Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jun 7th 2008
The school cultural festival is coming up, and Class 2-C has decided that there's only one way to decide on their class activity: a BB-gun deathmatch where the last person standing gets the final vote! In the end, it's up to rivals Haruki Hanai and Kenji Harima to determine whether the class puts on a play or runs a café. Once that's decided, they actually have to prepare for the event—which means lots of backbreaking work for the boys, moral support from the girls, and a trip to the public baths just to relax. As the day of the festival arrives, Harima and friends hope to attract plenty of attention, but what will they do when a rival class starts luring away visitors by offering them their wildest fantasies?
All good things must come to an end, and for School Rumble, that means a conclusion to the military survival shootout from last volume. Things quickly settle back into a normal school-comedy pace, but this is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it's comforting to see our favorite characters being their usual wacky selves and getting into more hilarious misunderstandings. On the other hand, these misunderstandings tends to be Jin Kobayashi's fall-back when he runs out of clever ideas, and it's already been done plenty of times in the story. Is there anything in particular that makes the school festival arc more special than the rest?
Short answer: No. Although Volume 9 starts off strong—the showdown between Hanai and Harima is over-the-top gunslinging action at its finest—the series quicky dials back down into generic school-life territory. After all, it's not a high school manga without at least one cultural festival episode. The preparation stages contain some decent comedy moments: hilariously bad pitches for the class play, the awkwardness of asking Harima who he likes, and the world's worst rice balls as prepared by Eri and Tenma. Unfortunately, one also runs into lots of scenes and long stretches of dialogue that are almost funny but never quite get there: what's the big deal with Miko and Hanai's friendship? Why must there be so much chatter about who Yakumo likes or doesn't like? And most importantly, how could they do a bathhouse scene and not get any decent fanservice gags out of it?
As the actual school festival approaches, things get more entertaining, but still suffer from that trade-off between comedy gold and school-life filler. For example, secondary characters like Nara and Imadori try to get in on the action, but their personalities just aren't as well-defined (and therefore not as funny) as the main cast. In fact, trying to cover every single character—or trying to show the activities of the whole class—makes the story and the humor lose focus. To see what does make a comedy situation work, look for the chapter where Yakumo and Harima end up in a "manga-ka café" scenario—here we have familiar characters doing something that really defines them, and most importantly, is cute and funny. Meanwhile, the side-story chapters at the end get away with more absurd situations: a military flashback with Eri's butler, for example, or a literal vampire who accidentally gets involved with a class's haunted house exhibit.
As the series drops back into school-life mode, the artwork also reflects this change: gone are the dramatic shadows and angles of the survival shootout arc, and instead things go back to plain classroom backgrounds and lots of dialogue scenes. Expect small, restricted rectangular panels and plenty of talking heads as always, but at least the text isn't as overbearing as it has been in the past. Spacing out the dialogue and adding the occasional silent panel clearly helps. But despite the more readable layouts, there's still confusion to be found among the character designs, 80% of which seem to consist of black-haired girls. Good luck figuring out the minor characters ...
For those who miss those over-the-top action scenes, though, there are still some to be found in the first couple of chapters as Hanai and Harima finish their shootout. With dynamic speedlines, intense shadows, and some insane gunslinging moves, it seems that Jin Kobayashi really wants to work on an action series for his next title.
The current School Rumble may not rely on puns as much as it used to, but there are still plenty of cultural points to be explained here. Thankfully, the glossary in this volume does a thorough job, pointing out parodies and references to Japanese pop culture that one might miss. (Admittedly, having to explain the joke makes it less funny, but at least now you'll know the reason why.) The dialogue is also a major translation challenge, mostly because of the sheer quantity; perhaps that's why it feels rather dry at times and the characters often lack distinct personalities or speaking styles.
As School Rumble returns to normal school life, certain things remain the same: the series still strives for comedy through absurdity and romantic misunderstandings. However, that also makes it near-identical to previous volumes, and certainly far less exciting than the survival shootout scenario. We already know that Harima will never have the guts to confess to Tenma, and that his sort-of-but-not-really relationship with Yakumo is going to go on forever, and that Eri is always going to get exactly the wrong idea ... In other words, the same things that happen all the time, except with a school festival in the background. Some of the laughs are worth it, but it's getting more and more frustrating to see this story going nowhere.
Overall : C
Story : C-
Art : B-
+ Conclusion of the survival shootout is as exciting as they come; school festival provides a framework for some funny gags.
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