9/29/2007

Series Review: School Days

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"Just as I thought. There's no one inside."

School Days is unquestionably the most blogged-about anime of the summer season, perhaps even eclipsing the king from spring, Lucky Star. Whether the hype is proportional to the quality of the show is the major question here.

This story of the three people who met in the school and got turned into three "love" stories has been getting reviews all over the spectrum; and it's not just anti-votes that are killing the show's rating.

Aside from the seasoned SD vets claiming that the story doesn't stay true to one plot - which is likely true, although unverifiable by me - the wide range of review scores and feelings about the show stem to the fact that School Days, above anything else, is unquestionably different from any show of the genre.

It sets itself up as a simple, happy romance show, a bit of a love triangle, something that a lot of anime viewers should be familiar with.

Where it goes from there is what's interesting, perhaps shocking.

Most of the viewers of School Days are well familiar with its darker-than-expected roots, and quite morally and/or sanity challenged characters. But adaptations tend to change a lot and with only 3 true "bad" endings out of a possible 20 (summing up possibilities from harem endings to ending up with any main character or side character) there are plenty of ways to clean up School Days's ways.

And for the first few episodes, School Days led you on like a criminal out of prison, claiming that it had changed. There was a happy, bright OP called "Innocent Blue." The character's crushes on each other seemed innocent enough. What could go wrong?

Plenty, in fact.

To say any more would be to spoil the show, but rest assured that if you like pleasant, upbeat, heartwarming romances you're going to be running screaming from School Days.

Rather, what you get is a dark, almost soap-opera-like concoction packed with twists, turns, and drama. This polarized the crowd, which generally fell into three groups:

1) Loved the drama, and the show.
2) Hated the drama, and the show.
3) Found the drama, and thus the show, hilarious.

Your ability to survive characters specifically set up to be detestable will say a lot about your enjoyment of School Days. If you can handle hating characters, if you can handle not making any assumptions that any character is "good", School Days is an excellent anime.

But not a top-notch one.

School Days is still a flawed anime, despite what one could possibly call quite enrapturing (when it's not ridiculous, or perhaps because it is) drama. The focus is arguably too thin, as while the main characters will have their stories resolved in a nice manner, the side characters simply disappear by story's end.

And it's not by any means a show everybody could find something to like in.

If you don't mind a walk on the dark side, School Days is still a show very worth watching, as what it does, it does very well. It's just what it doesn't do that keeps it from top status...

(Huge spoilers are huge, after the jump.)

The characters in School Days are arguably the most controversial aspect of the series, as they do plenty of things that range from ridiculous to just plain wrong.

Makoto is a martyr for the pimp lifestyle, as I can count on one hand all the characters with names in the show that he hasn't slept with...including guys. His actions at first were easily defendable; maybe he doesn't know how to approach Kotonoha, maybe he's being tempted by Sekai, maybe he's a good person after all.

And then he slept with Sekai, Setsuna, Otome, Otome's three friends, and Hikari, somewhat in that order.

The only people left defending him at the end were either the trolls who didn't take the show seriously, and those who respected him for being able to knock up that many girls. Yet somehow, Makoto was the character that showed both the most development...and the least.

Certainly in the last two episodes Makoto went through at least what seemed like an epiphany. He realizes that just maybe he was being a bit of a jerk to the one girl he really cared about, and he began focusing on the girl he'd been ignoring since the start...

Unfortunately there was another girl that he went through a phase with in between, Sekai, who brought out Makoto's true colors in trying to hang on to him, just to have him give her the cold shoulder in numerous ways.

Adding to the problems, Sekai was pregnant and so wasn't just about to give up Makoto to Kotonoha. Predictably, though, Makoto chose the one with the bigger rack and bigger will to make love to him, and Sekai made sure he didn't live to discover the error of his ways.

But to call Sekai a victim of circumstances would be a lie as well. School Days is filled with extremely flawed characters from every direction. Let's take a look at Makoto's harem:

Sekai sent the entire show into motion when she kissed Makoto at the end of episode 1. Had she stepped out there, things might have gone smoothly between Kotonoha and Makoto. Despite what she said about letting Kotonoha have him, in the end her emotional will overcame her logical one, and so she gave in to Makoto when he switched.

