Cromartie High School Review

AKA: Sakigake!! Cromartie Koko, Charge!! Cromartie High School, Forging Valiantly Ahead!! Cromartie High School, Cromartie High School (2003)
Genre: Parody/Surreal Comedy/Slice-of-Life
Year Released: 2003-2004
Distributor: Discotek
Origin: Japan
Running Time: TV series, 26 episodes, 12 minutes each
Rating/Recommended Audience: TV-14 L
Related Films/Series: Cromartie High: The Movie
For Fans Of: Excel Saga, Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto, Nichijou, School Rumble, Sayonara Zetsubo-Sensei, Pani Poni Dash, GTO, Gokusen, FLCL, Mob Psycho 100, China, IL, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Shinesman, Azumanga Daioh
-I watched the English dub, but I’ve seen both language tracks before.

-Cromartie High School is free to stream (both sub and dub) on RetroCrush.

-Notice: I watched this anime before I knew about the Illich Guardiola controversy and I will address this in the review.
Fun Facts:
-Cromartie High School was a manga by Eiji Nonaka and it ran in Weekly Shonen Magazine. He’s also the creator of Double-J and Feather Duster. For those not familiar with Shonen Magazine, that’s the same manga magazine that series such as Fire Force, Days, and Cyborg 009 was affiliated with.

-This was directed by Hiroaki Sakurai who also worked on the PaRappa the Rapper anime, Di Gi Charat series (more on that later in the Fun Facts section), Maid-Sama, and The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. He is actually a ukulele player and brings that instrument with him all the time at work.

-The main character Takashi Kamiyama is voiced in the English sub by Ben Pronsky. He would also voice Tsukasa in Your Name, Rodimus Prime in Transformers: Combiner Wars, and even Venom in the 2017 remake of the Spider-Man cartoon. I can’t make that up as it couldn’t be more of a contrast compared to the resident nice guy at Cromartie.

-Music Fan Bonus: There’s a TON of music references spread throughout the series. The most obvious one is the Freddie character, but the Queen references don’t end there. One of the episodes was called “Rock You” and the first DVD in ADV’s release parodies the Bohemian Rhapsody album cover for volume one. Other episode titles involve OK Computer, Welcome to the Jungle, and A Whole Lot In Love (obviously rewording a Zeppelin track) to name a few. The other ADV DVDs parody album covers with The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”, Little Feat’s “Sailin’ Shoes”, and Deep Purple’s “Deep Purple In Rock” in that order. Noboru Yamaguchi heads a biker gang called Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water. Yes, it’s an obvious parody of Earth, Wind, and Fire, but if he just had “heart” to the name, he’d have all the powers to summon Captain Planet! The Four Great Ones at Cromartie are obvious Kiss parodies.

-Wrestling Fan Bonus: Akira Maeda is named after a retired Korean-Japanese wrestler and Noboru Yamaguchi is known at Destrade High School as “The Unsinkable Battleship” which is a reference to Stan Hansen who is a decorated gaijin (foreign) wrestler from Texas who won several titles in All Japan Pro Wrestling and NWA. Hansen is also a hall of famer for the Texas Wrestling Hall of Fame, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, and even the WWE itself.

-Anime Fan Bonus: Remember how I said that the director also worked on Di Gi Charat? There are cameos of Dejiko and Piyoko in the show. That’s not the only anime that gets referenced in Cromartie. No siree bobaroonie! There’s a scene of a distressed Hayashida by a window that seems to overlook Newport City from Ghost In The Shell (Production I. G. animated both!). The first half of the last episode is a shameless parody of Maria Watches Over Us (Maria-Sama ga Miteru or Marimite for some fans) with female counterparts of the characters at Cromartie High.

-Sports Fan Bonus: All the delinquent high schools in this series are named after baseball players. The titular school comes from Warren Cromartie. Bass High is named after Randy Bass who interestingly enough became a politician after his baseball career. Manuel High refers to Charlie Manuel. Destrade High School got its namesake from Cuban baseball player Orestes Destrade. All of these former athletes played in Japan at some point in their careers. Destrade for example played for the Saitama Seibu Lions for multiple seasons in addition to his work with the Yankees, Pirates, and Marlins. To those who have read my older reviews, you should know that the Seibu Lions are the same baseball team that to this day have Kimba the White Lion as their mascot.

-The music is handled by Kunio Suma as well as his prog rock band Bi Kyo Ran (albeit under the fake band name Bikyoran). He’s the lead singer, guitarist, and mellotron player who scored the anime and his band does the first ending theme “Trust Me”. To those who’ve seen the anime, that wasn’t three different songs from them. Those were literally three different sections of the whole song separated by the episodes.

