12/24/2007

Twelve Moments in Anime 2007 - #2: School Days 9

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The "12 Days of Christmas" series is a joint feature by some members of the Anime Blogging Collective recognizing twelve moments, twelve series, or just twelve things about anime that we've enjoyed over the past year, that really make us enjoy loving what we do, and that is being an anime fan. Feel free to join in the list-making fun too if you wish. We hope you enjoy this feature.

I've said it once, I've said it again, and now I'll say it three times: music is what can make a show great.

A story is the framework an anime is based on. With no foundation, the entire thing will collapse in on itself. With a cliche story, or flat characters, there will be nothing for an anime to build off of.

But there's only so far you can go with a base. A show with a good story might have logical appeal, might be interesting in theory, but like a socially inept savant, won't express itself to its full potential to others.

One might think that good looks, great graphics, might be the key to an anime being top-notch. Certainly there have been a lot of great anime that are drop-dead gorgeous. But really, graphics are only a fresh coat of paint; only really good for a first impression.

As long as it's not a horribly shoddy job, the graphics don't noticeably affect perception of an anime. They say, looks are only skin deep. Maybe a naive view, but one that holds relatively true in anime; pictures typically will not stick in memory quite as well as a poignant moment.

Or as well as music.

I'm not sure what it is about music that makes it a direct path to a viewer's heartstrings. There is something about the notes that a piano, a violin can make, that instinctively cues a certain reaction.

But no matter what it is, a good music track is what can make an anime stand out from the crowd. A theme that's infectiously catchy is something that a lot of people have come into contact with, and certainly a good OP / ED song, being heard 12+ times over a series' length, is important to get right.

Greater than that, though, is a memorable soundtrack, one that can take great moments and burn them into the mind, linking the two together.

School Days may be remembered for many other things, but for this reason, the ninth episode is what stands out from the series most.


12 Moments of Anime 2007
#2 School Days 09
"Sad Girls in School"

If School Days could be boiled down to two words, it would probably still be 'nice boat'.

Certainly the character-vs-character uber-drama elements of School Days, finally culminating in the bloody conclusion (and To My Children, I suppose I should add), is something that makes School Days stand out.

It's very doubtful, despite all the talk going around the anime community at every harem show, that we'll ever see such rampant sexuality and character conflict in an anime again. The yandere might have been pioneered by other shows like Shuffle! and Higurashi, but the 'nobody-is-safe' attitude that School Days has takes it beyond the safety lines that every other anime stays behind.

Those of us who tried to back a character, tried to believe that anyone was pure of heart - even simply relative to the rest of the characters - were proven wrong, to say the least.

School Days's reputation came and will continue to come from this element of drama, the fact that it went where nearly no other show had gone before in screwing 'em all, screwing the audience, and staying with it's twisted-fable-like-story until the very end.

And it only barely got away with it. The only reason that fans didn't turn out to burn the animation studio, those responsible in droves, was that School Days had an established pedigree, that it was famous for being 'that one eroge where she slit that other girl's throat'.

They were expecting it, they wanted it, they demanded it. Any newcomer who came to the show fresh, would be at least a little hesitant at demanding Makoto's blood, if only because it's a little extreme. A ridiculous cap to a ridiculously dramatic show.

Make no bones, I enjoyed watching School Days. I hated the characters. I hated everyone in it. But the strange mix of both hoping for the characters to improve and hoping for them to die allowed for enough reasons to watch the show and to be enraptued by every dramatic moment. There was just enough hope to leave one attached, rooting for certain characters, but little enough so that when one was wronged, they could easily turn against the show, asking for it all to go down in flames.

And verily, when it did, life was good. Personally, I was not one hoping for a bloody end - perhaps a fate worse or more demeaning than death would fit - but that is something irrelevant to the topic. (Best transition ever coming up.)

The topic is how School Days managed to keep my attention, managed to really inflame the emotions. And a lot of that, beyond just simple shock value, was due to School Days's excellent soundtrack.

There was a lot of work put into the music, I believe. Maybe it wasn't evident in the show itself, but one thing that seems unique to the show is how a different vocal theme was used for the ending theme for each episode. It's something that adds a nice touch to the show.

