The Misfits Have Their Day in "Cromartie High School"
“Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?”
– Queen “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Cromartie High School. A harsh place filled with delinquents, punks, brutes and other riff-raff. A school so rough and tumble that if you drop your pencil on the floor someone will pick it up and eat it. A school so surreal its attendees include a 400-pound gorilla, a tin can robot named Mechazawa and a student known only as Freddie (because of a startling resemblance to a certain lead singer involved with the above lyric). The short of it: take Azumanga Daioh, replace all the cute schoolgirls with no-good high-school punks, and top it off with a bit of Williams Street-esque bizarre comedy and you’ve got one of the funniest anime titles of the year, Cromartie High School.
We’re introduced to this world through the eyes of a new student, Takeshi Kamiyama. Though up until now Takeshi was largely a good kid, since he’s entering one of the roughest high schools in all of Japan he’s determined not only to transform himself into a delinquent punk like everyone else, but also to change Cromartie for the better. However, first he’s got to prove himself the toughest guy in the class, though he finds the typical methods, fisticuffs and hair bleach (which just makes him look like an idiot) strangely ineffective. Later in the disc he takes on the entire school, but this proves easier said than done, at least if Freddie, Mechazawa and the 400-pound gorilla have anything to say about it. Add to that rival schools fighting over turf (and over jokes to use for radio shows), and life isn’t going to be easy for young Kamiyama. However, it will be freaking hilarious, as these may be some of the strangest, stupidest thugs ever.
As I mentioned, the show has a very Azumanga-esque pace. Short segments with a common theme are tied together into twelve minute episodes, and the pace is occasionally a little slow and almost taunting as it builds up to a punch line, not unlike some of the Adult Swim originals. Just swap out the female-only cast of Azumanga for a male-only cast of shockingly and superbly stupid thugs, and you’ve got the basic gist of Cromartie. A variety of almost random asides, references and assaults on the fourth wall augment that humor. For example, Kamiyama’s opening narration for the second episode of the series addresses how people whine about changes in character design and voice casting in anime adapted from manga and eventually ends with Kamiyama morphing into Piyoko from Digi Charat and even adopting her signature appellation of “pyon” to the end of every sentence. Basically, it’s off-the-wall comedy with a heavy of dash of surrealism.
Cromartie‘s no slouch from a technical aspect either. Admittedly, the animation is a little weak given what Production IG is capable of, but for a late night anime it’s quite solid and it captures the look of the manga quite well too. The background music is perfect for its purpose. The rocking end themes, the very catchy opening theme and the main pieces of music associated with the show work wonderfully too. Meanwhile, ADV completes the package with a fantastic dub. Everyone sounds great and they deliver lines with timing that really drives the humor home. The writing in the dub is also quite good, maintaining the essence of the Japanese script while still feeling natural in English. The audio production is also clean and tight (you can even clearly hear a thug vomiting up all of Kamiyama’s pencils in the background, for instance). The video quality is also very crisp and sharp.
Basically, if you like comedic anime, and you’re a teenager (or were one once), you’ll get a kick out of Cromartie. Probably doubly so if you’re a guy. It’s weird, random, referential, but most importantly, funny.