But it wasn't just Kotonoha who Sekai stole Makoto from. Setsuna was probably the original Girl With A Crush On Makoto, who confided in her best friend Sekai that she had a thing for him. Yet Setsuna got the shaft from the love triangle, having enough common sense to not get involved in other's business.

Not until late in the series anyway, when she kissed and slept with Makoto...in a desperate attempt to get him to stay with Sekai, and not turn back to Kotonoha. It's a strange paradox, where she sleeps with the guy she loves in order to keep him with another girl.

Otome was the third wheel, an outsider even more than Setsuna. Despite being a childhood friend of Makoto and wielding a powerful trio of evil friends, she didn't really have the courage or the opportunity to approach Makoto until the end, where she had a short fling with him, in between his Sekai and Kotonoha phases.

Her trio of friends slept with him later too, by the way. And inexplicably Hikari, the girl with a strange crush on his friend, Taisuke.

It's easy to see that all the characters suffer from a typical struggle of common sense vs. hormones, and in almost every case, the latter won.

Kotonoha is the "exception" to the rule in School Days, being made out to be the pure character, the real victim. Which arguably seems like patent lies, because she is quite mentally unstable, not to mention, possessive. She's easily pushed over, and there's probably a reason Makoto was the first one to approach her. You can't overlook any character in this show.

It's definitely a possible argument that these characters aren't as flawed as they look just because they had a slight (major) slip of judgment in bed; some say it's a realistic view of high school society.

But School Days takes the high road, ironically enough. It almost seems made to condemn this type of action. It certainly seems like the anti-harem show (not to be confused with "anti-harem" shows), a warning to future high school pimps out there to be very careful how you manage your harem.

Certainly Makoto could have gotten away with his life if he had, amusingly enough, stood up for himself a bit more. His ignoring of Sekai did more damage than anything else; his main flaw was that he failed to close relationships forcefully enough. He didn't ever really break up with anybody in person, instead taking cowards' way outs like using e-mail.

It's almost ironic that Makoto has the same problem as many harem leads, despite being so different: he lacks a backbone. Period. He just goes with the wind instead of just not going anywhere at all.

The characterization of the main trio worked relatively well, and despite all the ranting about their characters above they did seem like oddly realistic characters, realistic in their personalities and ability to make stupid decisions.

This is one of the interesting points of School Days, as for a long time it seemed like one of those things that Could Happen To You. Obviously at the end, it got a bit out of hand, but School Days's strength compared to other harem shows is that there is no supernatural premise, no magical secret. Everyone's a real person, with real friends and "lovers". It's almost creepy in it's realism (as stated over by the guys at Epic Win).

Unfortunately, the storytelling cracked a bit near the end, which may have alleviated the concern of some from the above regard, yet angered many more watching the show from an objective point.

Simply, the show takes on too much. There are so many plots introduced for the side characters that never really get solved. As interesting as the main love triangle was, there were many more things that needed to get conclusion.

Nanami got set up as the pity character at the end; admittedly I had hopes for her, since she was the only one untouched by Makoto. What happened to her?

Setsuna made a splash and dash with Makoto before flying off to France. Were they going to let her off? Never show her again? Apparently.

Otome seemed like she was getting somewhere in realizing she was foolish for ever liking Makoto. Why no true resolution on that?

Don't forget, there were probably almost as many people waiting for Taisuke the rapist to die in a fire as were those for Makoto.

And yet none of these plots were ever closed. With the one-minute "back to normal" scene at the very end of SD, after the credits, it's almost like they were anti-closed.

Unless, everyone would really forget and move on that fast?

Naturally in the end, there were some other logical loopholes too that didn't get covered, such as the body of a certain Saionji being discovered on the rooftop, or the dissaperance of Makoto and Kotonoha (off into the sunset, in a nice boat), or just why There Are No Parents In Anime.

One might argue that this show might slip from drama into the horror genre if that was covered, but in the end the show can get written off as an obvious work of fiction.

