School Rumble was originally aired in Japan on October 5, 2004 and lasted for 26 episodes finishing on March 29, 2005. It would have a short OVA release in December 2005 before a second season aired in April 2006, and the final OVA released in 2008 (which hasn’t been licenced). It is based on the original manga by Jin Kobayashi that ran between 2002 and 2008. Funimation originally licensed it in 2007 and released it initially in single DVDs before the second season (dubbed 2nd Semester) was released in half box sets. The series also spawned a few video games, some concert performances and a pseudo-sequel known as School Rumble Z. For the purposes of this look back, I will be focusing primarily on the first season with mentions of the sequel. As you can expect, there are spoilers if you haven’t seen this show.
Looking back at School Rumble, I am surprised at how many shows I can now recognise take a similar format of short scenes that segue together rather than focusing on a single story the whole episode. Whilst a show like Azumanga Daioh happened before, to this day a show like Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun follows this type of formula. Out of the three shows from ten years ago that I’ve looked back on though, this one definitely shows its age the worst. Whilst Maria-sama ga Miteru and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha could still hold their own in today’s market, School Rumble could easily get lost in the shuffle—as whilst it is still very humorous, there are a lot of obvious flaws you can see nowadays especially with hindsight in play.
The ‘plot’, as it were, is basically your classic school romance/comedy/slapstick. The initial focus is on our heroine Tenma Tsukamoto, a rather ditzy young girl, who, to quote herself, has no real special talents…bar being pretty much not very good at most things. However, she is a cute girl in love…with the resident weirdo, Karasuma. And considering the weird cast this show has, Karasuma is top dog in the weirdo stakes. However, he isn’t the primary male character—that honour belongs to Harima Kenji, a badass biker with a notorious reputation who for some reason is actually in love with Tenma and wants to change. His introduction—driving a bike into school…before realising he was held back a grade (and then practically begging the teachers to get ahead and be in Tenma’s class) just cements that despite his intro this guy is going to bring a lot of the comedy.
Indeed, when you get a high speed bicycle chase (yes, you read that right) and Matrix-style arrow dodging (again, you read that right) you know this series is going to be a tad silly. And in a lot of areas it works—it even does add a bit of drama in at times (why Harima fell for Tenma is interesting, because it does tie into stuff later in the manga) and when Harima actually does become friends with Tenma, his jealousy to anyone who likes Tenma is both annoying and hilarious to watch.
The problem is two-fold though. Whilst Harima is a great lead and no questions asked, the funniest character in the show, a lot of the humour is quite repetitive. It usually revolves around Harima misunderstanding something, and then somehow reworking the misunderstanding to the fact that Tenma likes him (even when she actually says in one episode ‘Harima, you jerk!’ to one of her friends, he later does warp that into the fact that she is apologising to him!). Now fortunately a lot of the repetition is more in the 2nd season but there is a lot here as well.
The second problem is Tenma…is not an interesting lead. This is mainly because her friends and sister are far more likeable, interesting, and entertaining. She is in fact quite annoying at times, and I think the mangaka and the show actually realise this about halfway through, and focus more on two of the more popular characters, Eri and Yakumo (more on them in a bit), as potential love interests for Harima…but again, despite this, they still put him head over heels for Tenma. Now granted, this is an admirable quality that Harima is purely only Tenma-sexual, but for the viewers, the fact that two much more likeable and attractive girls are put together as a much more interesting relationship for Harima (and the viewer) does make your head grind a bit. And 10 years later, I even found myself changing my opinions on quite a few of the other characters.
As the episodes grow, we get a lot of traditional episodes, and more characters are introduced and used. We get some beach episodes (where the four main girls pair off with Harima, the rival Hanai, the playboy Imadori, and the boring guy Nara who apparently was going to be the lead originally…), some festival episodes (which explores the friendship between Eri and Mikoto, which also is the first potential spot where Eri may like Harima occurs, which causes some genuine friction between the girls), and episodes where Harima actually develops a bit as a character as he becomes a mangaka, with Tenma’s sister Yakumo being his assistant, and perhaps his first true friend as well. (Strangely though he does mention it a few times, he doesn’t use his relationship with Yakumo as a way to try and get in with Tenma…though Yakumo also causes friction unintentionally as Tenma thinks they are a couple, causing some cold air with Eri…) The characters do link with each other in a lot of ways.
