Cromartie High School is one of the best comedy shows I have ever watched. Period. It isn’t particularly popular nor is it spoken about all that much. Whenever I see a discussion about recommendations for comedy anime it always flies under the radar and is rarely even touched on by prominent voices in the anime community. The show itself had an appalling animation budget (which is obvious just from seeing a few screenshots of it) and as such looks worst than some shows made in the 90s despite airing in late 2003.
So why make this grand claim? Why even bring it up at all? It’s because Cromartie is a perfect example of a form of comedy which is rarely done right in anime: visual comedy.
“But wait then what’s non-visual comedy? Anime is a visual form of entertainment how are all comedy anime not classed as this!” I get this, honestly I do. You’re right to think it – anime is a visual medium so surely every form of comedy anime is visual comedy, right? But that’s where something unique about anime comes into play: the language. Y’know, I’m gonna make an even grander claim than before: Visual comedy transcends language barriers.
There are people out there in the community who just don’t like comedy anime. And no, it’s not because they’re boring people with no personality or sense of humour. It’s just that the vast majority of anime comedies (like comedies in film, TV, etc.) get their laughs through jokes which the characters tell. The problem is that these jokes can be play on words which, once translated, make no sense to the English viewer. But even when the jokes aren’t playing on the Japanese language; subtitles still ruin comedic timing and in dubbed versions the voice actors sometimes don’t get the tone of the punch line right. Even if just reading the subtitles can make an anime funny there is still a feeling that we’ve been cheated. If we just wanted to read something funny we could have just read a book. The audio and visuals which come with the anime often are wasted as the viewer either doesn’t understand the audio, isn’t paying attention to the visuals, or the series is completely neglecting the importance of visuals in the comedy.
The comedic masterpieces are the ones which can take full advantage of the medium they are a part of and can tell a joke without any or little dialogue. In my part of the world (Great Britain) I can thank of the likes of Rowan Atkinson and Edgar Wright for introducing me to what smart visuals can do to a comedy. In terms of visual anime, alongside Cromartie are shows which are considered by the community as some of the best comedies the medium has to offer (which sort of proves my point in itself). These are the likes of Nichijou, Space Dandy, Golden Boy and of course Gintama.
Originally I planned this to be more of a focused look at what makes Cromartie in particular so great but somewhere down the line took a turn to become a more general post about similar comedy shows.
Seriously though, I highly recommend you go watch Cromartie High School (even though it’s near impossible to watch legally unless you buy it). It’s been classed as one of the strangest anime ever and while I think that’s a bit of a stretch, you can tell the amount of fun that went into making this show and how there’s not one frame that’s wasted. I can only praise Production I.G’s staff for using the show’s low budget to their advantage and creating a master-class in visual comedy.