Back to the Vaults: School Rumble (Manga Review)

Back to the Vaults: School Rumble (Manga Review)

Although I only recently actually finished reading the School Rumble manga, it is an old manga series, having run in Japan from 2002 to 2009 (School Rumble Z). However, since Kodansha couldn’t be bothered with School Rumble Z, I will only focus on the central School Rumble series.

* * * S P O I L E R S * * *

The Story, in Brief

School Rumble Volume 17The story of School Rumble centers around two characters, one male and one female. The female lead character, TSUKAMOTO Tenma, is a somewhat airheaded high school girl. She has a major, unrequited crush on her classmate, OUJI Karasuma. The male lead character, HARIMA Kenji, is a delinquent in Tenma’s class. However, he attends school because he has a major, unrequited crush on Tenma, who’s blissfully unaware of this. Further to that, Harima can never come right out and confess his feelings for Tenma.

Tenma has a number of close friends. First is SUOU Mikoto is an athletic girl who has trouble with romance. She is childhood friends with HANAI Haruki. Hanai has an unrequited crush on Tenma’s little sister, Yakumo. Yakumo becomes Harima’s manga assistant and develops an unrequited crush on him.

The second of Tenma’s friends is SAWACHIKA Eri. She’s half-Japanese and half-English. She also has blonde hair. Due to her wealthy status, she’s an ojousama. She has a reputation of being a man-eater, even though she is actually quite chaste. Eri misunderstands an action by Harima as possible romantic interest by him. However, she develops an unrequited crush on Harima when he fails to fawn over her like most men.

TAKANO Akira is Tenma’s third and final best friend. She enjoys stirring the pot for incidents, but never gets involved in romance. Akira runs the Tea Club, which Yakumo also belongs to. Yakumo’s classmate and best friend, Sarah Adiemus, is also a member. She is English and also a Catholic nun in training.

There are a wide number of lesser, supporting members in School Rumble. Most are in Tenma’s class. Some are from a rival class. And the rest come from Yakumo’s class. Together, a lot of wacky, comedic hijinks ensue, often centering around unrequited love.

Comedic Unrequited Love

School Rumble 14 15 16While School Rumble is primarily a comedy manga series, the central theme of the series is unrequited love. As such, many stories center around this theme. It might be Tenma desperately trying to get closer to Karasuma. Or, it might be Harima trying to get closer to Tenma. Then, it might be Eri trying to figure out Harima and her own feelings for him.

Unrequited loves can be quite tragic, but Kobayashi-sensei manages to do things in a very funny way. Sometimes, this is done via “imaginary” scenarios. For example, there’s a massively funny series of chapters where Harima is unintentionally crushed by Tenma. As such, the manga depicts him as King Kong as he goes nuts. I remember laughing so hard at this.

Another “imaginary” way Kobayashi-sensei may tell stories is to have the various characters in School Rumble appear in other forms. For example, there’s a story arc where the class are depicted as cavemen and women. There’s another chapter (or two), where Harima is at some foreign nation where the natives look like his classmates, only with darker skin. Again, these moments can be pretty humorous.

The constant misunderstandings are another element Kobayashi-sensei relies on for humor. Naturally, these continue to stoke the fires of unrequited love to humorous effect.

Memorable, Fun Characters

School Rumble Volume 22While Kobayashi-sensei can do some laugh out loud comedy stuff at times, I think his biggest strength is in creating memorable, fun, and (mostly) lovable characters. School Rumble is filled with so many memorable characters. Even the minor characters are likable and fun in their own ways. And from time to time, Kobayashi-sensei would use the side story chapters of the manga to focus in on a minor character, which was lovely.

It is kinda funny that while Tenma had a tight circle of friends, and Yakumo had a tight circle of friends, none of the male characters did. Harima always saw himself as a loner who just wanted to be with Tenma. Hanai craved Yakumo, but he did spend a lot of time with Suou, thanks to both being members of Hanai’s father’s dojo. The other male characters in the series are rather minor in nature, so they don’t really count. (As an aside, Kobayashi-sensei did have Harima and Hanai befriend Togo and Imadori as adults.)

