Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
The repercussions of the great sports festival battle are still being felt, though not in any physical sense. That last act of good will on Eri's part has had dire consequences; suddenly the entire student body is convinced that she and Harima are an item, much to Harima's chagrin. Dammit, Tenma's the only girl for him! More convinced than ever that manga is his only remaining means of expressing his love, Harima enlists Yakumo's aid once again with, you guessed it, dire consequences. But real disaster only strikes when Tenma's reaction to the news finally pounds through Harima's thick skull the fact that she sees him as nothing more than a friend. Devastated, Harima—in classic Harima style—sets sail on a tuna boat, fully intending to leave Japan forever (or at least for a year or two). Sailing the high seas, Harima finds not only brutish men beyond even his ken, but also a...mentor?
After spending some time with rumbles of a decidedly more physical nature, School Rumble returns again to the arena of romantic rumbles. It isn't unwelcome—much if not most of the manga's fun is derived from loveable losers muddling through their love lives only to muck it up—but it does sometimes put the manga in real danger of becoming a muddle itself. Not that that matters much in the long run.
After all, it's a wacky comedy first and foremost, and so long as it delivers on that, a lot can be forgiven. The tuna-boat thing is one giant, weird joke—from the freakoid crew members, to the mountainous, steroidal manga-writin' captain and that bizarre "men of the sea" song. Little character gags crop up throughout the volume, the best often trading on Tenma and Harima's utter obliviousness (Harima's "love-vision" returns). And how can you hate a volume that squeezes laughs out of romantic heartbreak without belittling the heartbroken? Harima's typically Harima-esque overreaction to his romantic defeat is hilariously cliché (tuna-boat slavery?), but also understandable, with just the right, light touch of poignancy. Though if anyone hogs this volume's share of poignancy, it's Eri, whose complicated feelings towards Harima lead to some amusingly tense confrontations with Yakumo.
And therein lays the sticking-point. Those complicated feelings of hers are part of a rapidly-expanding web of affections that is beginning to reach Ranma-esque dimensions of complexity—minus all of that gender-bending fun. As if the "Harima loves Tenma who loves Karasuma who loves curry" chains of unrequited love weren't enough, this volume lays on enough romantic misunderstandings (in addition to Harima's usual self-delusions about Tenma's affections) to cloud even the clearest of romantic waters. Harima, though in love with Tenma, is rumored to be involved with Eri, who might actually be interested in him, except that she's convinced he's going with Yakumo, Tenma's sister, and she lets everyone know, begetting new rumors that Yakumo and Harima are an item, rumors that Harima can't deny because... Oh hell. Keeping up with it all is exhausting, especially given how often the romantic complications come to naught. Nevertheless, those same misunderstandings are fertile soil for some killer gags—Itoko's reaction to Harima bringing a girl over is priceless, as is Harima's outrageously misleading conduct—and when they result, during Eri's confrontation with Yakumo, in a moment of actual, honest-to-goodness emotion, you practically have to forgive them.
You can see the polish in Jin Kobayashi's art increasing. His girls are more convincingly cute, his facial expressions more varied and expressive, and his detail-levels higher. He's obviously having fun with the dark-shadowed "manly" look of the tuna-boat chapters, and the extra chapter about a meteor shower ends on a note of surprising visual beauty. Unfortunately, the more complicated nature of the stories of late hasn't been kind to his short 10-page chapter structure. Often there's a sense that Kobayashi is cramming too much information into too little space. His comic timing is still good, with punch-lines cannily located on the flip side of pages, but too often he will pack too many events onto a page by subdividing it into postage-stamp panels, resulting in sequences that just aren't terribly fun to look at. The very occasional one- or two-page spread, such as Harima getting shot by Tenma or Yakumo marveling at a sky-full of shooting stars, only make their scarcity felt all the more. And those intrusive side-bar commentaries still rankle.
Included after the volume's main content are two short tales—the meteor shower, and another about Ichijo and Lala working at a hamburger shop—a handful of "Short Rumbles" about various aspects of life in the Rumble world, and a next-volume preview that promises tons of violence. The translator's notes are unusually thorough (including a helpful reassurance that Armageddon during our lifetimes will most certainly not come at the hands of the Swift-Tuttle comet). At least once the translators put the wrong dialogue in the wrong bubble, but otherwise Del Rey's production is perfectly solid.
At the end of the volume, there's the standard thanks to the audience for "somehow" making School Rumble popular. There's really no "somehow" about it. Sure the manga has its issues, and yes the fact that it's a buttload of fun certainly factors in, but ultimately the fact that you can use the adjective Harima-esque and expect readers to understand, or that we care about the effect that all those misunderstandings have on Eri's feelings, are the true indicators of the manga's quality. By now the School Rumble folks have become friends of our own after a fashion, and that's what keeps us coming back, exhausting romantic complications and endless misunderstandings be damned.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B-
+ Romantic complications rearrange affections in interesting ways and, naturally, offer ample opportunity for silliness.