This is a cautionary tale when it comes to the thing I most desire with great executions of really stupid concepts. Take Miman Renai, one of my favorite manga only for the sake of its expressive and overly-optimistic tone. It was a really stupid and potentially problematic story between a near-thirty gal game producer and a naively pure middle school girl. What it managed to create was an atmosphere that made it obvious from the start that it was stupid and shouldn’t be taken too seriously (though also struggled with maintaining it; more on this soon). Reality kicked in, which was better suited for a tale involved in reality, whereas Criminale! is so absurdly stupid in both setting and the reality it presents that I cannot for the life of me think of why it decided to ever take itself seriously. The final battle arrives, a boss that has taken down likely hundreds of stories that start off as something zany and fun: The “S” word. Seriousness.
Criminale! is really, really stupid. A guy inexplicably attracts criminals, who everyday steal from him, molest him, and stab him to their heart’s content. Suddenly, he’s transferred into a school specifically housing criminal teenagers in an effort to reform them(?). It is here he begins his life with interacting with these dangerous felons—PFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFT!!! I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I can’t keep going. These are “””criminals””” because they are interested in horrific things, including hacking into private data, arson, assassination, and rape. Yes, rape is played as a joke in this manga, but the rapist is a woman, so it’s funny(?). One of the students aren’t even a criminal! They just look and sound like one! But he’s a pure boy who acts like a stereotypical shy girl! Why is he in the class?! Okay, okay. I’m trying to bring logic into this, which is a huge mistake.
What’s best is that it’s absolutely self-aware. It’s stupid and it knows it’s stupid, so it goes to such extremes with its jokes that it’s actually—drum roll—funny! And the jokes it employs are funny because they’re very clearly immoral, wrong, and played off superbly by the reactions of those involved. For some time, I was reminded of the expressively over the top reactions of Miman Renai, which gave me hope that this series would actually stick to its purpose and be stupid for the entire course of its run. Seriousness wouldn’t have any of it.
Why. Do. These. Manga. Always, always, ALWAYS! BECOME! SERIOUS?! There is absolutely zero benefit to making them serious when they were initially stupid! The contrast is too frank, it kills the mood of the entire story! Characters aren’t developed because the story didn’t care to develop them because everything was stupid, but then it feels the need to get the audience to care? That is some level of conceit. Pick a tone and stick with it, bending it only if you’re absolutely, 100% confident that you did enough to warrant the change by dropping hints of focusing on things to change. In this case, the mangaka may argue that they had dropped hints very early on by insinuating that the male lead had some “blood” that may awaken his “criminal spirit” or something, but the audience sees zero sign of that from him whatsoever, so who’s to say we should take it seriously? The entire manga around these random bouts of dramatic foreshadowing don’t give confidence that I should be taking those bouts seriously. Be stupid or be serious. You can’t be primarily one and then expect readers to be into it when it makes a 180° near the end.
This dubbed “final battle” is something I’ve seen far too many times with these stories. Love Allergen, Alyosha!, Comic Studio, and even Aizawa-san, looked at a few entries ago for this Summer, all fall victim to the threat of Seriousness. Their premises are really dumb, and don’t really take themselves seriously in the beginning, but as the ending chapters loom closer, the drama is kicked up to twenty and everything before feels like a dream—or a completely different manga. I hate it. I really would’ve liked some of these stories (but not Comic Studio) if they had stuck to and embraced the stupidity of their foundations. Criminale! could’ve been a really entertaining read that was actually kind of funny, but of course, they threw in some Shounen-bait-ish POWER OF EMOTIONS!!! garbage as too many pieces do.
I liked the characters! I loved the tone! The art was pretty good! The comedy was decent! The stereotypes and clichés were excusable in the face of some deformed slice-of-life vibe involving immoral teenagers. Everything about this manga was giving me a nostalgic vibe from when I first started reading manga, ripe with the stupidity of flaunting characters’ one-note personalities in the most extremely satisfying way possible. THE MALE LEAD WAS LIKABLE. His optimism and desire to make friends was something! He didn’t just stand around and get on everyone’s good side by standing in a spot and holding up a sign that said “I’m the main character.” He interacted with people, took the initiative! He’s a genuinely good person who wanted his words and actions to shine through! And he had to be persistent, because everyone thought he was a spineless twerp at first! R-e-f-r-e-s-h-i-n-g! And that’s just one character… not that every character got ample basic development, but still!
Art was also consistently solid. Polished, bold, and deliciously expressive. Lots of really exaggerated reactions to embarrassing situations such as those I’ve posted thus far and much more. It really adds to the comedy that serves as the cherry on top. (Listen to me ramble after shitting on straight reaction faces a few entries ago…) Characters are distinct in their designs and look exactly what they’re deemed to be “criminals” for (or the opposite). There was a specific panel early on where most of the students were placed next to one another all in one picture, and I took the time to pick out what I thought each of their “issues” were. Of the six or seven, I managed to guess three of them correctly just by their attire. That’s nice character design. There’s a lot of detail present in the manga artistically that I find it a shame that this manga is all this mangaka’s worked on at this point (from what I’ve found). It’s not gorgeous art, just consistently good.
I’m going to make a slight variation to the K.I.S.S. model: Keep It Stupid. Simple. If a story’s going to cement itself as a stupid story that shouldn’t be taken seriously, it shouldn’t try so hard to return to a volatile form to change its destiny. I don’t play with cement or anything, but wouldn’t it be ineffective to melt concrete just to cement it again in a different form? Why not use a different form of cement, a la a completely different story? Again, if the writer is effective enough they can incorporate some seriousness into stupid or vice versa, but it’s a truly difficult procedure for even the most distinguished and imaginative writers. Someday, I may find my perfectly stupid story. Someday.
Final Score: 5/10
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