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Saturday, May 10, 2008

School Rumble - Review

I can't believe I never mentioned this show before. School Rumble is by far one of the best anime I have ever seen....ever. I'll get to the reasons in a moment. Right now, I have to do things systematically.

To put it loosely, School Rumble is about a high school girl named Tenma Tsukamoto who's in love with Ouji Karasuma. Then there's the typical biker delinquent Kenji Harima who's fallen for Tenma Tsukamoto. As both try to confess their loves to their respective crushes, things get in their way and begin to complicate matters on an exponential level.

To put it simply, this is a love story. A really funny one. It takes more or less everything you would know about a series like this and throws it out the window. You thought you knew Shounen or Shoujo genres? You were so wrong. Let me start off with the plot which sounds unusual. Typically, it's some form of love triangle mixed with comedy. Unfortunately, Karasuma's passion for curry renders him completely oblivious to Tenma's feelings for him (I can't make this up).

The storytelling is truly a work of art. It's a bit convoluted but is the best representation for that "If my high school life was a TV show" project (assuming you ever had such a project). Normally, these kinds of shows mainly focus on the main characters and have a handful of sub-par secondary characters that help the story move along. That doesn't happen in School Rumble. Not only do you get an entire class of character (like Mahou Sensei Negima for example) but nearly an entire grade and they all have a part. You see the all the archetypes but then you also see them warp into a necessary character for the show. They're not just some member of the general clutter of random people. You see everyone's personality and it doesn't require an episode to flesh it out. Just little bits from every episode help add to the personality of that character. Often you get some weird school where there's only like a few couples and because there are only a few couples they're the talk of the school. That doesn't happen. I remember reading this one review that said that keeping track of who has what relation with who made his head hurt. That was where I found beauty. School doesn't just revolve around a handful of people, it revolves around everyone and that's what this anime does. Some characters really couldn't care less about what happens to couple A. I remember wanting to show a few stand-alone episodes for my anime club but realized they all needed some form of background to understand. So I drew a flow chart. It was a mess.

There's Girl A and B who have a secret crush on Guy A, but he has an open crush with Girl C. Unfortunately, Guy B has a crush on Girl B who is the younger sister of Girl C and because of his general personality of being a serious, short-tempered person, he often mistook the relationship between Guy A and and Girl B when they worked together. Then there's Girl D who has a similar personality to Guy B and isn't true to herself about her feelings towards Guy B because of his aloof attitude towards her and the close professional relationship they have with each other in terms of being students of the same class... and on and on and on. What I found great was that it wasn't some shallow crush either and the viewer doesn't realize who has feelings for what until you see all the subtle changes in the personalities. That's amazing. It doesn't spoon feed you story but it also doesn't ask you to do any rocket science or force any illogical connections either. It's a blend that's really hard to find.

The comedy is equally amazing. It starts off with many typical scenarios and looks to be sub-par but then it surprises you. It doesn't take the turn you'd expect and instead goes completely awry. Some turns you didn't even know existed. Referring to that other review once again. There's a scene in which you have the class cleaning the pool, with soap and hose water. What does this often lead to? Fan service. Panty shots, wet shirts and a general glorification of the female body. What happens in School Rumble land? They somehow get into a hockey match involving bar soap and brooms.

The voice acting talent is just superb as well. Most anime in general feature only a very tiny amount of veteran actors who fill the roles of main characters. School Rumble? It's a gold mine of veteran actors and a slew of professional amateurs that embrace the stage. Just listening, it would be hard to believe some actors were given their first roles in School Rumble. Then there's all those one episode stand-in characters who are usually given to amateurs to break the ice. Even those are taken by veterans of the trade gracing your ears with more than just quality acting. It's a collaboration of talent to make a production amazing.

If you got to this point. I applaud you. I actually have more to say, but right now I'll answer that question that's in your mind. "Zerreth, all you've done so far is spew praise for this anime. I've read about (insert number here) of your reviews and you always found some fault in them. Is this the exception?" You're right. I did, and this is no exception. I don't think anything is perfect and so here goes.

If you think about it, the cost to do one episode must be outstanding. The thing is the production team leading this is Studio Comet. They're not bad, but they're not brimming with money like Kyoto Animation is, and so here's where the anime takes a hit. Generally, the art is clean and character designs are well done, but.... animation-wise, it's a bit disappointing. It's an odd combination really. If it was a voiced comic strip, it would look stunning, but once they start moving, the animation has many moments of spikes in quality. There's a lot of stills and cutting of corners where it's necessary. There's also a good deal of rendering which isn't properly blended and stands out significantly. It kind of feels like a let down knowing how much work went into the anime in general to see that the animation is the one that's hit hardest.

Occasionally, the story drags on a bit. It's not just filler per say, but it's one of those necessary evil episodes where technically nothing happens, but is there to reconfirm plot points. I personally don't mind these at all, but these are a certain type of "filler" and I know many who have an abhorrence to such a thing. One thing I do say however, is that quality doesn't drop with these episodes, so the high quality will be intact but it'll just be focused on... nothing.

Finally, what I feel to be one of the most important points and key part that makes me hesitate to recommend this is the phenomenal amount of the Japanese language, old Japanese culture and modern Japanese culture needed to fully understand the entire show very well. I took a gander at a quality fansubber's site and each episode had at least a page-two pages of side notes that they wrote down for those who weren't so savvy with the culture. Trust me. Being an avid watcher of anime won't be enough to understand everything. There are many points in which the anime uses puns and old sayings to add to humor and I know there will be many viewers who won't get it. The thing is, some of these very important comedic scenes are crucial for the next scenes and so one can easily be having problems understanding why something is happening or why there's an awkward silence following something witty.

Overall however, the good parts make the bad parts look like dust particles. I honestly believe that this is a work of genius and such a thing will be very hard to come by.

As a final note, there are two seasons along with a final third OVA that will be released. Interestingly enough, each season is referred to as a semester in the Japanese school calendar.

P.S. Haha! Check it out! I posted exactly at noon with this scheduler. This has made my day.

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