What They Say
Poor Kamiyama! Somehow he has been enrolled in Cromartie High School, the infamous school for delinquents. When your classmates are the meanest, toughest (and often dumbest) students around, you do what you can to fit in. But when you add a 400-pound gorilla, a robot with an attitude, and a macho brute that bears a striking resemblance to a world famous celebrity, it makes blending much more difficult. So put on your best tough-guy swagger and get a lesson in insanity from the hilarious losers of Cromartie High!
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo encoded at 224kbps while the English mix gets a 5.1 bump at 448kbps. The original Japanese stereo mix comes across pretty well, particularly for the music side of it which is admittedly not that strong to begin with outside of the opening and closing sequences. The English mix is a surprise in that it gets a 5.1 design to it. The show is really all about the dialogue and it just feels odd that they went to the extra effort with it since it doesn’t really benefit from it. The forward soundstage does sound a bit more robust and full but it’s not one that will really change your opinion of the show.
Originally airing in 2003 and 2004, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. Cromartie High School has a very basic kind of design to it and doesn’t really try to work with any sort of real depth to it for the most part. The series has something of a drab feel to it for the majority of it which is punctuated by bursts of vibrancy, whether it’s things like Hayashida’s hair or some other oddity that pops out of nowhere. There isn’t anything really striking about the look of the show but the transfer does a decent job of capturing the feel of it. With many sections filled with the same color and slow pans across static backgrounds, the bitrates stay relatively low at times but it hits the highs when needed as well. There’s little to have issue with here beyond some basic source issues like gradients that show a bit of blocking in a few scenes. Cromartie won’t stand out on any set but it doesn’t look horrible either when projected on a larger screen.
Cromartie High School was originally released on four DVDs but has been resized down to three for this thinpak collection. The heavy chipboard box for this release is pretty nicely done with a blue rising sun theme for the background which has a variety of characters laid out on top of it. Each panel has a strong focus on Mechazawa while others characters surround him from different angles while the other side is pretty much the same but with a different pose for Mechazawa and different characters. The thinpak cases inside the box retain the original artwork for the first three volumes but without any logos on the front of them which lets the artwork really shine through. It all has a worn feeling, like covers you’d put on your books when you were in school. The back covers are done in the same color as the front covers while adding in a big shot of a few of the characters and several shots from the show. The individual discs production and technical information is included here as well. The layouts are nicely done and utilize the space well while not hitting you over the head with the absurdity of the show. No inserts are included nor are there reversible covers.
The menus across all three volumes are the same when it comes to the basic layout as they use the box design of the blue rising sun rays. On top of that, there’s the logo and individual episode selection as well as a piece of character artwork at an odd angle. Add in some bouncy music and they’re basically decent menus without much that really stands out. With the show being half-length episodes, there’s plenty to choose from. The first volume is the only one with something extra – just trailers and credits at that – so the only real selections are the language options and the individual episodes. Access times are nice and fast and it’s obviously easy to get around in. The discs all correctly read our players’ language presets and played according.
The collections from this time didn’t bring the extras from the singles with them to encourage people to get the singles. This is unfortunate since the original had a bunch of liner notes and a hilarious PS2 game commercial for the property.
Cromartie High School is a twenty-six episode series that’s based on the manga of the same name by Eiji Nonaka. Directed by Hiroaki Sakurai, who hasn’t had a lot of his shows make it here over the years, it was done as twelve-minute episodes that spanned about six months during its original broadcast. The series is a parody of badass juvenile delinquent manga that ran throughout the 70’s and early 80’s, a number of which were made into horribly bad OVAs during the latter part of that period. This is where Cromartie runs into its problem as it’s parodying something that a lot of Western fans haven’t been all that exposed to outside of the parody itself. You find it funny because it’s absurd but you tend to miss a lot of the details as to why it’s absurd.
Outside of one single woman, if you can call her that for the brief moments she’s in the show, Cromartie High School is all about the men. Badass men. Men who will fudgin’ kill ya just because the wind blew the wrong way. Or at least that’s what they say because there’s actually very little violence within the show. There are characters that get beaten up at times or are just held hostage while waiting for a real rumble to happen, but for a school full of badasses there’s very little real badassery going on. In fact, the lack of badassness can be attributed to a new student at the school named Kamiyama. Not realizing that the school was full of such people when he signed up there, he does his best to fit in as soon as it sinks in. Unfortunately, he does his reading up on it at the wrong point and finds himself in the position of being abused. If not for some quick thinking, for him at least, he’s able to stave off impending doom and establish himself as someone who can handle himself.
