Get Schooled! Volume 1


Illustration: GARAM HAN
Planning: YLAB Co. Ltd.
Managing Editor: RICH YOUNG
Associate Editor: AMY JACKSON
Published by ABLAZE

Content warning: this book and review contain references to graphic depictions of violence and themes related to depression and suicide.

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Get Schooled! by Yontaek Chae is in a single word: polarizing. It hearkens back to the age of delinquent comics like Great Teacher Onizuka, where it takes someone who’s lived a hard-knock life to address the rampant problem of student bullying in schools.

It can be hard to read for people averse to physical violence and emotionally dark themes. The setup for this story, summed in the pages above, essentially justifies the return of corporal punishment in this “eye for an eye” world. In this world, students have grown so morally debased that they are actually unteachable. The main character, Hwajin Na, is a battle-hardened–presumably former soldier–yet laid-back supervisor for the Ministry of Education. His ability to hold his ground against violent bullies seems to be the only remedy now that the situation has escalated to this point.

 Get Schooled

This series has the subtlety of a sledgehammer when it comes to nuance, but that doesn’t particularly make it bad to read. There are moments where bullies, after being “schooled” by Mr. Na, finally reach enlightenment and learn what their actions do to other people, which feel brutal and scathing; there is no sympathy for abusive evildoers who drive others to kill themselves.

One such student, Daeseok Park, was a righteous, beloved kid who ended up being ostracized, beaten, humiliated, and driven to poverty and suicide by the son of a corrupt politician named Junhyeong Ryu. Ryu retaliates against Mr. Na’s new school policies but ends up betrayed by his cohorts after losing all the power and influence his father wielded after a scandal broke out and the latter was forced to resign from his position. After being equally battered, humiliated, and abused by his classmates after his fall from grace, Junhyeong is further beaten to rock bottom by his father, who learns that his son was disciplined and publicly mocked + punished for his corruption. It leads Junhyeong to attempt arson at school, where Mr. Na gives his final lesson and scares Junhyeong into remorse by threatening his life with the same gas fire he was going to set on the school. It got tough to read at times, but the emotions in the characters’ expressions and the sincerity that was portrayed won me over.

“This is just my own personal philosophy, but… Learning is something you’ve got to experience with your whole body, not just through words or books. Like now, you’ve just learned that this type of fire is much slower than you thought it was. You’ve also learned that a person’s life can turn into a living hell… by wrongfully using one’s power and authority… to gang up on someone and drive them into a corner. You’ll feel that lesson in your bones. By being subjected to your own actions, one by one, you’ll come to see just what you’ve done! And you taking real responsibility for everything you’ve done… is precisely the education I seek to impart!” – Hwajin Na, “Get Schooled!” Volume 1

The story for volume 1 involves two schools that Mr. Na is assigned to, with each taking up roughly half the book. The first case was much more extreme than the second one because it was a high school, and the involvement of politicians made the arc feel much higher in stakes for an initial arc.

The second one involves a university with rival departments that attracts delinquents who eventually aim to beat up other school gangs in the area to assert their dominance because it’s a school known more for its street fights than its teaching accolades. With Mr. Na’s involvement, Hyeongsu Kim, the lowest-ranked student in the school hierarchy, has his life turned around and eventually even earns his first friend, former bully Gwonhyeok Jang.

Gwonhyeok is a bit different from Junhyeong–rather than corrupt because of power tripping, he naturally became stronger to stick up for himself after being bullied and hearing smack talk aimed at his family. Now a fan of the thrill, he seeks out fights and tramples over the weak to avoid being trampled himself. It’s quite easy to see how he got from point A to point B! And his progress to point C doesn’t even come directly due to Mr. Na; rather, it was his own just desserts.

Students from a rival school hire gangsters to beat and threaten Gwonhyeok after his reign of terror is aimed at other schools, and Mr. Na shows up right before Gwonhyeok faces execution. Seeing his assaulter just as beaten, bloodied, desperate, and shameless was Mr. Na’s original plan for teaching Gwonhyeok the ramifications of his actions. It was especially satisfying seeing the gangster repeatedly grovel at Mr. Na, only to keep getting hit until he realized the one who needed an apology was Hyeongsu, whom Mr. Na came to save, but also saved Gwonhyeok out of the goodness in his heart and refusal to allow him to get beaten. Mr. Na says to the gangster, “When it comes to apologies, it’s the person you hurt that you’re supposed to say it to, not the one hurting you.” Then, immediately turns to Gwonhyeok to say, “That’s exactly how you have acted up until now!”

It was an emotionally powerful moment, especially because on the next page; the next day has come and Mr. Na has left the school. Eager to return to their old norm, people are ready to beat up on Hyeongsu and establish the totem pole once again, but Gwonhyeok stops them in their tracks. Hyeongsu’s noble act and strength of character made a noticeable impact on Gwonhyeok’s attitude and moral compass. It was this moment that really brought to mind Great Teacher Onizuka, a manga about a biker gang leader turned middle school teacher. Both stories are crass, violent, and morally dubious, but the core message is a firm abolition of abuse through empathy. The author’s heart is in the right place, and I have the feeling they also know that the way this story is told will divide readers. But just because a story is reminiscent–maybe inspired by–similar stories from the late ’90s, doesn’t mean they can’t be updated to the times!

My main concern from this is that we eventually have to address violence against women. It looks like the next assignment is a girl’s high school, and Mr. Na has been assigned a lady partner who will definitely provide answers to that question. Up to this point, nuance has been mostly ignored in favor of amplifying the emotions being felt. The only exception is when the head bully learns their lesson. I would hope that the author changes that formula when it comes to women because otherwise having the same response as the men in this volume would be too much for anyone, fictional or reader.  Thankfully, a new character acquainted with Mr. Na is introduced, Hanrim Im, who works with the military.

Beyond that, there’s still a lot to appreciate in this series. The art is clean with readable panel layouts and smooth rendering in the color work, and plenty of well-choreographed action scenes. For those who appreciate more layers to their story, there is an ongoing background plot about the Ministry of Education’s public image in the face of these changes. The current head is Gangseok Choi, who is also revealed to me Hwajin Na’s father. We see them at the grave of Gayoon Choi, his daughter and Mr. Na’s sister. My assumption at this point is that her death was another reason for Mr. Choi to make such drastic changes to reform the education system. While some of the imagery in this book is graphic, the weight with which the actual topics of death and human rights are addressed can be felt from the art.

Get Schooled! knows the audience it caters to. If from the back cover you know it’s not for you, it won’t make any attempts to change. It comes off as clumsy for it, but it’s hard not to enjoy it when the message and energy behind it are so sincere. It’s not often that you get a delinquent-adjacent action comic from the perspective of someone sincerely working to reform them. It’s noble for a setup, but it’s also vindicating to read in action whenever characters like Mr. Na, who’ve also lived hard lives, teach humility and empathy to those lacking it. If from everything you’ve read today, you think you’ll enjoy this series, then you’ll definitely enjoy it.

Get Schooled! Volume 1 will be available in print as of October 17, 2023 under the publisher ABLAZE.