Welcome to the Jungle.
The world of anime streaming is a battle without honor or humanity, where only the strongest and toughest survive. Well, not really, but sometimes its difficult to tell at a glance whether you'll enjoy an unknown title. Let “Cruising the Crunchy-Catalog” be your mentor in this hard-knock world. Each week we provide additional info and cultural context to help anime fans decide what they want to watch, because we're bad to the bone, baby.
What's Cromartie High School?
Cromartie High School is a 2003 – 2004 TV anime with direction by Hiroaki Sakurai and animation by Production I.G. The series is based off of the Sakigake!! Cromartie Kōkō manga by Eiji Nonaka, which was serialized from 2001 – 2006 in Kodansha's Weekly Shōnen Magazine. Crunchyroll describes the series as follows:
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? The only thing for certain is that for Kamiyama, Cromartie High School is his reality. And what a surreal reality it is. Because this is where the toughest, meanest (and, often dumbest) students are sent to do time. At Cromartie, purple-mohawked bruisers and pencil-chomping street thugs are just part of every day life. And so is a 400-pound gorilla.
On the surface, Cromartie High School is a spoof of the hard-boiled, “school delinquent” manga that reached peak popularity in the Seventies and Eighties, but the comedy of the show drills much, much deeper than simply parodying the conventions of that subgenre.
Of Baseball, Rock Music, and Other References.
Cromartie High School is absolutely littered with pop culture references. All of the delinquent-filled high schools (Cromartie, Destrade, Manuel, etc.) are named after foreign baseball players who spent time in Japan, for example, and there are constant visual and narrative allusions to rock musicians such as Queen, David Bowie, and KISS, just to name a few.
Some of the references cut even deeper. The manga's original title is a nod to Sakigake! Otokojuku, a gag / action manga about students who fight constantly. Freddie's horse is a Fist of the North Star reference. Even having progressive rock band Bi Kyo Ran perform the ending theme and insert music for the show feels like an inside joke.
“What a Sober Voice...”
One reason the comedy in Cromartie High School works is because the show features talented voice actors at the top of their game. Takahiro Sakurai voices the main character / goody-two-shoes, Takashi Kamiyama, while Tetsu Inada voices the inadvertent straight man / perpetually kidnapped delinquent Akira Maeda. Norio Wakamoto is gloriously unchained as ordinary student / occasional motorcycle Shinichi Mechazawa. The show even features one of the most prolific and respected female voice actors in anime history, Megumi Hayashibara, in an entirely non-verbal role as Maeda's mom.
Manzai and Beyond.
In Japan, manzai is a style of stand up comedy usually performed with two people: a tsukommi (“straight man”) and a boke (“buffoon”). Cromartie High School capitalizes on this form, but in any scene, a given character can end up being a tsukommi or a boke, or sometimes even both in quick succession, for the sake of a joke.
Manzai isn't the only comedic style in Cromartie High School's repertoire. The show averages at least one sight gag per animation cut, ranging from wacky continuity editing "errors" to pure visual absurdity. Incongruity is also a major factor. There are tough-looking characters with a soft spot for classical Japanese architecture like Yutaka Takenouchi, and Shinjiro Hayashida secretly sports a conservative haircut under his purple mohawk because he comes from a family of social elites.
Cromartie High School also explores the nature of comic timing through the character of Noboru Yamaguchi, a gang leader who dreams of being a stand-up comedian. Despite its outlandish style, some of the best gags in the show deal with ordinary situations, such as coping with boredom during class, forgetting someone's name, or dealing with the awkwardness that results when one's public image and one's true self don't align.
Crunchyroll currently streams Cromartie High School in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the US Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the United States Minor Outlying Islands. The series is available in the original Japanese with English subtitles and also dubbed in English.
Originally released on DVD in North America by ADV Films, Cromartie High School is now published by Discotek Media. An English language version of the original Cromartie High School manga was released by ADV Manga, but this release is now out-of-print. There is also a 2005 live-action film that was released on DVD in North America by Media Blasters under their Tokyo Shock label, but this release is also (you guessed it) out-of-print.
Packing a huge comedic punch into a 13 minute run-time, each episode of Cromartie High School is filled with puns, wordplay, absurdity, slapstick, situational comedy, and more. If you're inclined to take a trip with the baddest kids in town and the series is available in your area, please consider giving Cromartie High School a try.
Is there a series in Crunchyroll's catalog that you think needs some more love and attention? Please send in your suggestions via e-mail to [email protected] or post a Tweet to @gooberzilla. Your pick could inspire the next installment of “Cruising the Crunchy-Catalog”!
Paul Chapman is the host of The Greatest Movie EVER! Podcast and GME! Anime Fun Time.