By Jin Kobayashi. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Weekly Shonen Magazine. Released in North America originally by Del Rey, now released digitally by JManga.
Way back ages ago, I reviewed Del Rey’s omnibus release of Vols. 14 through 16, and noted it left off on a nasty cliffhanger. And there it sits, as Del Rey became Kodansha and Kodansha decided its sales were not sufficient to release more. But now JManga is picking up some of Del Rey’s old abandoned series, and have put all the prior Del Rey volumes up on their site, with more apparently to come. With that in mind, I decided to go back and review Volume 1, and see just how different things were back at the start.
Well, for one, that huge cast is not quite so huge. School Rumble starts off as being very much a two-hander, with the point of view switching back and forth. Our heroine, Tenma Tsukamoto, has a hopeless crush on stoic weirdo Karasuma, but is unfortunately hopeless at romance… and studies… and athletics… and pretty much life. Well, except for cosplaying. She is, however, a happy girl with lots of spirit. Contrasting this is our hero, Kenji Harima, a former biker who is trying to turn over a new leaf, mostly as he’s fallen head over heels for Tenma. Harima is strong and good at athletics, but otherwise is in the same boat as Tenma – he’s not all that bright, and his attempts to woo her are laughable. Add wacky situations and stir.
The comedy is all important here, as it would be through most of the early days of this series. The chapters have a lowered page count compared to most Shonen Magazine series (about 9-12, as opposed to 16-18), a sure sign that the editors consider it one of the funny manga rather than a romantic harem manga. There isn’t even a harem yet, really. Just a love triangle. Harima loves Tenma, Tenma loves Karasuma, and Karasuma… we have no idea what he thinks. This is also an unusual series in that it ran simultaneously in two magazines. The main Tenma and Harima plot ran weekly in Shonen Magazine, while the chapters at the end dealing with ‘side characters’ (the ones with a flat note as opposed to a sharp) ran in the monthly Magazine Special. In this volume they’re focused on Yakumo, Tenma’s younger yet more mature sister.
Ah yes, Yakumo. As I said earlier, there’s a large cast coming, and we see glimmers of it here. Tenma, for all that she is lovable and hyperactive, is pretty much exactly what she seems. Yakumo has a lot more to give us. She’s also a great cook, and pretty, and athletic – her perfection is noted by the boys at her school. When otaku who should know better talk about ‘waifu’ type characters, nine times out of ten they mean someone like Yakumo. Her one fault is her seeming obliviousness to guys. And I say ‘seeming’ because we know something about Yakumo that they don’t – she can read minds of anyone who likes her! (School Rumble has occasional fantasy content – Tenma is telekinetic once – but except for Yakumo, it’s always for the sake of a gag.) And given the typical minds of teenage boys, this has likely served to make her even more shy and retiring than she already is.
As for the other main characters, we do meet Eri, Mikoto, Akira, and (briefly) Hanai, but for the most part they look like they’re just going to be generic best-friend type classmates. Eri is stuck-up, Mikoto is tomboyish, Akira is deadpan. They haven’t been brought into the story, mostly as the story i still just about Tenma and Harima. But as their attempts to confess their love explode outwards, others will be drawn into the web. Especially Eri.
For a first volume, this is big, dumb goofy fun. Both leads are histrionic and over the top, and there’s lots of silly here, with an understanding that no one is going to be confessing their love anytime soon. What’s more, Tenma is still the focus of almost every chapter. As the series goes on, and as the popularity polls start to come out, this will begin to change…