Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Romantic misunderstandings continue as loopy Tsukamoto Tenma and bull-headed Harima Kenji take part in various summer activities. Harima overhears a conversation and wonders why he's being called "the worst kind of guy" ... if only he knew that Tenma's seen him chatting with various girls and now thinks he's some kind of predator! It all comes to a head when the whole gang goes on a camping trip, and Harima must face his feelings for Tenma, while Tenma tries to figure out Harima's deal. Watching on the sidelines, but also failing to grasp the situation, are Tenma's friends Eri and Mikoto, Harima's rival Hanai, and even Tenma's mature little sister Yakumo. But could Harima's true summertime love be the menagerie of exotic animals he's been keeping in secret?
What happens when the wheels of love, already spinning in place, start to collide with each other? The fourth volume of School Rumble has the answers, exploring the inevitable (and highly amusing) trainwreck when everybody jumps to exactly the wrong conclusions. Of course, it's only to be expected when the main characters are the dumbest boy and the dumbest girl in school. The supporting cast also plays a big part in this comedy of errors, and surely it takes some kind of mad genius to keep all the relationships afloat—especially when sorting the "true feelings" from the "misinterpreted feelings." Fortunately, Jin Kobayashi is up to the job, and if you can make your way through these busy pages, a zany and complex world of high school romance awaits.
Even before this volume begins, Kobayashi himself admits that the series has become an unwieldy tangle of characters—the opening "shôjo manga style" summary and diagram is the first of many silly moments to come. The first few chapters may not seem like much, but once they hit the punchline featuring Harima in an unlikely profession, it's clear that we're back in full-on School Rumble mode. In fact, just about any scene involving Harima is a guaranteed winner, and with rival Hanai thrown into the mix, even the act of moving furniture can become a high-stakes battle. (Only to be won by a girl from the wrestling team.)
However, it's the combination of Harima and Tenma that provides maximum comedy, and the camping storyline in the middle chapters brings them together for the best laughs in this book. Not only is Harima mistaken for putting the moves on Tenma's sister, but he also gets into a "locked room" situation that surpasses its formulaic bounds thanks to the addition of ... eavesdroppers! If this is truly a comedy of misunderstanding, then nothing says it like people listening in on a conversation and getting the wrong idea. The embarrassing conclusion to the scene just makes it all the funnier.
At this point in the storyline, though, one might be surprised to see just how much of it doesn't involve crazy high school comedy. Some chapters feel like filler material, with romantic subplots that go nowhere—did we really need to hear about Mikoto's bittersweet first love and its present-day aftermath? Fortunately, the side stories with Yakumo at the end of the volume go back into pure insanity, with a dead-on parody of mob movies and an absurd yet touching storyline about Harima and his exotic animal collection (including a giraffe, a lion, an elephant, and more).
Kobayashi's busy artwork is like a reflection of the School Rumble storyline itself—numerous panels crammed onto a page, just like the numerous characters crammed into the plot. Despite the crowded appearance, however, the layouts read smoothly and still make room when needed for high-tension action scenes. In fact, the action scenes provide the visual highlights of the series, like Mikoto chasing Eri halfway across town, Harima's hand-to-hand battle with Hanai ("You ruined my manga pages!"), and Akira's blood-and-bullets mobster caper. With so much going on, there's not much space for backgrounds, but occasional splashes of detail help set the tone, like Harima and Tenma's hideout during the camping trip and the expertly drawn animals that make up Harima's menagerie. As always, memorable character designs—sunglasses and facial hair; antenna-like pigtails—help to tell people apart, although the second-tier girls still look too much alike with their short black hairstyles.
Dialogue is a big part of this series, with some pages looking like almost every blank space has been filled with text. As such, it takes an iron-horse translator to handle the script, and William Flanagan is certainly thorough enough—his nine pages of cultural notes in the back even go so far as to explain certain puns in the original Japanese and how they come out in English. Unfortunately, some of them don't convert well at all and Flanagan's attempts at wordplay make poor substitutes. His grasp of the fundamentals, however, is strong enough that even the most roundabout he-likes-she-likes discussion makes sense. As always, the nuances of Japanese language are left intact—name order, honorifics, and sound effects—and explained as needed. Sharp print quality and solid binding also make for a bookshelf-worthy product.
After the smoke has cleared and the madness has died down, this volume of School Rumble leaves us with the lasting reminder that love truly is a battlefield. Not only that, but miscommunication is going to get you killed. The crossed signals and mixed messages make this a fun ride, although the focus on keeping every character involved and romantically connected dampens out the comedic energy. This is one romantic comedy that would probably benefit from less romance, more comedy—thank goodness for the Yakumo side stories, reminding us just how wild the world of School Rumble can be. For the dumbest boy and dumbest girl in school, happenstance will bring them together, but stupidity will forever keep them apart. Just the way we like it.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B
+ Manages to keep the many characters afloat with comical misunderstandings and silly situations.