Much like Hikaru no Go was in 2020, I get to rediscover an anime I was a huge fan of during my teens. During my high school years, my fandom of anime was at an all-time high. There was a time briefly that I wouldn’t even watch Western animation or even live-action stuff (don’t worry, I got better). I could school so many other otakus about different shows, OVAs, and movies. One of my first experiences in video editing was making crappy AMVs on Windows Movie Maker before I knew the more advanced techniques in videography. While my tastes have been different compared to my teenage years, there’s one genre that I do appreciate when done well even though I haven’t reviewed too many things there: comedy. I’m not always this person who only reviews serious works since I do like to laugh at times. Does anyone remember me reviewing Shinesman back then? The problem is that a lot of comedies are too shallow or just unfunny to me. I haven’t reviewed too many comedies regardless of whether they were animated or live-action. This is going to be a change of pace with all the serious things I’ve reviewed this year or just in general.

I would be reminded of a certain spoof of delinquent anime and RetroCrush was able to feed into my nostalgia with what was one of my favorite anime comedies back in the day Is it still funny in the present?

Cromartie High School is about the wacky lives of a high school of the same name. It happens to host a plethora of hardcore juvenile delinquents who are in gangs, beat up each other as well as those in rival schools (who also have delinquents enough), or just chill out. There’s a new student by the name of Takashi Kamiyama who enters in as a freshman who is totally not a truant. He’s a quiet and polite individual who is trying to survive in this school full of legit troublemakers. Surprisingly, he fits in more than usual as well as shockingly making friends such as Shinjiro Hayashida who has a sentient purple mohawk, Akira Maeda who tends to be a voice of reason when he’s not being kidnapped by Bass High students, or Shinichi Mechazawa who is a robot with a very soothing voice who often does favors for other students. Besides that, there are gorillas, alien invasions, strawberry shortblades, wild horses, and a suspicious Freddie Mercury lookalike running around the place. What? Hasn’t that happened in your high school? Kamiyama and company do their best to live life on the wild side in this bizarre school even though no one clearly cares about schoolwork.

Back then, Cromartie High School was one of my favorite anime comedies and parodies. Did I still laugh this time? I sure did! It was great how a lot of the humor still held up with the surreal comedy, timing, tastefully-handled references, and some amazing voice acting in both language tracks. I was also surprised by how well a lot of the jokes still hold up even in this time. Even absurd humor can be hit or miss, this definitely hit more often than not. The parody elements were both subtle and overt such as the random meta-critiques of the anime industry (and anime fans!), references to other works, and the most low-key ingenious element being the animation style. Most anime fans would be shocked to see the low production quality from a Production I. G. work, but it does make sense given how a lot of delinquent anime had low budgets anyway. No, it’s not because of squeezing in a budget in between Prince of Tennis episodes. At least it looked better than Kai Doh Maru in hindsight (BURN!). The humor does get very creative even if it involves some wacky takes on otherwise mundane situations. Yes, I’m aware that the word “mundane” seems off when you have robots, gorillas, and allegedly a revived version of Queen’s lead singer running around in a school. There are situations like Yutaka Takenouchi’s recurring motion sickness during car trips, Afro-sporting Noboru Yamaguchi judging everyone by their sense of comedy (him beating up one of his subordinates for making a sex joke is way too funny), people being hilariously oblivious to Mechazawa being a robot, cigarettes being censored by people “smoking” pencils with CGI blobs on the ends, or how a regular nice guy Kamiyama is ironically thriving in a school that’s literally full of delinquents and juvenile offenders. Hayashida said it best when he sees the unintended toughness of the lead character when he claims that the new transfer student is a “badass bunny” around a pride of lions. Some of the jokes do rely on Japanese culture or wordplay, but it’s done in a way that even Americans can still understand. I’ve seen this series multiple times and there were jokes that I didn’t catch the first time around, so there’s definitely some replay value. Given the short run time, you could binge-watch 10 episodes in just around 2 hours and you’d be almost halfway through. An anime like this could have easily been at South Park or Family Guy levels of tawdriness or cheapness, but it never goes there despite having some lowbrow humor at different times. I would certainly argue that Cromartie is funnier than a ton of Western comedies (animated or live-action) and is way more unique in the delivery of its bizarre sense of humor. The music is very good. The opening theme was a mid-tempo folk-rock ballad called “Jun” by Takuro Yoshida that serves as a funny counterpoint to the zaniness of the anime series. The background music ranges from angular guitar riffs, quirky synths, and some straight-up prog rock instrumentals which makes sense given Kunio Suma in the composer’s seat. Anime comedies can be variable in quality, but I definitely applaud the effort of the comedic quality, acting, and production of this wacky anime.

