School Rumble: The Flux of Love

Tenma

“I love you. Just three little words…but the moment I say them, the whole world changes, like magic. Today, I’m going to say them…to you.”

-Tenma Tsukamoto

 

It’s the first day of the new school year, and, as Tenma says, she’s fallen in love. Cherry blossoms sway in the light breeze, and as Tenma and her sister, Yakumo, walk up to the school, they see Tenma’s love: Oji Karasuma. Tenma gushes as she says his name out loud, and Yakumo jokes that it would be “cool” if Tenma and Karasuma were in the same class. Excited over the prospect, Tenma rushes to the class lists to see which class she’s in.

This is setting up to be just another high school chick-flick-esque romance story where the boy and girl fall in love and live happily ever after. It’s starts off with a one-sided crush, develops through awkward experiences and friendly encounters, and, then, the big kiss at the end after a massive fight shows that all is well in the world and love conquers all. Nothing too fancy or special, right?

Then, three and a half minutes into the first episode, there’s a rather dramatic shift.

Harima

“I love you. Just three little words…but the moment I say them, the whole world changes, like magic. Today, I’m going to say them…to you.”

-Kenji Harima

 

Let’s look past the narrative being told here for a moment and look at romance stories in general. In his discussion on what makes narrative, well, narrative, David Herman mentions a concept known as “canonicity and breach,” which, at its simplest, reflects on the difference between expectation and reality, or, as he put it, “what was expected and what actually takes place.”

When we think of romance stories in the United States, we typically think of a woman vying for the affections of a man who either doesn’t seem to notice them or is interested in someone or something else. Usually there is another woman or two in the way, but a certain tenacity allows the heroine to outshine the often more physically desirable competition and wins the heart of her love. We also see it flipped around with a man pining over a woman, usually in the form of a high school crush several years after graduation.

That isn’t School Rumble. Here, we have the cutesy, typical budding romance of Tenma and Karasuma, which is evident by their awkward interactions in the second part of the pilot, but, at the same time, we have the street thug Harima balancing his rough lifestyle with his love for Tenma. Not only does the narrative follow the concept of canonicity and breach, but School Rumble itself has completely broken down the expectations of the entire romance genre itself.

Moving back to the narrative, Herman also says that another major aspect of a narrative is the journey from  a state of equilibrium to disequilibrium to a new equilibrium. School Rumble really likes to mess with this; every episode is divided into three subplots that are sometimes related or correlated. Set up like an animated sitcom, each sub-story is self-contained, although, on occasion, they can span multiple episodes or, in one case, nearly half of a season. Each section of an episode follows the formula, albeit at times not obviously.

Karasuma & Tenma

Crap.For instance, in the pilot, we begin with the first day of school. Everyone is in a relatively normal place. However, everything fluctuates as different people check the class lists, some more desperate than others to be in the same class. Tenma and Karasuma are together in class 2C. Harima, despite his longing to be with Tenma, discovers he was held back in front of everyone, much to his embarrassment.

Once all that’s settled, Karasuma voices his opinion on the class lists:

“It doesn’t matter ’cause I’m transferring out in two days.” – Karasuma

Looks like Harima’s not the only one in a pickle. While this may not seem like a new equilibrium, things are no longer in flux. Everything is settled, and, while it may not be what any of the characters want, it is what it is. Everything is at rest, which can be used as a loose definition of equilibrium.

Reading the Letter

In the second part of the pilot, Tenma writes Karasuma a letter to express her feelings before he leaves. She spends a long, sleepless night trying to figure out to word it, though. Looks like things are back in flux from this new equilibrium point. While Karasuma’s busy reading the letter, Harima receives a letter from his rival, Tennouji, which challenges him to a fight. After shouting in frustration, Harima has an epiphany, “A letter…I bet chicks like letters.”

pic6

Following the directions in Harima’s note, Tenma waits for him behind the gym after school. Unfortunately, so does Tennouji. Apparently that’s where the fight was supposed to happen. If it wasn’t before, things are definitely not at rest now. To makes things even worse for Harima, Tennouji starts hitting on Tenma, taking credit for the poem in her hand entitled, “Oh Thank You: an Epic Poem of Gratitude.” However, since her heart belongs to Karasuma, Tennouji learns the meaning of heartbreak. And how painful a punch to the face is when you mess with Harima’s love life.

The world returns to a state of equilibrium the next day when Karasuma decides to stay and finish the school year after a mysterious anonymous letter asked him to stay and Harima finds a way into class 2C. Things are as good as ever for both Harima and Tenma: their love is in their class for the foreseeable future. There’s only one problem: they don’t know how to spend more time with them and develop their relationships.

That is, of course, until both Tenma and Harima become “divinely” inspired. I’ll let you watch for yourself:

Unfortunately, this escapade manages to accomplish nothing, and everything returns to the way it was before the bicycle chase: everyone’s in the same class together with no love relationship to speak of. However, there are another 55 episodes to go. Surely someone’s lucky in love!

 

(With the exception of the series finale, the entire series is available for free on Hulu. I highly recommend it. You’ll love it.)

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