Salutations to all internet users and media nerds! My name is Jared, and today I am proud to present the very first episode of my special Anime Corner! Posted every Friday/Saturday, this will be a weekly series hosted here at Rogue Shogunate in which I will take an insightful look into anime of all kinds in an attempt to determine if they are for you or not. You can also find some of my reviews over at MyAnimeList account, ToxicJared, though as a special bonus for this site I will occasionally post countdown lists which will not be featured there! So be sure to stick around here at Rogue Shogunate for the full experience.
Onto our topic of today, however, it is virtually impossible to discuss School Days without noting its rather divisive reception. Based off of the visual novel School Days HQ, some people think this anime is bloody stellar, featuring a multi-layered quandary and conspicuous ending that will be sure to stick with the viewer long after it has finished. Others despise it, claiming that the characters are malevolent and/or irrational to the core, causing the overall experience to be infuriating to watch as a result. And while my score of this anime (a stunning 10/10) will very obviously indicate what my stance is on this show, it is crucial that I mention regardless that your mileage may vary with this one. Also, while minor spoilers are present in this review, I will always give a caution before they appear.
However, I also cannot help but think that detractors of School Days entirely miss the point of what the show is trying to accomplish with its characters and predominant message. But for the sake of consistency, I will touch upon that a bit later.
School Days’s story is delivered continuously, as most of them are. It begins as innocuous as a romance harem possibly can, with a high school kid named Makoto Itou, main character of School Days and horndog extraordinaire, developing a crush on another girl, named Kotonoha Katsura. A third girl, Sekai Saionji, then tries to help Makoto get with Kotonoha, though she secretly likes Makoto as well. It certainly does not take a bachelor’s in Philosophy to follow the basic premise of this tale.
To add upon this, I find the pacing of the story to also be quite effective in the sense that School Days takes its time to establish its characters in the first half, giving us the essential key details of their character that accurately foreshadow how they may come to act in the future. For example, very early on we see Makoto interacting with Sekai Saionji, the matchmaker crush of the story mentioned earlier. They are talking to each other on the roof of the school, when Makoto suddenly threatens Sekai when she jokes about sharing to the school that Makoto has a crush on Kotonoha. This scene is efficient at showing two things. First, that Makoto can take things too seriously at times, and secondly, how he immediately regrets doing so, indicating that he means and tries to do good with his actions, but can make the wrong choice despite his best efforts.
In contrast, the second half picks up the pace quite noticeably, though I never got the vibe it was rushed. The characters and their motivations are clearly established as always, just with much more in the way of foreshadowing and dramatic moments. And that brings me to one of the biggest strengths of School Days’s story, the way it exponentially builds over the course of the show. While it commences with your standard romantic dalliances, showcasing the characters’ personalities and motivations, as conflicts start to arise between the characters, the tension between them is dramatically increased as the precarious situation they dug themselves into only grows in ferocity.
*MINOR SPOILERS PRESENT HERE!*
As to illustrate this point, after a few episodes we see Makoto suddenly declare that he no longer wants to date Kotonoha. One person on MyAnimeList titled Kotonoha as prudish, and I think that is the perfect word to describe her. Makoto got “tired” of the limitations that Kotonoha pushed on him and as a result, Makoto goes after Sekai instead. Regardless of how absolutely trashy a move like that is, it is the entire point to Makoto’s character. People like him do exist in the real world, ones who are garbage at communicating with others face to face about serious topics and suddenly want to go out with somebody else, but are too cowardly to break up with whoever they are currently with in person. And as I will mention later down the road, it is not solely even Makoto’s fault that the story ends up where it does. But again for the sake of consistency, I shall touch upon that later.
*MINOR SPOILERS END*
To build upon this, the direction of the narrative is extremely clear from the get-go and is proficiently paced for it. And while this may seem incredibly obvious and fundamental, it is also a great deal less common than you might initially think. So many anime tend to lose their focus and/or run out of ideas to conclude their narrative, including some of my personal favorites (Black Cat comes to mind), but School Days had one goal from the very beginning; to addict the viewer within the wonderfully elementary first half of the show, and fire on all cylinders in its quick-paced and dramatic second half. And on this front, it absolutely succeeds, in my opinion.
