Reviewby Carlo Santos, May 31st 2008
School delinquent and occasional manga artist Kenji Harima continues to pine for airhead Tenma Tsukamoto, while Tenma longs for the love of class weirdo Karasuma. Their next venue of affairs is the school sports festival, but things go horribly wrong when Harima is seen with Eri and now everyone thinks he's going out with her! If that isn't bad enough, another misunderstanding leads Eri and friends to think that Harima is actually interested in Tenma's sister Yakumo. To escape the madness, Harima runs off and joins the crew of a fishing boat, but realizes that his true destiny is to finish his manga and declare his love for Tenma. Just one problem ... the manga submission deadline is only a few days away, and Harima will need Yakumo's help to finish his masterpiece. Meanwhile, Karasuma's birthday is coming up, so Tenma's also facing a deadline of her own!
After 26 episodes of runing around in romantic-comedy circles, do you really think that the characters of School Rumble are going to come out in the open with their feelings for each other? Hah! The series has always been about misdirection and absurdity, and the finale is no different, running the gamut from the mundane (school sports) to the insane (space invasions). At the center of it all stand Harima and Tenma, still caught in a web of hidden feelings and wacky confession schemes. The plot doesn't exactly soar to new heights, and the animation quality rarely rises above average, but if there's one thing you can be guaranteed of in this series, it's that it comes packed with misguided love-love silliness all the way to the end.
Unfortunately, the first episode in this block is one of the weaker efforts in the series, a run-of-the-mill sports festival (and goodness knows we've seen enough of those in every other high school anime). Although it manages to wring a few laughs out of Harima's erratic behavior, the episode focuses more on the other classmates at school, who quite frankly are not as funny as the lead characters. Things pick up in the next episode, however, as the wheels of Harima/Eri/Yakumo confusion start to turn. But the true "rumblyness" of School Rumble doesn't arrive until Episode 24's second half, where Harima heads off to sea. This is the kind of sheer absurdity that the series does better than anything else, while also confirming the fact that the best parts of the series are any time that Harima plays a central role.
The fishing-boat hilarity continues into Episode 25, even going so far as to bring Harima's artistic hobby into it. (Have you ever seen someone pull a drawing pen out of a fish's gut? Well, now you have.) However it's a downhill slide from there, as the series switches back into generic school-romance mode once it returns to dry land: a shopping trip for a birthday present, some preparations for the school culture festival, and Tenma's ongoing attempts to confess to Karasuma. There are some bright spots in the last couple of episodes—a hilarious and adorable train scene with Tenma and Harima, Karasuma's epic guitar pose, and the wild tale of Karasuma's alien origins—but ultimately, the ending is not much of an ending; blame the ongoing manga for that. With the final act relying on a tired old comedy plot device and a predictable punchline, we can only be thankful that things will continue in the second season.
Although the visuals have a clean, vivid look to them, observant fans will notice that the animation tends to take as many shortcuts as possible. It may not necessarily be choppy, but there are plenty of scenes that rely on still frames, slow motion, or reduced movements. That might be passable in a close-up dialogue scene, but in crowd scenes where no one in the crowd is moving ... that stuff gets pretty obvious. At least some of those individual still frames look pretty decent—Harima's exaggerated facial expressions are always good for a laugh, especially when it goes into sharp detail and contrast. A handful of scenes do show increased artistic effort, most notably in unusual situations: the seagoing action aboard the fishing boat, Harima and Tenma's surreal train ride, and the Karasuma-is-an-alien revelation. It's a shame, then, that this effort can't be applied to the other 90% of the show where simply copying out the characters and pasting them into the scenery qualifies as "good enough."
The music, too, seems to be a half-hearted effort, as much of the soundtrack boils down to various keyboard-generated pop instrumentals. A couple of melodic ballads do sneak in for the more romantic scenes, but this is still a comedy first and foremost, and maybe that's why the better musical efforts are the humorous ones: a couple of insert songs that add to the absurdity of certain scenes, and the bouncy opening and ending songs. The last episode also features a new ending, the appropriately titled (and appropriately energetic) "School Rumble Forever."
Energy is also a key point of the vocal performances, which often involves rapid-fire exclamations of shock, determination, embarrassment, and more. The cast of the English dub covers all these emotions just fine, with the acting being a bit more outspoken and campy than on the Japanese track. The script, meanwhile, takes its fair share of liberties from the direct translation, so watching the dubbed or subtitled version can be significantly different experiences. Also included on the disc are a couple of interviews with the Japanese voice actors for Harima and Karasuma, as well as textless credit sequences. The packaging also comes with a reversible DVD cover featuring the original cover art used in Japan, and for trinket lovers, a set of fridge magnets showing the series' female characters in swimsuits.
Although this disc technically marks the end of School Rumble, it's really more of a pause, seeing as how the last few episodes simply ride along with the plot rather than try to reach a dramatic finish. Along the way, some great comedy moments pop up, most notably Harima's stint on a fishing boat and Karasuma's galactic revelation, but there are also many long stretches of generic school-romance fodder. Factor in the so-so visual quality and it feels like the series finale didn't really try that hard. The silly situations are there, and so are the silly characters, but don't expect this to be a masterpiece finish. Just expect it to be the same thing that School Rumble's always been.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : B-
Animation : C-
Art : B-
Music : C
+ Comedy elements shine when the storyline or the characters become completely absurd or exaggerated.
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