Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Feb 3rd 2008
Love continues to elude hapless Harima, who manages to convince himself that Tenma has fallen for him, but has his confession cut short rather spectacularly. Tenma on the other hand is doing better, if only marginally so. She discovers that her beloved, and thoroughly bizarre, Karasuma can't afford to bring lunch to school, and soon the two are munching onigiri behind the gymnasium. Good for Tenma, but bad for Harima, who witnesses the spectacle and, brokenhearted, embarks on a romantic overreaction so extreme that it will see him as manga writer, boy toy, and enlightened hermit. In the meantime his misguided jealousy sparks a fierce bout of pool hockey, Eri goes on her first shopping trip, Tenma plays castaway in a locked equipment shed, Hanai continues to mindlessly pursue Tenma's little sister Yakumo, and to Tenma's horror Karasuma is forced to choose between her and half-price curry.
School Rumble may not be the best series out there, but it is most certainly one of the funniest. Every episode is a blast, pure and simple, fraught with hilarity from its cheeky "School Rumble is next!" primer to the last line of the next-episode preview. There is no formula for funny, but if there were, School Rumble's mix of character and situational humor, pratfalls, parodies and sight gags would be it. The series flits with practiced ease between all manner of jokes, some repeated (botched confessions, Harima's all-too-realistic romantic delusions, Itoko's mean-spirited romantic meddling) others one-shots from out of the blue, never allowing the humor to stagnate or grow stale. The gags never ignore reality outright, and more importantly, are rooted firmly in the reality of each character; in Harima's decency and lack of social graces, in Hanai's disastrous honesty, in Itoko's treacherous sisterly affection.
The cast is a sneakily-built, damnably likable bunch; even at this early stage characters who will later become major players can be spotted in the background endearing themselves. Like Harima, the series has a heart of gold that is just beginning to peek out from underneath the goofiness. Eri's shopping trip strips away her prickly exterior just enough to glimpse the vulnerability it protects, and Harima's heartbreak, though played for laughs and featuring some of his most outrageous behavior to date (his rapport with wild animals is priceless), never belittles his emotions or compromises the empathy he evokes. The sympathy the series has for its entire cast of thickheaded, finely-tuned comic stereotypes guides the humor, even at its most squirm-inducing (e.g. the escalating romantic misfortunes heaped upon poor Harima) away from the mean-spiritedness towards warm affection.
Studio Comet animates the series with infectious energy, beginning with the good-humored choreography of the insanely bouncy, catchy opening sequence and ranging through the series' many changes in style. The series can switch from shoujo-romance sparklies to shounen-action cross-hatching at the drop of a hat, and the animators retain as much detail as they can, be it Harima's impressive musculature or the attractive uniforms worn by the female cast, a strategy that pays off handsomely during sight gags. The animation itself isn't terribly fluid, and the limited budget is apparent in the copious use of shaking stills and speed-blurring during these five episodes' few action scenes, but the sheer energy and impeccable comic timing of the editing more than compensate. Male characters range from the disconcertingly cartoony Karasuma to disconcertingly realistic angry-Harima, while the female characters are all firmly situated in the "attractive" camp, with angular faces, liquid animal eyes in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors, and a range of distinctive hairstyles.
For a comedy, the series' soundtrack is surprisingly subdued. Director Shinji Takamatsu depends far more on the timing of dialogue and perfectly deployed silences than on musical cues for both humor and drama. The music used covers the series' range of moods (melancholy, frenetic action, silliness and simple relaxation) with ease, features the occasional tastefully utilized insert song, and is bookended by get-up-and-boogie opening and closing themes.
Funimation's English "reversioning" is unusually subdued for an energetic comedy. There is surprisingly little variance between the subtitle and dub scripts (though a little pepped-up phrasing here and there produces a few extra smiles, and wordplay takes its inevitable toll of fidelity), and the performances are even more low-key than the original Japanese. The series is cast with fidelity in mind, so much so that many characters are eerie doppelgangers of their Japanese counterparts (Akira), and the actors handle the more serious passages fine. The dub misses the delicate timing of some jokes by just enough beats to dampen their comedic effect, but is otherwise a solid interpretation that provides a viable alternative for dub fans.
This Harima-heavy volume has the temerity to dip its toe into the turbulent waters of drama and the foresight to temper it with the same tremendously entertaining humor as before. As a sign of things to come, it's an indication that frivolity isn't the only thing on School Rumble's mind, and a first sign of the shaggy underdog panache with which it can balance big laughs and understated emotions. And as a stand-alone volume, it's just a big ol' goofy good time.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ A hilarious yet sympathetic look at boneheads in love.
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