Within Cromartie High School there are all sorts of strange characters that are strange just for the sake of strange. Kamiyama’s best friend turns out to by Hayashida, a badass with a purple Mohawk that’s actually a wig since he doesn’t want to get into a fight with his parents. Maeda’s the resident pushover as everyone takes advantage of his home and he’s often the one picked on by neighboring Bass High when they want to incite a rumble. One of the bosses in the school is Takenouchi, a heavyset badass who has the unfortunate problem of getting motion sickness easily. There are a few other students that are of a similar nature in that they’re just lackeys and basic badasses. One of the more amusing, if underused for awhile, is Hokuto, a man who transfers into the school so he can take it over using his father’s influence with the school board. The school doesn’t actually have one though and he winds up stuck there through the various awful lies he tells.
The absurd level of the show is nicely taken care of with some of the students in other classes that we’re introduced to early. The most amusing one for me is Mechazawa, a barrel of a robot who has a pint-sized younger brother. Nobody seems to realize that Mechazawa is a robot, not even when he gets rebuilt as a badass motorcycle or his doctor visits involved going to the electronics department. Mechazawa has a lot of the best outlandish moments simply because nobody really seems to realize what he is. In addition to him there’s Freddie, a quiet man who looks land dresses like Freddie Mercury and there’s a gorilla. A gorilla that’s actually a badass sushi cook who has a keen eye for the best deals at the fish market. When this strange cast comes together, along with aliens, rival high schools and Mother Nature herself, it’s all over the map.
The weirdness factor comes from outside of the school as well, though most of the rival schools are pretty tame as they wonder just what’s going on at Cromartie when they see a gorilla there. The more interesting character is Yamaguchi, a boss who moonlights as a postcard artisan that sends in jokes to a nightly radio show. Unbeknownst to him, Kamiyama doe the same under the alias of Honey Boy and the two have a real rivalry going on about it. When Yamaguchi discovers who he is though, he spends a lot of his time trying to figure out how to join forces with him so they can become real big-time professional comedians. Of course, the people Kamiyama hangs around with makes it difficult as does Yamaguchi’s own gang.
The weirdest part of the show is something that even years later I haven’t really gotten a handle on. Within the show, there is a show on TV that’s considered insanely popular called Pootan. It’s basically two men in plushie suits, one pink and one white, who do inane things. Or not as the case may b as sometimes they just sit there and talk, smoke or drink. It’s a parody of kids entertainment on one level but I can’t help but to feel like I’m missing something more from it (hello liner notes!). The Pootan show becomes more of a part of Cromartie when Yamaguchi sees it as something he has to understand in order to be a better comedian and even Freddie ends up taking over the show for awhile which is incredibly surreal.
Cromartie is an interesting experience because of how it actively references that you need to go read the manga at times to fill in some of the back story. Sometimes it’s a bit of a gag but when I first saw the show a few years back I adamantly did not like that aspect of it. While there are things that I like when books and shows/movies intersect with each other, a show like this it just feels like “hey, there’s a good gag going on here but we’re not going to animate it.” With the shorter episode length, Cromartie is designed to go for the gag without running it into the ground. Strangely enough, the gags are often drawn out more than I would have expected and they feel a bit more scattershot at times without enough cohesion to hold it all together.
Its visual design works well for the kind of humor they want to deliver and the roughness flows well with the badass characters that inhabit the show. But at the same time, it doesn’t stand out even in that way so it doesn’t really have much impact. Part of this may come from the lack of familiarity with the material its parodying but that’s part of the cultural divide that can come at times, more so with comedies than other genres. Character designs are pretty consistent which is a plus, Mechazawa notwithstanding, and they get a surprising amount of emotion out of them considering that they’re often stone-faced badasses that’d fudgin’ kill ya.
Going back into Cromartie High School a few years after its original release and without the delay between volumes left me wondering if the humor would click better. In some ways it did as I knew what to expect going into it, but unlike that experience where each new volume proved more amusing, this one was more of a static experience. Taking it in over the course of two days instead of nearly eight months certainly helps but the show is designed around individual gags which start to peter out when taken in succession like this. It slowly becomes weird for the sake of weird and that can carry it only so far. There’s certainly some inspired hilarity in here at times and some moments that leave you laughing out loud, but as an overall experience it’s left me feeling rather bland about it all.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: ADV Films
Release Date: August 1st, 2006
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.