Additionally, the animation of the show is rather great for a 2007 anime. The backgrounds are of notable detail at times, and the character design all-around is simply fantastic. While slightly lacking in realism as the eyes are perhaps a tad too large, the fluidity and quality of the actual artwork itself is quite impressive and greatly enhances the presentation of the overall product. Each character is highly distinct in their appearance, fit the theme of the show, and are discernibly unique in retrospect.
Furthermore, the sound design has discernible effort put into it. While the opening certainly lacks in terms of memorability and catchiness, the background music is what really works here, particularly when the somber piano kicks in for the more intense scenes. The voice acting also brings each character to life, with clearly recognizable voices for each character that further support the distinctiveness of the cast as a whole. Thus, all of the points mentioned above strongly contribute to the overall cinematography and presentation of the show.
Speaking of the characters, they are the bulk of School Days’s story, as it is predominantly driven by them as opposed to the events. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the characters is that, as Amazon user Erich Hartmann once said, they all believe they are the protagonist of this story. Each one of them strives for their satisfying conclusion, but once they begin to realize they cannot obtain that, they start to push the boundaries of their morals further and further as the story progresses. This results in a highly fascinating cognitive dilemma between the main characters as everyone is reaching out for their happy ending that may or may not work out at all. Such is life, I would imagine. But this point is also where I feel most critics of this show miss the point of School Days’s message. They claim that the characters grow despicable and irrational, making it seem as if that was not what the writers were trying to accomplish the entire time.
To illustrate this, take Makoto Itou again. He gives into his desires not guilty of ignorance, but sexual ardor and the incrementally toxic influences around him. The centralizing factor of the characters in this show that most people fail to understand is that they are intentionally written to be surreptitiously repulsive. What I mean by that is when you first meet the cast, they are like any other high school students in the world and feel like people you can relate to and genuinely chill with. And despite some exaggerated scenes in particular, for the most part, the characters acknowledge what they are doing is not right at times. Despite this, however, they try to make the best with what they have while refusing to own up and admit their faults, unknowingly contributing a hostage to fortune of sorts to the story.
*MINOR SPOILERS PRESENT HERE!*
As an example of this, about halfway through the show Makoto and Sekai get together and try to avoid confronting Kotonoha about it. While the show makes it abundantly clear that they both regret what they are doing, in the end they are too afraid to break the news to her. Earlier I mentioned Kotonoha’s prudishness, as it is essentially the reason why Makoto stopped wanting to date her. However, time and time again we see Makoto try regardless to get back in contact with Kotonoha as he feels incredibly bad for what he has been doing with Sekai and how they have been neglecting her. He does not even want to start dating her again, just apologize, speak the truth about his feelings for Sekai, and own up to his faults. This shows that Makoto is an actual human being, one who acknowledges when he is screwing up badly and wants to make up for it. However, one of the characters in the show, named Setsuna Kiyoura, is an adamant friend of Sekai and only wants Makoto with Sekai, not Kotonoha. While at first Makoto strongly resists Setsuna’s efforts to keep them ghosting Kotonoha, even going as far as blocking her number on Makoto’s phone, it proves to be too much for him to handle as eventually, he gives up and totally ignores Kotonoha as Setsuna wanted. Not to make it sound entirely like Setsuna’s fault, as Makoto wanted to get with Sekai in the first place, but there is clearly multiple factors at play here that build up to the end.
*MINOR SPOILERS END*
Why The Controversy?
So why is it that School Days gets so much backlash? Predominantly, I have come down to three explanations for this. For starters, naysayers to School Days may claim that the characters act unrealistic, and I wholeheartedly disagree with that sentiment. For instance, if a bunch of girls started to bandwagon on a high school kid in real life, wouldn’t any flawed and horny human being in over his head carelessly jump at the opportunity? While Makoto is most certainly a terrible person, he does share a lot of toxic traits that people in our world might contain at his age. His characterization speaks for this as well, regretting his actions but doing little to change it.
These critics also claim that the entire cast comprises of frustrating, terribly written trash that makes for a contemptful experience overall. And it is this complaint in particular that I find especially weak. To paraphrase MAL user Zergneedsfood, just because a character is a bad person does not, by any means, make them a bad character. Where critics of School Days get this preconceived notion that all characters in anime must be heavenly role models, I shall never know. By that logic, fictitious characters such as Dr. Eggman and Bowser are horribly written simply because they do not exactly fit the description of “good.” Surely we can see the fault in this argument.
