This anime opens with a disclaimer: “The characters in this show are delinquents, please don’t follow their behavior.”
It’s a comedy. It’s extremely hard to describe, because it’s so scattershot, with dada elements and characters that flip between normal and surreal. Basically, if you liked Guu, you’ll like Cromartie, even though Cromartie has a very different feel. While Guu was mostly about Hale’s reactions to the absurdity of his changed environment, with everyone else obliviously acting more or less normally, in Cromartie nobody is normal.
The premise: main character gets into trouble at his school and is sent to Cromartie, a reform school full of the toughest delinquents. So the plots revolve around the delinquent lifestyle, except…they’re all a little neurotic in different ways and not totally disdainful of the politeness and formality in Japanese culture. For example, the leader of a rival reform school really just wants to be a comedian, but he can’t let anyone know because he doesn’t want to lose face as a delinquent. But it’s all he ever thinks about, and his underlings mistake his distraction for complete confidence.
And Ron will laugh if he reads this, but one of the characters is Freddie Mercury. In the world of Cromartie, Freddie didn’t die; in fact he bulked up and became a Japanese high school delinquent. Nobody really wants to ask him why, or even confirm it though-- because they’re afraid of him. And he’s just one of many odd characters.
I really like the show’s almost complete lack of slapstick. All of the laughs come from the characters struggling to be tough high school delinquents no matter what happens. In that regard, the series is almost like Seinfeld: focusing on the single-mindedness of the characters in the face of a situation that is less and less in their control. As in Seinfeld, the plots and characterizations go one step beyond reality (Cromartie goes two steps, actually) and highlight the peculiarities of the culture.
The episodes are neatly tied up packages of plot-- each is only 12 minutes long. As someone who realizes that Sturgeon’s Law most definitely applies to anime, I recommend it enthusiastically.