From that standpoint School Days works quite well. The soundtrack of School Days is one of the strongest I've seen in recent memory. While the actual music itself may be forgettable, the insert songs and changing credit themes really take the show to a new level of impact.

The end of the ninth episode, starting with Sekai's question "I'm your girlfriend, right?" really never fails to give goosebumps, with the way the song's highs and lows coincide with not just the ending of the episode, but also the following title display and episode preview. It's simply amazing.

Other insert songs are plentiful and strong, and add to the emotional effect of the show as well. I can't complain in the sound regard; while I can't really judge voice actors that well, I found them to fit quite well to their characters. The whiny Makoto, the desperate Sekai/Kotonoha, the quiet Setsuna...it works.

Graphically School Days is a good looking show as well; it's not fantastic (I think in terms of school series, it is topped by TokiMemo), but it's not ugly by any means. It GETS ugly in the show, but it doesn't look ugly.

On that note, the censorship in the series didn't bother me, if only because if it was uncensored, I'd probably be reaching for a bucket right now.

To sum it up, School Days is a dramatic and almost haunting school life show, which definitely gives perspective on the side of romance so rarely seen in anime these days. It makes a good contrast to the Shuffles and the Da Capoes where everyone gets along.

The audience can really feel the emotions from this show, which is what makes it such a hotly discussed series. One's mental state almost follows Kotonoha's throughout the show; first it's very pleasant and pure, followed by the creeping sensation that something's going wrong, and then topped off by a sort of insane laughter of the "this can't be happening" kind.

And that's what makes School Days such an appealing show to watch. If not because it's different than every other harem show, because despite the radical difference from the idealistic views and lives of many an anime viewers, it really connects.

It's one hell of a twisted roller coaster. Ride it once. Twice might make you sick, but it has to be experienced once, if only so you can say you hated (or loved) it.

-CCY



10 comments:

What... an awesome review... I was just stumbling in to read some good School Days blog articles and I'm amazed at this piece of work. You get my bookmark.

Thank you very much!

great review!

This Review was awesome. It really made me consider everything that was going on in the show. I completly forgot the sestuna liked Makota before everyone else did. I'm just going to have to say I liked all the details. Can you recommend any series close to this?

Wow, I'm suprised that this post is still getting comments months later. I guess this is a testament to the lasting power of a shocking show like School Days. Thanks for all the positive reviews, everyone.

And Hannah: It's tough to find a show like School Days to reccomend, mainly because it was so standout (for good and for bad). What did you like about it? I'm going to assume drama, since that's the bulk of the show.

In that regards, I've heard Kimi ga Nozomu Eien (Rumbling Hearts) is good in that category, although I've never seen it. I will soon, though. One I can reccomend more personally is Myself;Yourself, or maybe on a stretch Shuffle!. All of them feature intense character conflict.

I just finished the anime and I can say it is completly chaotic, which for me made it scary, the realism, the way things were done, the evil-ness, the slauter, the spinless jerk, unstable minds, all of it.
I can honestly say that although the killings could be a bit more graphic and truly made it horror I was, how to say, disapointed. Most manga and anime I've seen / read latly oddly enough has to do with high schoolers and I find it INCRDIBLY annoying when they don't wrap things up properly. Like the ichigo 100% manga, no proper ending for some people, this anime what happened to everyone, did they forget, did more people die, did the girl carrying the decapitated head die lost at sea, did the police EVER find out about the missing persons, did the childrens parents, if any, wonder what happened or scream in horror?
Un answered questions, no matter how good the story line, always ruin it for me.

Great review though.

I think that this show is better to be watched when approached from a exposition of the human mind. If your looking at it with realism in mind then I agree with the review that it is fictional. The thing that makes this anime scary is the fact that it gets inside your head or more importantly your emotions. It displays what happens to teens during transitional periods and how throwing people to the side like used trash can lead to bad things. What I think makes this anime great is the psychological value not the realism of the plot or story. This is why I really don't care about the left off stories or unexplained characters because they weren't the main focus here. But As the world goes this is only my opinion.

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