Moreover, potentially the biggest reason people dislike School Days is the way it goes from a charming, traditional romantic comedy to a madhouse of love affairs as the characters cause their lives to become doomed to spectacular failure. No conventional harem would operate the way in which School Days does, and as a result, it may leave the viewer feeling betrayed and forcefully pulled into the harsh realities of our own world. Thus, they begin to hate the characters, and subsequently, the show as a result. The writers did such a stellar job at making Makoto seem like an unworthy sack of shit that completely disregarding this as the very purpose of the writing, the viewer starts to feel enraged and heartbroken simultaneously. I urge new viewers with this knowledge to not fall into this trap, as every bit of writing in School Days was entirely of the writers’ own volition, rest assured. And while I obviously cannot give away many specifics, it is best you walk into this series with a very open mind.
I say this because there is not necessarily one solid concrete way to interpret this show, though the moral at the end remains clear. To me anyway, School Days is the quintessence of the worst-case scenario, which could theoretically happen to anybody should they allow lust to control their actions. And that is the noteworthy topic I must bring up as well, that the characters act realistic and believable enough because people like them do exist in real life.
To quote The_Bif from a MAL forum, “I’ve known a great many men like Makoto and it was actually quite common when I was in high school for boys to act that way. Bed as many women as possible to up your score in the locker-room, boost your self-esteem, or just because you’re a horny douchebag. Passive, shy girls like Kotonoha were quite real as well, I only had to deal with one in my life and it was long after high school but they do exist. Girls like Katou and her harlot trio of bullies are actually pretty average high school students, they exist everywhere en masse. Events like the friend who helped you hook up with your girlfriend suddenly trying to break you up and keep you for herself, I’ve witnessed them through the eyes of nieces and nephews during their high school days. Considering I’ve witnessed those particular events in some shape, form, or fashion in my decades of life, how rare or far-fetched can they be?”
How About Its Problems?
If you forced me to think of legitimate complaints I have for School Days, two tend to come up immediately. For one, the first half of the show replicates the genre it is trying to deconstruct a little too well, with copious amounts of fanservice in the first five episodes in particular. The second half thankfully does away with most of the unnecessary shots, though I suppose you really cannot tell a story like this without including it somewhere in the first place. Hell, it can even be argued that this is a good thing, as it helps the show more faithfully spoof and/or mock the harem genre. Interpret it as you will.
My second complaint revolves around a select few hyper-specific moments in the second half of the show that are admittedly pretty far-fetched, even to the point that you would recognize them instantly if you saw them. Just to touch upon this point and nothing more, there exists a “Break Room” that the high school contains as a tradition of their annual festival. What is this Break Room for, you may ask? Simple! For couples to engage in sexual intercourse…What kind of school would allow a room solely designated for students to screw each other? Ah, but I must digress.
As the curtain closes, the reason I love School Days is the way it deconstructs the harem genre, making it virtually unsurpassed in the premise that it creates and executes. In the writers’ almost contrarian mindset, they created School Days to be darker in its malignant realism, taking this unorthodox concept and running with it. For the cast is plagued with exacerbated traits intentionally meant to cause the viewer to love them one moment, and loathe them in the very next scene. This culminates with a strikingly cathartic ending sure to never leave your mind once you have seen it, giving the series a memorable vibe to it that I feel was a bold move on the writers’ part. And maybe School Days even relies on the ending a bit too much, but because of the excellent construction of the story and its pacing, I can hardly complain. For better or worse, the series truly is an anime that you will never forget about, and the unique experience it brings to the table is something I would consider worthy of anyone’s time.
In that sense, I honestly find School Days to be somewhat of a misunderstood masterpiece. To again paraphrase the words of MAL user Zergneedsfood, the anime acts as an exemplary tragedy, a naturalistic harem, and even a bit of a sardonic parody all in one. And the fact that this show had the audacity to challenge the norm as boldly as it did still leaves me astounded to this day. By no means is School Days one of the greatest shows of all time, but it is the most intricate middle finger to conventional storytelling as well as the most elaborate deconstruction of a genre that I have ever witnessed first-hand. And for that, School Days, I applaud you.
“Life is not a game. You can’t just hit reset. You only have one life.”-Makoto Itou, from School Days