Cromartie High School goes need to get better grades in different subjects, and it has nothing to do with the absent teachers in the building. The ending does seem rushed and incomplete. I get that there’s a sense that things will be fine with the futures of the main characters and there’s the recurring “If you want to find out more, just read the manga” joke that Kamiyama says in a few episodes, but don’t expect the whole thing to take place all the way up to the characters graduating for example. Adding on to the point, some pieces of comedy do seem incomplete like the Four Great Ones being shown for only a few seconds or random backstories of certain characters (Takeshi Hokuto was a big one with the weird dream he has). This could also be the case for most of the rival schools. Let’s also be honest with ourselves and admit that the cast is a sausage fest. There is a whopping total of TWO female characters who are original to Cromartie High School if you don’t count the brief Di Gi Charat cameos. One of them was an extra character who was a damsel in distress for Kamiyama and the Mechazawa-cycle (it makes sense in context) to save her and the other one is Maeda’s mom who shares the exact facial structure as him but sports long hair. If you Google the voice acting credits, you will be shocked to know the latter is played by Megumi Hayashibara and all she does is go “Hmm…” in her appearances. That must have been the easiest paycheck a major voice actress ever received next to Ikue Otani saying “Pikachu!” or “Pika pi!” in Pokemon. I have to address the more pressing concerns. In the opening credit animation, one of the subjects that get blocked by the marching students is a questionable-looking Black boxer. OOF! Not cool, Production I. G.! I know it’s just for the opening credits and nothing racist happens in the show itself, but that was awkward. The biggest thing I have to bring up is the dub. In isolation, it’s surprisingly good with the quality of the voice actors (Jason Douglas, Andy McAvin, Jacy Hickman, and James Faulkner among others kill it in their roles) and I give them major props for making some of those Japanese wordplay jokes work in an English context like the haiku one that Takenouchi does in one episode, but we need to talk about Hayashida’s English voice actor Illich Guardiola. If I didn’t know about this controversy, I would’ve praised this guy and called Hayashida the best role in his filmography with his deadpan nasal delivery, but when I did research…OUCH! For those that don’t know, Guardiola was busted in 2014 having one of his 16-year-old students with him (context: he was also a drama teacher outside of his voice acting work) in his car while driving and the student Hope Harris told the police that they were in a sexual relationship. He would’ve been in his early 40s at the time and was charged, but they were dropped because he and Harris got married with her parents’ consent in Las Vegas. This is also the same story that was falsely attributed to Vic Mignogna, but that’s a whole other can of worms. Yeah, if you remember a lot of ADV’s dubs or some of Sentai’s late 00s/early 10s work, you might not look at Saint Seiya, Samurai Gun, or Hayate from Pretear the same way again. I do have to warn you about this if anyone watches the dub because Hayashida is easily the 2nd most prominent character after Kamiyama. If you only watch subs, then you’ll be fine.

Nostalgia can certainly be an incentive to revisit something, but sometimes time can make something better or worse. Cromartie High School’s humor is still effective in all its surreal and off-kilter glory. The parody elements are handled masterfully and the characters are engaging enough for anyone to be interested as they deal with wacky elements in life in or outside of school. However, the ending is very rushed and it can be very uncomfortable watching the dub knowing about Illich Guardiola’s inappropriate romance even if he found a technicality to get away from being in the pen. There were still positives to be found and it can still be shown with the Japanese version at least.

Oh, I have to bring up this meme involving a major plot point in episode 3. The song the characters were humming while trying to remember the name of it was this one. That’s the same guy who does the opening theme. There’s also fridge brilliance when you realize the song’s title translates to “That’s people for you” and Mechazawa is the one first humming it. You’re very fudgin’ welcome!:)

Adjustable Point System:
-Add 1-2 points if you like anime parodies.
-Add 1 point if you like atypical romantic dramas.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you like more normal comedies.
-Subtract 2-4 points if you prefer anime with complete stories.

-Excellent sense of comedy and parody
-Fun and quirky soundtrack
-Creative production even if it was intentionally low-budget for effect

-Incomplete ending
-That blink and you’ll miss it cringeworthy boxer in the opening animation
-The Illich Guardiola issue with the dub cast

Final Score: 7/10 points

Content Advisory: Cromartie High School got a TV-14 rating in the original ADV release which does make sense. There is definitely swearing and it gets stronger in the dub (because it was an ADV production) and there’s one case of a homophobic slur that is used in an early episode. There’s some sexual innuendo, but it’s rare and one delinquent gets punished by Yamaguchi for daring to make lewd humor. The violence is surprisingly tame and even some of the violent scenes censor themselves like the strawberry shortblade instead of a real knife. The delinquent imagery is quite frequent and Kamiyama warns the viewer not to copy the acts on-screen at the beginning of every episode.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos and videos are property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Cromartie High School is the property of Discotek. The DVD box set cover is from Amazon and is the property of Discotek.

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