Cromartie High School Vol. 1: Cromartian Rhapsody
These productions often follow one of two paths: there's one where everyone has some kind of oddball character-defining quirk; then there's one where everyone has some kind of oddball character-defining quirk, except for one relentlessly normal person who, bewildered, serves as our tour guide in this weird world.
Cromartie High School fits into the latter category, and our hapless hero is one Takashi Kamiyama, who begins the first episode by writing a letter to his mother explaining that he's successfully completed the entrance to Cromartie High School—only he's not so sure that was a good idea, as everyone around him is a dangerous delinquent. He, of course, is not, but he decides to adapt to his surroundings and become a badass. He's not terribly good as it, but in a bizarre twist he ends up becoming his home room's top dog.
Along the way Takashi meets some of Cromartie's colourful students, like Shinjiro Hayashida, whose mohawk seems to have a life of its own, and Akira Maeda, a no-holds-barred fighter whose toughness is utterly unacknowledged because he lacks a macho nickname.
These, distressingly, are the more or less normal people. Over the next few episodes we're introduced to the really weird characters, like Shinichi Mechazawa (who only Takashi and Shinjiro realize is a robot, despite his tin-can–like appearance and constant oiling of his head); Yamaguchi Noboru, gang boss at a rival school whose secret passion is the art of humour; Gorilla, a digital-watch–wearing simian; and, um, Freddie Mercury.
If this makes sense to you, then you're the perfect candidate for Cromartie High School. It relies heavily on dialogue, features animation that's limited even for anime (instead preferring melodramatic poses and sounds), and features all kinds of odd compositions and effects for no other reason than, you know, just 'cause. And yet it doesn't get tiring—I watched four episodes in a row and kept right on laughing. This is probably because each episode is just under eleven minutes, and broken up into smaller segments as well. The structure and pace would destroy most shows, but in this case it actually keeps things manageable: with such a compressed and fragmented time frame, there's no need to linger on a joke or a situation any longer than necessary. (Thank goodness—the episode where everyone goes crazy trying to remember the name of a song came pretty close to sending me into therapy.)
If Cromartie High School aired on North American late-night TV, critics would probably refer to it as stoner programming. And, admittedly, everything about it fits into that semi-surreal, anything-for-a-gag late-night mentality. But even in the clear light of day, the show didn't fail to crack me up; by some strange alchemy, it actually works. So sign me up; I'm going back to high school.