussion for last, is the Principal himself who along with the arsonist and the second felon is the only one who truly knows Otawa No. 4’s secret. By putting his dedication to his students above his own job security he oversees and supports Hachisuka in his endeavors, and even when pressured by the Vice-Principal, a role traditionally reserved as the anti-teacher character in such series, he does his best to give Hachisuka a chance to turn these students around in his way. Kohinata Fumiyo, who often plays as meek, humble secondary characters, really shines in this role.

My second favorite character would have to be Mizuki Ryoko, who is both the daughter of the Principal and likewise a teacher struggling to help the students. Traditionally this character’s role in such dramas is the love interest to the main character and the key, often sole, supporter from within the faculty. These elements, while certainly present, appear to be downplayed compared to her counterparts, such as Fuyutsuki in G.T.O., perhaps because Ryoko is also the Principal’s daughter and thus serves additional character functions. Higa Manami plays this role.

My third favorite character is not even just one character. Instead it’s the students of the school and specifically Hachisuka’s class, who of course are featured the most. Each student who had a Hammer Session played their role wonderfully, and while the characters tend to have less purpose after or before their Hammer Session I think they filled their roles well at all times. If you have watched Gokusen and watched J-Drama’s afterward then you know many of the leading young actors today truly honed their talents in shows such as these. Oguri Shun, Narimiya Hiroki, and Akanishi Jin are a few examples from the male side. I’d expect to see a few lead actors come out of Hammer Session as well. The student who dominates Hammer Session, as you’ll see early on, is Kaede. She is a loyal friend to a fault one might say, and she is often very pushy and inquisitive when her friends are in trouble. This causes her to become involved in every Hammer Session. While she seems a bit quirky for a lead character I felt Shida Mirai gave Kaede just the right amount of caring mixed with a wonderful sense for over-dramatic emotions. Together, with Kaede in the lead, the class of Hachisuka made each and episode a pleasure to watch as much as any of the other main characters did.

My fourth and final favorite character, although certainly not least, is Hachisuka sensei himself. Hachisuka is played by Hayami Mokomichi, who is no stranger to school dramas having been in both Gokusen 2 and Yankee Bokou ni Kaeru. Now Hayami is on the other side of the desk. Surprisingly enough I had seen very few shows featuring Hayami Mokomichi, so I didn’t know fully what to expect from him. Immediately though in the first episode of Hammer Session I was impressed, and I knew he’d be able to carry the torch left by Sorimachi Takashi, who played Onizuka in G.T.O. Much like Onizuka, Hachisuka is rarely serious, even in serious moments, an occasional a hound dog, and he likes to go shirtless like Onizuka in the anime. Perhaps most similar though is that they both care enough to get involved directly with their students lives, and while Hachisuka has a team help him do his research on students, and Onizuka has to MacGuyver his ‘sessions’, both are equally awesome during what we’ll call their “extra-curricular” lessons.

In shows like these whether it’s Gokusen, Great Teacher Onizuka, Hammer Session, or any of the others in this genre at the end of the day the show’s success relies on the ability of the teacher character to inspire the audience as much as he inspires the students. Hayami succeeds on all levels in his performance as the fake professor Hachisuka.

Conclusion

I try to be relatively impartial, or at the very least chronicle why I feel the way I feel about a series, be it an anime, manga, J-Drama, etc. I feel I have done that; however, I also will not deny that this is perhaps my favorite genre after crime dramas. Moreover the first J-Drama I ever watched was Great Teacher Onizuka, acclaimed on its own merits by Japanese and Americans alike, and I still carry a soft spot for the show. Perhaps having seen so many in this genre I am therefore more critical, and I like to think that’s true. Either way, or perhaps if that’s not the case, I’d just like to reaffirm my potential biases before I conclude my opinion on Hammer Session.

While clearly rooted in the ‘untraditional teacher’ sub-genre of school dramas, Hammer Session brings just enough fresh ideas to the table to make this series enjoyable for J-Drama fans new and old. Led by a talented pool of actors, Hammer Session teaches once again what so many schools forget, that a little personal caring can go a long way. More than that though the creators behind Hammer Session are able to delicately balance out tough, real emotional issues with delightful bits of humor episode after episode. All the while the threat of arrest looms over Hanichisuka’s head adding a wonderful element of suspense to the series. In summary, Hammer Session has taken everything that made G.T.O and Gokusen brilliant, repackaged it, refreshed it, and offered it up as the brilliant successor it is. If you haven’t watched Great Teacher Onizuka yet I’ll probably still, and always, recommend it as the first series to check out of this genre. However once you finish G.T.O. by all means be sure to watch Hammer Session.

Score: 4.5 out of 5

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