Additionally, there are a couple well-placed insert songs as well, and where these two works intersect at their finest is at the end of School Days 9.

A typical high-intensity moment to cliffhang another episode, we are concluding the school festival with an insert song as Makoto and Sekai (his current girl, for those keeping score) dance at the typical end-festival bonfire. It fades as the two of them twirl around, and Sekai asks, taking Makoto's hand,

"I'm your girlfriend, right?"

Makoto can only look stunned as another song, Anata ga Itai (if I recall correctly) cues in, slowly. We cut to a ribbon falling slowly into a dark pool, symbolizing another important event happening, which would be Kotonoha being raped by Taisuke (a fun show, I know, I know).

The music builds to a crescendo as we get an extreme close-up of Kotonoha's glassy eye, and lulls for a moment of silence.

The screen goes black. "Makoto..." she utters.

Then the music kicks back in as the title card, "School Days: After Evening", displays, and we get launched into the credits, the music continuing in the background.

It's a pretty emotional song, slow-paced but sung with a lot of heart, almost sad-feeling (although I can't interpret the lyrics), perfectly fitting for a scene in the show like this.

The credits continue scrolling, the same as always, as the song continues into it's powerful chorus; but it's not over yet. Exactly in time with the cut to the 'next episode' preview, the backing instruments cut out, leaving the melancholy singer's voice with only a piano behind her, as the next episode title, "Heart and Body" are typed out on the phone.

It's never failed to give me goosebumps.

The synthesis between music and visuals in School Days here is something I've never really seen in my days, the perfect match of sight and sound, and it even transcends the typical boundaries of the 'end' of an episode as well.

It's really a sealing touch to add to a series that's already unforgettable - one way or another.

School Days is one of those shows that won't dissapear from the public eye - maybe for it's content, maybe for it's ending, maybe for it's meme. It may not be one of those things that people want to see a lot of, and something that we probably won't see a lot of; this is one of those shock value shows that only works as the exception, not the norm.

Without all the other nice, happy harem shows to lull us into complacency, School Days's senseless sexuality and violent ending would be nothing. But since harem anime is, so often, what it is - more than a touch unrealistic escapism, School Days excels by looking to be another one of the same - if only for a bit - and breaking those expectations. (Admittedly, by being more than a touch unrealistic, except on the other end of the scale.)

You can say you saw it coming. You can say you knew it was going to happen a mile away. But there's believing, and then there's seeing - especially with such a misleading first episode, it was surprising how wrong School Days got and how fast it added it up, like a harmless prank gone horribly wrong.

School Days as such is my pick, hands down, for the most overall influential anime this year in the anime community - like it or not, it's become the bar for every harem anime to be set against in terms of drama and conflict, even if very few anime dare to approach that bar.

It may not be a comparison that I'm in favor of making, but I won't lie in saying School Days isn't indelibly printed on my mind, or at least the anime-orientated part of it. It's not just the characters, not just the drama, not just the conflict, but also the emotionally charged music that made it what it is, more than a simple harem meltdown and more of a wrenching, disturbingly serious (maybe real) romantic apocalypse that you can't turn away from if you wanted to.

A public service announcement by Makoto Itou and all his 'special' friends.

-CCY

3 comments:

Very nice analysis. I'm part-musician myself, so I love (really) listening to my anime while I watch it. I've downloaded the ED collection and have played the 8 or so ED songs over and over; they're just interesting to listen to. And they all remind me of different parts of the series, which heightens the songs' emotional impact. I don't listen to rock or metal (unless it's "Koi no Minoru Densetsu" and the like) but rather these quieter tunes.

The track that stands out the most to me is that gradual cacophony of piano and strings when Kotonoha first catches Sekai and Makoto on the roof, and she just falls to her knees right at the door.

You said it right at the end that School Days tips the scale in unrealistic happenings, except in the other direction. Maybe all the way up to ep12 I would say the series comes disturbingly close to reality, but I don't think love uh.. polygons .. have ended in such a bloody way as this story has.

We know it's coming and we know we want it, yes. We just keep watching, partly out of disbelief, and partly out of an unusual suspense where we just have to know how all the tragedy happens. I guess it's like reality TV; you can relate to it a bit but are very happy it's not you. School Days represents an interesting element of voyeurism in that case.

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