It does bring a lot of characters to the plate, and a lot of annoyances. Hanai, for example, got worse for me when I rewatched it with his repetition of going after Yakumo, because unlike Harima, he got no real development apart from a few moments with Mikoto. Imadori is your typical jerk playboy who lovable side character Ichijou likes but he fears her (and you do ask what the hell she sees in him). Basically bar maybe one male (Asou, who develops more in the second season) most of the male characters, bar Harima, are very one-dimensional and dull/uninteresting.
The females fair way better, but rewatching it showcases how my thoughts on the show have changed. My favourite character when watching it first was Eri—she was the princess of the group, very snarky, the rich girl in love with the thug, etc. She provided a lot of key moments in the relationships, but when rewatching it, I realised she was actually quite selfish a lot, and her quirks actually made her not that sympathetic to her initial plight (father always away at work). This causes friction with Mikoto and Yakumo for example, which in Yakumo’s case does continue a bit into the second season. Yakumo herself also was a favourite of mine, she was the perfect housewife girl, who could be very badass when she needed to, and the relationship between her and Harima was genuinely heart-warming because of their love of animals. However, again, rewatching makes me see her as too perfect, and whilst she is far better than Tenma, she can be seen as a bit boring in contrast to a lot of the characters.
Fortunately, School Rumble has a ton of characters, and quite a lot of them supply the perfect humour and support. We have Mikoto, Hanai’s childhood friend martial arts expert, who I liked far more than I remembered when I first watched it because she was always smiling, helping out but with a touch of steel. Speaking of steel, there is that gorgeous figure, Akira, a real wildcard of a character who is the other girl of the four, and completely different from the rest—unlike poor Karasuma who is a wildcard and that is it, she adds a real flavour to the group and something unique in their discussions. The side cast of ladies also fairs a lot better: the aforementioned Ichijou, despite liking one of the most annoying characters, is really a sweet little badass (shown as being stronger than both Harima and Hanai) in the wrestling club (made more fun when Mexican girl Lala debuts and becomes her rival); Yakumo’s best friend Sarah is an absolute sweetheart who is helpful but cheeky and likes to embarrass her sempai when she gets the chance; and Itoko, the main teacher we see and Harima’s cousin, is a gorgeous no nonsense sensei who knows Harima’s buttons and how to make him tick, usually in his humiliation.
The humour and a bit of the development are actually pretty strong. There is one moment near the end of the series where Harima finally actually decides not to be a dunce when he tricks Tenma to buying Karasuma a poor present, but feels bad and changes his mind and gets something else. Some of the mini arcs are really strange (Harima, after being rejected as he thinks, goes out to sea to become a fisherman…where the giant captain turns out to be a manga author as well…O.K….) but some really cheer him on (when Eri shaves him bald…long story…and he is the anchor in a relay race against a fellow class—this also brings the Eri/Harima relationship into the spotlight) and you do want to root for Harima despite his idiocies. (Seriously, posing naked in a room when anyone can see you, THEN instead of explaining to the half naked girl entering, you practically gag her from behind, and are just fortunate enough the next person who sees the situation is Akira…)
The show does also have a decent dub behind it: this was the first time I heard Leah Clark in something that wasn’t soft as Eri, Luci Christian as Tenma is near perfect, and Brandon Potter as Harima in his debut was surprisingly good. There are niggles but overall it is still good. The problem is that 10 years later the show doesn’t seem that unique and/or special. There are a lot of fun moments, but the fact it takes awhile for the truly fun characters to get involved, combined with a lot of repetitive jokes and misunderstandings, and you do have to groan at how a lot of this anime is shown.
I do feel the anime has sadly aged, but considering there are similar shows which have a similar formula to this day, I find it hard to say it would be out of place. It just doesn’t feel as enjoyable as it was back then sadly—though there are a lot of laughs, the characters on the whole aren’t as memorable as they were, with some of the leads and side characters being downright annoying and forgettable. But occasionally, there are some great moments with some fun characters, with good comedy and some surprisingly touching moments and even dramatic ones in a comedy, so I can’t say I don’t like this series nowadays, and glad I slapped it back in the DVD player. Not as good as I remember, but still gives me a smile.