Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Dec 4th 2008
School Rumble Season 2
DVD - Part 1
Cultural festivals are traditionally a time for romance to bloom, and indeed romance is in the air as Class 2-C gears up to (as usual) compete with neighboring Class 2-D. However, for the boneheads of 2-C the scent of love isn't particularly sweet; indeed it sucks Hanai and Harima so dry that they attract flies, a feat made all the more remarkable by the fact that the romance (between Harima and Yakumo) that does the sucking doesn't actually exist. Harima and Hanai manage to rehydrate in time to help determine their class's project for the cultural festival, a decision-making process that, unfortunately, involves a survival game that no one actually survives. Later Harima unintentionally snags the role of Sleeping Beauty in the class play, inadvertently sabotages Tenma's birthday surprise for Karasuma, and accidentally gambles off his entire class to 2-D. In the meantime Mikoto joins the school's fledgling basketball team, Lara has a brief stint as an idol, and the usual mix of beatings, idiocy and humiliation weave the backdrop of school life. Ah sweet youth.
It isn't often that a release so clearly embodies both the best and worst qualities of a series. Of course, that the release covers fully a quarter of the series to date does rather increase the chances of that happening, but even so the shift from hectic, secretly muscular romantic comedy to formulaic time-killing schoolyard farce over the course of this box set is remarkable, if only for its abruptness—like the flipping of a switch after episode six.
Rumble's second season kicks off in high gear, burning through more reversals of romantic fortune in its first episode than most series manage in an entire volume. From there it plows straight into one of the finest extended parodies in years, a glorious tribute to the balletic excesses of John Woo that applies unapologetic melodramatic flourishes to pitched BB-gun warfare. A hilariously botched hostess bar and school play follow, all of it held together by the unfolding cultural festival and piecemeal resolution of Harima, Hanai, Yakumo and Eri's misunderstanding-driven love polygon. For six episodes the cultural festival gives the series' interlocked-vignette structure direction, pushing the pace to frantic extremes that somehow never obscure the little upwellings of romantic gravitas. Genuine hilarity is everywhere, the thickheaded romantic silliness never flags, and a melancholic undercurrent is ever on hand to lend a touch of emotional weight. Established characters such as Harima, Eri and Hanai get solid scenes to dig into, shakier characters such as Yakumo and background players like Aso get fleshed out, and most importantly it's all very, very funny.
And then the cultural festival ends. With the misunderstandings surrounding Harima and Yakumo (kind of) resolved, the series basically resets all of the relationships and then quickly loses focus. New characters are introduced, sports anime is dabbled in, and all the while the series runs desperately in place. Laughs are plentiful and varied, and the enormous cast is juggled to allow lesser characters to take center stage, but with all of the major relationships firmly on the back burner, the series' whirlwind of jokes and unrequited romance feels listless and undirected. Each episode is a frenetic jam of events, but nothing really happens. For all its full-throttle pacing, the second half feels much longer than the more serious first. Likely as not the series is wandering a bit, as it is prone to doing, before winding up for another bout of focused romantic mayhem, but with every such slump the chances of it definitively resolving its proliferating love polygons grows ever more distant.
As the vignette structure and ridiculously complex comedic entanglements might suggest, School Rumble is far more focused on energy than clean continuity. Though surprisingly consistent given how insanely convoluted its relationships get, the series is always willing to punch holes in the plot in exchange for a good joke, and rapid-fire sight gags usually take precedence over quality visuals. Even Studio Comet's bursts of CG-enhanced slickness are gag-centric, while most of the remaining visuals are faithful to manga-ka Jin Kobayashi's aesthetic—which is a nice way of saying that backgrounds disappear at will and that characters languish in various simplified forms long enough to make their sharp non-SD designs look incongruously realistic. Not to worry though: simplified art, normal art, super-detailed hatch-worked art, art borrowed from other sources, obvious CGI art—everything, sloppy and clean, is wound tight together and then caffeinated to the gills, leaving little time and even less inclination to pick at its obvious shortcomings. During the series' more stable moments Shinji Takamatsu proves capable of convincingly aping a wide variety of directorial styles—choreographing kinetic gun battles, letting Yakumo's quiet interludes unspool amidst poetic atmospherics, and coaxing stinging emotions from Eri's clear animal eyes during her confrontation with Yakumo—and all on a budget that is far from top-tier.
It's only now that they've been replaced by generic anime songs that the importance of the first season's get-up-and-boogie candy-pop opening and closing themes becomes clear. There was no better primer for an episode of pure depression-stomping good times imaginable, and without them it's that much easier to notice when the series starts going nowhere fast. The in-show soundtrack remains the same pleasantly goofy beast it has always been.
Cast with nearly ridiculous fidelity, Funimation's dub for School Rumble is as accurate a replication of the original version as could reasonably be expected. That it doesn't use the direct translation as a crutch only adds to its accuracy, as the loose script allows the cast the wiggle room necessary to really nail the tone and feel of their characters. As with any Funimation “reversioning,” some of the liberties taken aren't strictly necessary, but it doesn't go to the extremes that some of their wilder adaptations do. And some of the changes—specifically Lara's hammy, Spanish-sprinkled dialogue—are distinct improvements on the original.
With thirteen episodes crammed like sardines onto two discs, it's no surprise that extras are rather sparse on this set. The sole extra is a thirty-minute interview between Kaori Shimizu (Akira) and Ami Koshimizu (Tenma) that is, appropriately enough, pure chaos.
Don't let the lack of my usual School Rumble fanboy gushing fool you: even in the inferior second half of this set, School Rumble is rarely anything less than a bracing shot of pure fun. But after the slowly emerging romantic dramas of season one (and the first leg of this season), it's disappointing to see the series fall back on discontinuous humor, dulling the series' sad edge by cutting back on the outrageous romantic disasters that previously marked the relationships of likeable folks like Ichijo, Hanai and Harima. With luck, the fanboy gushing will recommence shortly, but only time will tell.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : C+
+ Opening arc that powers through a series of devilishly-coordinated, stomach-herniating comic disasters.
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