Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Mar 7th 2008
Tenma and Harima's world is one of fantastic misunderstandings. First off, Tenma's misunderstanding of Harima's affections sparks a short feud between her best buds Eri and Mikoto. Then she and Harima square off in a competition for biggest misunderstanding of all time when they partner up for a midnight camping test of courage, Tenma because she suspects Harima of trying to three-time(?) her sister Yakumo and Harima because (naturally) he thinks Tenma is head-over-heels in love with him. Later Harima tries to save his animal pals from being captured by a misinformed reporter and grows a beard, and Imadori and Ichijo embark on a deeply weird date. Is love blooming between the world's shallowest man and the world's strongest girl? Of course it isn't. Requited love just isn't funny.
School Rumble has always been a little more scattershot when shooting for straight seriousness than when firing gags from the hip. When waxing serious, it does better with stretches of quiet melancholy a la the Yakumo interludes or with adding little emotional edges to the omnipresent humor rather than with big emotional fireworks. This fourth volume's first episode—in which Eri and Mikoto have a big spat and look back on their friendship—for example, comes several times to within a hair of being unbecomingly maudlin. That it never quite makes it is a testament to the series' good sense however, lightening things at crucial moments with some comic relief, sneaking in stretches of lonely introspection, and even pulling off a few sharp little emotional punches. But it still comes awfully close, especially during the flashback to Mikoto's budding romance.
And then the series is back to business as usual, capitalizing on Tenma and Harima's bricks-for-brains intellects for more highly amusing misunderstandings during the Tea Club camping trip, sticking Harima into situations that manage to sour his relationship with Eri (and Tenma) even further, and devoting an entire episode to the disposal of Harima's hilarious Noah's-Ark menagerie of bestial buddies. Ichijo and Imadori's date also spotlights another of the series' recurrent sources of amusement in that it makes plain the fact that everyone is always falling for the absolutely worst possible person. It's hard to imagine a more disastrously mismatched couple than Ichijo and Imadori—Imadori leaves their date convinced that Ichijo's an alien—with the possible exception of Tenma and Karasuma (or Hanai and Yakumo or just about any other possible pairing in the series). Despite that, it's hard not to cheer them on, such a likeable bunch they are. Harima, with his big muscles and fragile little heart, makes a decidedly sympathetic lead, far removed from the interchangeable loser jellyfish that usually populate shounen romances. The rest of the cast, even shallow Imadori, aren't far behind, with the exception of Tenma whose emotional indestructibility and sometimes abrasively hyperactive mannerisms can make her rather difficult to empathize with.
The anime production continues to emphasize energy over animation quality, with plenty of quick-cutting action and lapses into super-deformity to distract from animation that's quite fond of frequent short-cuts and merely average in its fluidity and movement. The art also helps to distract with its consistently good-looking cast, bright yet pleasant colors, and varied artistic styles (Harima's dual nature as spaghetti-limbed goof and freakish muscle-bound shounen-fighting hero is an endless source of mirth). The animation staff knows how to milk facial expressions and body language for gallons of laughs and the occasional bitter drop of drama, while the series' quieter moments are appropriately spare and given plenty of time and space to breathe. The result is a production that looks and feels right, even with its obvious limitations. This volume's prize for unexpected eye-candy goes to episode fifteen's surprisingly spectacular fireworks display, while Akira's Lara-Croft-ish adventure abroad and a pitch-perfect sentai parody are among some of the most hilariously out-of-place examples of 3D CG ever to grace an anime. The score, even with its insert songs, remains simple, reasonably unobtrusive and quite enjoyable. The pure silly energy of the opening and ending themes remains undiminished by the constant repetition.
Funimation's English version is blessed with an appropriately funny script, extremely faithful performances, and comic timing that continues to improve as the actors get comfortable with their roles. Brandon Potter grows on you, as Harima should, his balance of goof and menace just about perfect. The script frequently wanders away from strict translation, but rarely changes the meaning of a given line or scene outright, and often adds pep and life to dialogue that might otherwise have been flat or boring. In fact, the dub's one major flaw is actually in being too faithful: Tenma is just as maniacally upbeat in English as she is in Japanese.
As before (and before, and before) this volume's main extra (besides those amusingly cheap refrigerator magnet pack-ins) is a pair of interviews, this time with Yuu Asakawa (Itoko) and Yuuka Nanri (Ichijo). Of the two Yuu Asakawa definitely comes off better.
While laughs of every stripe are still plentiful, School Rumble is definitely turning its hand to slightly more serious material. With everyone so stubbornly fixated on unattainable one-sided loves that they ignore all possibilities around them (despite the fact that, in most cases, those other possibilities are infinitely preferable to their own ill-advised romantic choices), heartbreak seems inevitable, and if the series makes the occasional dramatic misstep, they're easily forgiven blemishes in a comedy that, while silly, is neither stupid nor shallow.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Great fun, a little more emotional depth, and two of the greatest animation non-sequiturs you're likely to see anytime soon.
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