Unique Publishing

The unique thing about School Rumble is that it was actually published in three different manga magazines. The main story was published in Weekly Shōnen Magazine. The side stories were published in the monthly Magazine Special. And one special chapter was published in Shōnen Magazine Wonder. For the published manga volumes, of which there are twenty-two, the main story is usually accompanied by a couple of side stories, some of which flesh out main story elements.

I mention this because when reading the series, it was sometimes jarring to suddenly go back and flesh out some story from several chapters back. Or to suddenly, seemingly abandon whatever story was currently going on for some story about a minor character. But once you get used to it, it becomes fine. You treat the side story chapters as omake and move on.

Where School Rumble Failed

School Rumble Volume 17It is amazing that a series with a lot of laugh out loud comedy, interesting stories, and memorable characters could fail. Sadly, that’s what School Rumble did at the end. By his own admission, Kobayashi-sensei is easily bored. So after six years of doing the series, he apparently got bored and wanted to do something else. He was already working on Natsu no Arashi! (which sadly has never been licensed) when he quit School Rumble. So this meant just shutting down stuff and moving on.

As such, School Rumble leaves a lot of stuff unresolved. Kobayashi-sensei did allow Tenma to hook up with Karasuma, but at a price. But he left Harima’s love-triangle with Eri and Yakumo unresolved. He left Hanai’s love triangle with Yakumo and Suou unresolved. And he left a number of other smaller character arcs unresolved. As such, it left a bad taste in fans mouths, both here and in Japan (if I recall correctly).

Del Rey blamed the bad ending (along with scanlations) as killing the series, which is why their final printed book combined three volumes into one. When Kodansha took over, they opted NOT to print any more books. It took them years to slap stuff together for a digital release, and I do mean slap stuff together. At least Del Rey still cared about quality, even if they were trying to cut costs. Kodansha, not so much. More on that in a bit.


Kobayashi-sensei did do a one-volume sequel called School Rumble Z. It was a mishmash of random stuff featuring the characters. But it is notable for showing that Harima ended up with Eri and they had a child. But other than four extra chapters several years ago, Sensei never returned to the series, even though he expressed a desire to return and feature the characters as adults.

In 2020, Sensei briefly entered the world of Twitter. He began posting a lot of artwork, mostly him doing drawings of School Rumble characters.

Del Rey and Kodansha

School Rumble Volume 12I’ve already mentioned this, but I wanted to reiterate that when Del Rey had the School Rumble license, they really treated it with respect. There were lots of translator notes, including explaining some of the localization the translator/adapter did. I appreciated this a great deal as I got to see what the original joke in Japanese was, and why the translator/adapter went with a localization option. It is a rare instance where I can be bought on localization, which I otherwise loathe.

Although poor sales forced Del Rey to combine volumes 14, 15, and 16 into a kind of omnibus release, they still treated said release with care. The translations were good and the quality remained.

Unfortunately, Kodansha took over and couldn’t be bothered with quality. That sat on the series for six years before slapping crap together for digital-only release. Quality control is not good under Kodansha’s stewardship. Some names got different spellings. Harima’s cousin, Itoko, was called “cousin” at times by Kodansha. In Japanese, itoko means cousin. But that was her name, and he was calling her by name. Unfortunately, the translator/adapter of those volumes couldn’t be bothered to know anything about what they were working on.

Frankly, Kodansha’s work seems more like a slightly below average scanlation.

Final Thoughts and Conclusion

Despite its rushed and incomplete ending, I still think School Rumble is a good title overall. I love the characters and the wacky situations they got into. And I really enjoyed going back into this world Kobayashi-sensei created. It is a shame that he can’t pull it together and produce more of the series, featuring the characters as adults. I would read that for sure, though I’m not sure Kodansha would touch it, or be allowed to do so.


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