12/01/2007

Living in the Post-School Days Era

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School Days is quite possibly the standout anime of this year.

Never before have I seen an anime exert such genre-shaking power; after all, the true test of an anime or any work of fiction is not how much you support it in the moment of actually consuming it, but how much you support it after its run is over.

In that regard School Days has become harem's Azumanga Daioh, the eternal bar for other anime of its genre. And quite frankly, people won't shut up about it. Even I'm writing about it...again.

But like all things blown out of proportion, one has to question how much School Days lives up to the hype. Has it really affected how we see harem shows today? Should it? And, has it unleashed something revolutionary in the genre itself?

(Nice Spoilers ahead, also for Myself;Yourself as well.)

The answer to the first question is obvious. Any show nowadays with even a hint of drama in the background of it tends to get at least a small crowd of people saying "Oh no, not another School Days", or something of the like.

Some of these are valid - Myself;Yourself certainly has the requisite character conflict. Da Capo II, maybe, but it's a bit of a stretch. Shana II? Not even close to being close.

My main issue is that School Days did not invent the 'drama in romance' idea. It may have been one of the most extreme examples, but we had just as much character conflict in Shuffle!, or the original Da Capo. Hell, you could make a case for Tsukihime (take the end of Ciel's arc).

Certainly School Days took it to a new level with the ending - where other characters started regretting their actions, Kotonoha and Sekai sharpened their knives - but by no means is it genre-defining.

This is because, to me, School Days is an outlier in harem-land for these reasons and others. School Days is a decidedly more dark show, almost sadistically so, than any other romance out there. Most harem shows aim to be somewhat escapist and bright, with the drama just leading to a reconcilation and conclusion. But School Days uses the same idea to chart both the rise and fall of one of anime's most incredible womanizers. It's like one giant, completely-messed up fable.

The endless references to School Days feels like more of a comparison brought on by mental scarring more than any valid reasons. In the same way that Nanaka (M;Y) goes into mental convulsions whenever she sees fire, harem viewers get all twitchy and scared whenever they see a knife or a hint of conflict in anime. Most of them don't want it to happen again; at least not to these non-Makoto-characters.

I am of the viewpoint of giving these people a nice, reassuring hug like a typically bland harem protagonist, and murmuring that I'll never let it happen again to them. Because it won't.

School Days is an equally special case in that it was probably one of the most widely-spoiled anime in history. It was 'that one show where that one girl stabs the other one'. Because of that shocking revelation, viewers began to expect that, expect School Days to go where no anime went before. At some point, backing off from the 'shock ending' would create more controversy than anything else.

On the other side, original anime, or other, more tame visual novel adaptations are less likely to go said "boat route" since logically, there's no reason to. Since as mentioned, most anime are generally pleasant affairs in the end, there's no reason to go to such extremes which would logically lead to a bad ending of a show. Most animation studios do not hate viewers enough to give them an ending that leaves them feeling guilty or sick.

School Days was a show where nearly all characters were developed to be equally detestable. But most shows paint their characters with at least some good traits, or at least do not intend to put them in a bad light; in romance shows there are very few true 'villain' characters, just a bunch of competitive rivals that can wield the power of the fanbase.

Naturally a character taking such drastic action against another would really hurt their reputation at least in the eyes of a lot of people. You never hear "I know she tried to kill someone, but she's really a nice person" that much.

It all goes back to pleasing the fans. Some people like to see a lot of conflict. Some like getting dropped into the middle of a character war (Kaede vs. Asa, for one). But a large amount of people would rather have something easily digestible, something warm and fuzzy; they watch anime to get away from all the yelling and screaming and shoving.

A little bit is of course acceptable to move to plot but most of the time shows don't go to such extremes, because it would just be too repulsive for some people to watch, too overblown for something as simple as teenage love. Trainwrecks are an acquired taste.

Will it happen again? Of course it will. As ridiculous, as depressing as it is, School Days manages to compart a sort of raw emotion very few anime can touch; it's an emotion that many don't like to deal with (I know I'm not happy with nearly busting a keyboard), but one that's very real and if you can stand it, very intriguing. There will always be people willing to push the boundaries of taste, and I don't blame them nor plan to stop them.

It could be happening again as we speak, some say. Myself;Yourself is on the Boat Radar of many people at the moment; the Wakatsuki father, Nanaka's uncle, and Grandma Kaiji are all under heavy suspicion of doing Bad Things, and we certainly are getting our share of screaming, sad music, and drama.

Personally, I think it is a bit of a stretch; all visual-novel-type games tend to have at least some level of dramatic conflict, yet 95% of them end well. Myself;Yourself may be deeper entrenched in the stuff than most shows (not a bad thing, yet) but it's quite clear that from the overall atmosphere of the show - from the light-hearted beginning to the rocking OP, that these are all means to some good end.

My main issue, if you had to boil it down to something, would be that people are becoming over-paranoid in the post-School Days era. Shows like this that really go outside the box, that really stand out, are the exceptions, rather than the norm. Not every show that gets a bit dark is going to end up in Bad End City. Nor is every show that's dramatic copying School Days. Tension is a natural part of fiction, and only when it becomes wildly overblown - to nearly a post-apocalyptic tone - can we really say that we've got the Next Boat entering the harbor.

-CCY
(My apologies if this post is less coherent than usual. It's one part rant, one part post-SAT, and one part Tsuru Pettan. Probably a bad mixture.)

5 comments:

School Days was a show where nearly all characters were developed to be equally detestable. But most shows paint their characters with at least some good traits, or at least do not intend to put them in a bad light

I think for me that's why it ultimately failed to have much emotional force - with such unlikeable characters, there was no sense of tragedy.

Unfortunately, I'm not as well versed in the genre as you are, so I can't draw comparisons between School Days and its genre-fellows. But I'm told that, as you say, it was more of an evolutionary dead end for the form than a genre-redefining moment.

xXMikotoNakadaiXx said...
December 1, 2007 at 8:54 PM
 

^ Yeah, with such unlikeable traits, your real expectation is to want them to all die in the end. =P

iknight: That sounds like an accurate comparison. 'Dead end' doesn't sound too right, as it's quite negative; maybe more of an 'anomaly'. It's not like School Days made a wrong turn, it just chose to take the road less traveled. A path that's not for everyone.

And I think the key part of making School Days emotional is making the initial misconception that any of the characters are 'good'. For instance, I thought Setsuna could solve things.

Damn, I'm funny.

(Well, I liked Nanami since she was pretty likable on the relative scale.)

Mikoto: Agreed, agreed, but near the end death felt like the cheap way out. Too much shock value, not enough conclusion.

Maybe I just wanted a fate worse than death for some characters. :P

(Taisuke lived with all his manly parts intact, for one.)

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