Cromartie High School vol. 1
Chad Clayton rates it:
Author/Artist: Eiji Nonaka
It’s long been a hunch of mine that, to get released in the US, an anime or manga property generally has to have one or more of the following: a female lead character and/or several female supporting characters, at least one schoolgirl/maid/elf/robot/catgirl/goth/nymphomaniac/other type of nerd-bait character, a handful of effeminate boys, cute animal sidekicks, toy tie-ins, links to existing video games, or enough blood & guts to make Atilla the Hun blush. And indeed, it seems that 90% of the time, my hunch is proven correct; there just isn’t very much being released that doesn’t contain at least one of the above. So imagine my surprise when I came across Cromartie High School, which manages to defy all of the above conventions and still be one of the most entertaining manga currently seeing American release.
Cromartie High School is an episodic manga detailing the daily adventures of the student body of a bottom-of-the-barrel high school populated entirely by one type of person: young, badass street punks. But these are no ordinary street punks, these are the baddest, toughest, meanest street punks around. Contrary to what the setting might imply, however, this manga is not about young thugs fighting over territory and generally being badass. You see, the punks of Cromartie High School are also the dumbest punks around, and every short scenario is about these stupid punks running around doing really stupid and pointless things. Don’t expect any drama or romance out of Cromartie; it’s nothing but wall-to-wall comedy – and brilliant comedy at that.
One of the reasons I found Cromartie High School so enjoyable is that it’s so refreshingly different from almost everything else currently coming out over in North America. The cast is 100% male, and 99% butt-ugly. The characters aren’t incomprehensibly stupid or obnoxiously idiotic, they’re just…comically dumb. Most of them aren’t book-smart, and none of them have any common sense or enough self-awareness to realize when they’re being complete idiots. This comic resists the temptation to try to parody any manga trend or convention; it gleefully steers clear of them altogether and focuses on its own devices.
Of course, simply being different doesn’t make a manga good. Cromartie High School succeeds so well because creator Eiji Nonaka has got comedy down to a science. He builds his jokes up superbly, and times them so well that they seem to jump out from nowhere. He infuses the entire manga with such an air of laid-back whimsy that it doesn’t seem all that farfetched when he introduces a gorilla as a character. The humor even extends to the artwork; there’s something inherently funny about such silly stories being illustrated in a detailed, rough style usually reserved for more hard-boiled subject matter. The real kicker of Cromartie‘s sense of humor, however, is that no matter how stupid or boneheaded the characters’ actions or errors in judgement might be, they actually make sense when you think about them the right way! Cromartie High School may be a stupid comedy, but it’s one of the smartest stupid comedies I’ve ever had the pleasure to read.
Nonaka provides fertile ground for his brand of comedy by creating a whole mess of vivid characters in the early going. While the cast is already getting quite large, all of the key characters are instantly memorable if only for their major comedic quirks. Kamiyama, our protagonist, is an honor student who ended up in Cromartie through a hilarious mishap, but once there, he proves himself just as dumb as anyone else in the school (if not moreso). Other characters include Takenouchi, the class leader who has a terrible case of motion sickness, a gorilla, and a commonsensical robot named Mechazawa. But the real treasure here is “Freddie,” a huge, silent, hairy man who looks like the perfect cross between Freddie Mercury of Queen and Mike Haggar of the Final Fight games. Of course, there’s more to these characters than mere gimmicks. Most of the important characters have distinct personalities of their own, and they interact with each other in ways that are both hilariously ridiculous and oddly convincing.
I’m excited about Cromartie High School. If it can keep up this level of quality, then ADV Manga has picked out a definite winner. It’s so nice to see a manga that has a genuine comedic faculty, rather than an over-reliance on an endless list of gimmicks, recycled gags, random parodies of other titles, and the forced, high-speed delivery of a berserk pitching machine. To see other manga desperately flounder to obtain laughs that never come, you’d think making other people laugh was the hardest thing in the world. Cromartie High School does it effortlessly.
Added: Tuesday, February 22, 2005
Related Link: ADV Manga