animefringe december 2003 / feature
Animefringe Coverage:
Sakigake! Cromartie High School

There exists, within this tiny world of mine, a certain affinity with parody anime. Sure, most of it can be attributed to the hilarity factor, but I dare say that it goes beyond that level. Parody serves as both commentary and comedy, and I revel in the inherent intelligence in the genre as much as I enjoy the bizarre humor involved. This passion for the parody all started way back in time, as a fledgling anime fan in high school, where someone lent me an old tape of the Project A-ko movie.

Oh, Project A-ko. In my heart, you reside in peace.

While at the time, I missed most all of the references, having some points completely go over my head, I still rejoiced at its splendor. The "Fist of the North Star" schoolgirl, the all-female alien abductions, the bizarrely strong A-ko, and B-ko's obsession with a total ditz. All references to various aspects of the anime landscape, the film proved a sort of early education to all the stereotypes and common aspects of the medium, although at the time I lived blissfully unaware that this action comedy could in any way be 'educational.'

Parody, acting as both homage and criticism, can be an amusing diversion from the more usual fare that anime can offer. I particularly delight in shonen parody, probably due to how ridiculous I consider most basic shonen to be. When Sexy Commando Masaru-san came to the American fan masses, I downloaded and conquered, laughing my way through each short episode, delighting in not only its humor, but also the education it was giving me on the many facets of 70s and 80s shonen anime that are less accessible compared to more contemporary fare.

Masaru-san's adventures ended, and, as these things normally go, I was a broken man, lost, forlorn. I awaited the next shonen parody anime to show me the way. Surely enough, I have been rewarded by one of the new crop of anime to grow to fruition in the new season. The new genius unleashed upon us goes by the name of Sakigake! Cromartie High School. A joint venture produced by Tokyo TV and Production I.G., it unleashes upon the populace a smart, bizarre, and supremely referential series of 10 minute episodes, harking back to a simpler time of high school delinquents and school based gang warfare reminiscent of the 80s shonen manga/anime of the same vein.

The set-up is both delightfully simple yet uncanny. Cromartie High School is composed entirely of delinquents. Tough guys, rough-housers, those who spent their junior high days making life hell for those around them, the sort of guys reminiscent in key scenes in Kimagure Orange Road and early episodes of Yu Yu Hakusho. Within the walls of Cromartie, they fight to prove who is the most powerful of the delinquents, a battle ground where the students preach of the importance of a fiery nickname, or of the importance of reputations, and every once in a while, how well one can fight.

The anime begins with young Kamiyama Takashi sitting in his class, politely ecstatic about his acceptance to Cromartie. As he mentally composes a polite letter to his esteemed mother, the camera flies to the rest of his classmates, most of which are smoking or have Mohawks, as is their bullying wont. In a shocking moment, Kamiyama drops his pencil, only to have it picked up by his classmate.

Who promptly eats the pencil.

Kamiyama, not to be intimidated, drops all 50 of his pencils on the desk.

Only to be promptly eaten.

Truly, this can only be the beginning of something magical.

Kamiyama came to Cromartie High School to be born again as a delinquent. Having previously lived a good life, he looked forward to the horizon, to his eventual High School Debut, to "come out" as a true delinquent, and join the ranks of the bad boys of the Japanese educational system. In order to prove himself as a true delinquent, he engages in some contests of delinquent worth, and examines the master bullies who reside in the neighboring classrooms. The anime chronicles how the members of the school constantly try to one-up each other in who is the best delinquent in Cromartie. Kamiyama has some tough foes to deal with, who either excel in fighting, attitude, and/or style.

Residing as a student in Cromartie is truly, a most unexpected member of the student body. One of the big bad-asses, strongest delinquent, crushinating forces in the student body is, uhh, Freddie Mercury. As in "We Will Rock You Bohemian Rhapsody" Freddie Mercury. Armed with full mustache and trademark image of suspenders and a bare chest, Kamiyama immediately nicknames him Freddy, and wonders whether he truly is just another student, or if the rocker has risen from the grave just to attend Cromartie.

There is also a gorilla in the school. Yeah, he's pretty tough.

Finally, the third of the three great delinquents in the school is Mechazawa, the bass-voiced tin-can robot of Cromartie. The honorable, kind Mechazawa, the sort of delinquent who will take the bad criticism and attacks other gangs and schools might inflict in the stead of his human followers. Polite and kind, yet strong and fierce. The words echo forth. "Don't mess with Mechazawa."

He even fights against prejudice. Like all good robots should, and indeed, do.

The anime even goes as far as to systematically break down how to represent the delinquent character in such anime. Blonde hair, no eye-brows, a wrinkled forehead, all visual markers that Kamiyama actively strives for in order to achieve his new state of delinquency. Not only does it rip on the visual cues on how shonen media portrays the hoodlum, it also parodies animation and manga as well. The 2nd episode begins with Kamiyama pondering on the very essences of how anime functions, such as how only the cute, girly characters attract any sort of rapt attention, or even how most TV animation barely even moves. The moving of a pencil on screen elicits excitement from our young hero.

Brilliantly tongue-in-cheek, Cromartie has quickly become one of the most masochistic of the parody genre. While at times seeming overwhelmingly bitter towards the genre of anime/manga of which it is born from, overall, it serves as an insane send-up of the type of stories that have entertained boys across Japan, as well as the rest of this blue planet, for years. As a parody, as a stand-alone product, Cromartie delivers 10 minutes every week a truly off the wall sort of comedy, the kind that easily leaves you wanting more.

And if you don't watch it, Freddie Mercury will kick your ass. Don't question it.