Sometimes you want life to be better than it is. You don’t mean awesome robots, cool superpowers, or easy panty shots – you would be perfectly happy with popular friends, good old fun, and wannabe lovers lavishing you with their desire. Basically, you want your currently insipid daily routine to rumble with the brilliance of youth. Look no further.
School Rumble shines in its magical realism. Within an alternate world charged with energy and social delight, we witness the formula of daily life (and of the Japanese school life genre) made exciting with humorous and clever variations. Homeroom period becomes a battlefield for love, while summer vacation becomes a battlefield for friendship; beach retreats fester in youthful awkwardness, while sports festivals boil with youthful power. Relationship acrobatics and romantic entanglements comparable to those we see later in Toradora! combine with the vigorous pacing of Nodame Cantabile, the exaggeration of Lovely Complex, and the zaniness of Azumanga Daioh to create the ultimate anime sitcom.
Yes, School Rumble does indeed rumble with solid entertainment value. But a viewer who undertakes the series for superficial reasons (mainly, to just be “entertained”) will miss out on a decently sized mine of deeper treasures. One cannot go through the season without noticing how much of their feelings the writers and producers put into the work: The series burgeons with latent emotion. Subtleties of this kind pass by almost unnoticed, flitting across the screen unassumingly or even simply, but the more sensitive viewer will relish in the restrained, dreamy wistfulness that ends up charging the entire show.
A fair number of titles attain this ideal for many anime lovers. For me, School Rumble has captured my school-life daydreams in a way that the likes of Lucky Star or Toradora! could not.
The series doesn’t produce any dazzling eye candy, nor does it try to. School Rumble’s animation places practicality above artistry, but that does not diminish its general quality. Sure, a couple scenes would have benefited from some Makoto Shinkai flourish, but the animators do a sufficient job – namely, they get the story’s point across in a snappy, nimble way, often heightening the comedy. Character designs, while a bit plain, are appealing and consistent.
First of all, Yakumo’s Theme has changed my life. Now, whenever I am ambling to class on a breezy spring day, the piece floats in my mind like my very own theme song, tingeing my ordinary college existence with a nostalgic serenity. Toshiyuki Omori’s exquisite soundtrack, like much of the rest of the series, exemplifies the wonders of simplicity and balance. Each theme serves their purpose and never blares out when they’re not wanted.
The voice acting delivers, but it does not reach the seiyuu echelons of Nodame Cantabile or Toradora!. Tenma (Ami Koshimazu) caresses the ear with smooth, honey-like tones; Mikoto (Hitomi Nabatama) and Imadori (Daisuke Kishio) stand out as well. While the cast is generally earnest, their performances sound a bit too commonplace, or in the case of Hanai, too jarring. School Rumble's English dub is worthy of mention, as it has garnered positive feedback from dub-viewers and at times surpasses its Japanese counterpart in the brilliance of its casting, particularly for Harima.
School Rumble achieves something special with its cast: The characters become the story. We’re all familiar with those titles where the writers throw in plot twist after plot twist to keep the story going, resulting in precariously balanced, contrived entertainment. In the case of School Rumble, the characters are so outstanding that little, everyday interactions amongst themselves unfurl into blossoming story-fodder without even trying.
Tenma Tsukamoto is cute enough. But the real treat – the “cream of the crop,” the roe in the middle of the sushi roll – is Kenji Harima, the star of the show both in screen time and in simply being such a fantastically constructed character. There are no scarred pasts or clichéd psychological troubles to this young man; he stands perfectly fine on his own as just a normal misunderstood teenager…or maybe not so normal. His lifestyle is, shall we say, bizarre. In any case, though, his simplicity brings laughter and fresh air, and his complexity tugs at the viewer’s heart. For shoujo lovers who appraise the male lead before deciding to click on Episode One, no need to worry: Wait until he shaves off his moustache and cuts his hair. <3
The remaining cast members serve multiple functions: to provide harmonious background noise, to occasionally shine in the spotlight, or (most importantly) to intermingle/combust with each other in riotous glory. Everyone has their own charm. Yakumo is my new role model, Sawachika is my personal anime proxy, Mikoto and Akira are badass, Kurasuma reminds me of a classmate, Imadori and Nara make me squeal, and Hanai… Well, he has a nice body, I suppose. Basically, I want to become friends with these people. They are so cool!
The characters are apt vessels for School Rumble’s emotional inspiration. Each of them, in some way or other, mold themselves to different dimensions of not only the fun and carefree, but also the reflective and aching, dimensions of pre-adulthood. One may not understand what it's like to be a delinquent like Harima, but one can understand what it's like to be so simultaneously hopeful and lonely; one may not understand what it's like to be wealthy and popular like Sawachika, but one can understand what it's like to always have to mask your insecurities.
“Is this a dream?”
“We’re both in a dream. A dream called youth. We’ll eventually wake up from this dream, but the memories will continue to endure.”
Need I say more? This anime was, for me, twenty-six episodes of a dream, an unadulterated escape from reality – or rather, a slightly wistful superimposition of my current reality. School Rumble has become one of those shows that holds up decently in the anime world for its solid entertainment value, but for me it has spoken volumes. It isn’t particularly witty, beautiful, or even coherent, but it is sincere, and sometimes that’s just fine.
Tenma Tsukamoto is young, bright, and smitten with the school hottie Oji Karasuma. She's desperate for his attention, which is unfortunate considering he barely gives her the time of day! Throw Kenji Harima, the school delinquent with a crush on Tenma into the mix and you've got one twisted love triangle of unrequited proportions! Can love find the trio happiness before their attention-grabbing stunts end up hurting more than their egos?
When I first stumbled upon the anime scene, I demanded only slice-of-life high school romance and Naruto (Weird combination!). I've opened up a little bit since then, but I suppose the high school shoujo type will always be my "comfort zone."