Anime Review: ‘School Rumble’

Comedy is a difficult genre. First of all, it’s very subjective. Not everyone thinks the same things are funny, much less when trying to bring comedy from one culture to another. Cultural references, mannerisms, traditions and social meaning can all be lost, not to mention visual idioms, plays on words and puns. It’s all these difficulties and more that “School Rumble” admirably takes on, with varying degrees of success.

The manga series the show is based on has been out for some time in the U.S., and it has a much easier time thanks to a healthy appendix of translator’s notes and explanations. If explaining a joke ruins it, it’s still better than not understanding it at all. The manga also lets readers absorb the gags and their meaning at an individual pace, with more material overall compared to the anime.

The anime stays faithful to the manga, though, with energetic Tenma Tsukamoto trying to get the attention of quiet Oji Karasuma, and delinquent Kenji Harima trying to win over Tenma. Neither of them have the courage to straightforwardly express their feelings, so much of the show is their comical attempts to make the other person fall in love with them without having to express their emotions first. Other unrequited crushes get thrown into the mix as the series continues, creating a complex web of one-way relationships and misunderstandings.

Although much of the cultural comedy might be lost, the overall hijinks can still be appreciated for what they are, and the energy of the characters keeps things interesting. One problem with the presentation is that heavy amounts of text important to the story often appear onscreen without any translation. It turns out that having it on English audio isn’t a big enough hint that you can’t read Japanese; subtitles for all the dialog has to be turned on to see what the text is saying. It’s a poor design oversight for those who want to hear it in English without having subtitles everywhere.

As is often the case with any book-to-film adaptation, the anime of “School Rumble” doesn’t quite live up to its manga counterpart. But as is also the case, those who’ve read the manga and know what’s going on will still be happy with what they get. It’s those who haven’t read it who might occasionally be confused by the culture gap.