Saturday 10 December 2016

Anime REVIEW: School Days

School Days

In 2005 0verflow released an eroge visual novel by the name of School Days. The game quickly became infamous not only for its fully animated gameplay (a rarity for visual novels), but also its huge selection of endings – the “bad” of which were especially graphic and/or brutal. In 2007 TNK released an anime adaptation of the game, which in turn also gained itself a rather notorious reputation. With the show’s finale initially postponed on Japanese television due to it mirroring a real-life news story going on at the time, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what kind of ending the show decided to go with.

Makoto Ito
Literally the worst

High-school student Makoto Ito is infatuated with Kotonoha Katsura, a girl from another class he shares the same train with. After spying Kotonoha’s picture on his phone Sekai Saionji, the girl he sets next to in homeroom, takes it upon herself to bring them together as a couple. However as Makoto begins a relationship with Kotonoha, he also finds himself attracted to Sekai – who has in turn has developed feelings for Makoto and become jealous of them.

The love triangle becomes more complicated as other girls also begin to reveal their feelings for Makoto, while Makoto himself continues to flitter between both Kotonoha and Sekai. Attempting to have it all without consideration of the feelings of those around him, Makoto’s new love life is about to come crashing down around him.

From the first few episodes School Days doesn’t seem particularly remarkable. High-school romances and love triangles are a dime a dozen in anime, and the show’s initial setup doesn’t show off anything that suggests it’s about to break out of the genre’s tried and tested formula. Visually there isn’t a whole lot on offer either, combining the rather distinct (and often unappealing) aesthetic of 00s anime with the largely generic character and set designs of the game itself. As far as accuracy is concerned it can’t really be faulted – though I only managed to play through the first act of the game before getting sidetracked I was still able to note the show’s faithfulness when it comes to design, but still nothing particularly stands out. Basically if a viewer had no idea where this show was headed, dropping it based on the first few episodes alone would be understandable.

Kotonoha Katusura
Route one

Stick with it though and School Days’ true nature quickly begins to shine through. You see Makoto isn’t the lovesick puppy of a boy the early episodes paint him out to be, he’s actually one of the most selfish, spineless and insufferable characters you may ever encounter in anime. School Days tackles manipulation, sex, rape and voyeurism in the most nonchalant of ways, taking the show in an increasingly dark direction that can’t end in anything but tragedy. As anime the show completely lacks any of the graphic sexual content the game has, but nevertheless plenty of it still goes on. Once Makoto wins the heart of Kotonoha he instantly becomes bored of her, moving onto the far more “active” Sekai while continuing to string poor Kotonoha along. And even that doesn’t prove enough for him either, as he continues to willingly cheat, manipulate and seduce other girls too. Though Sekai and Kotonha are both ultimately victims in all of this (as are many of the other forgettable characters), it’s the latter that suffers the most as the events of the show shatter her entire character. But bizarrely the show doesn’t seem to revel in all this darkness, as it still has moments where it (badly) tries to inject comedy into an increasingly plummeting situation.

The show’s almost immediate downward spiral into depravity is a symptom of its decision to not stick to one particular route of the game. Whereas most visual novel adaptations will usually stick rigidly to one path the game takes (most often the ‘true’ route), School Days instead borrows from as many routes as it can to further emphasise the monster Makoto is. Girls stop being treated like characters and simply just as sex objects, as Makoto seemingly works his way through his entire list of female classmates. Going down this route makes the most sense for a School Days anime, since it was the game’s bad endings that made it particularly notable in the first place. However what isn’t so clear is whether the anime does this as means simply to create shock and disgust or to act as a bigger deconstruction of the genre, as all of this immediately sets it completely apart from its closest rivals. School Days is never ‘enjoyable’ in the conventional sense, but so damn twisted that it actually becomes quite gripping. If you have no idea about the ending you’ll want to see it through to the end just to see what happens, and if you do every episode just builds up you more and more towards it. 

Sekai Saionji
Route two

However ultimately it all comes down to that ending, while truthfully is the only reason anyone should be willing to give this show the time of day in the first place. As time goes on the characters have become increasingly more unhinged, and the love triangle destroys itself as the only real victim in this whole saga turns out to be the most unhinged of them all. For something that largely avoided scenes of an explicit nature, seeing it tackle such gruesome violence head-on is a pretty huge shock that perhaps isn’t for the faint of heart. Interesting the ending isn’t one directly lifted from the game either – it’s an anime-original one that incorporates some elements seen in the game’s bad endings but amps things up ten-fold. It’s no surprise that the final episode was initially postponed, It’s airing replaced with 30 minutes of Norwegian scenery that spawned a meme in Japan among the anime community. Yet through all its horrificness there’s something disgustingly satisfying about the finale, by this point Makoto has become such an irredeemable figure that you can’t help but feel he gets what he deserves. It’s the kind of ending that will repulse you, whether it be through the graphicness of it or through the underlying feeling that something this horrific actually makes for an enjoyable ending.

The end

School Days is an ugly series. Ugly art, an ugly storyline and even uglier characters – there’s honestly very little redeeming about this show. However despite all this ugliness, there somehow manages to be something enthralling about it, culminating in the payoff of a gruesome yet somehow cathartic finale. Whether it’s by design or sheer coincidence, School Days is a brilliant inversion of the high-school romance genre that strips away all of the lovey-doveyness to leave behind something that isn’t anything other than brutal. It isn’t a pleasant or even particularly good series, but it is one hell of an experience


Unknown said...

786 I disagree with 87% of what you say. Your greatest sin, however--that which makes you an enemy of all mankind--is your utter failure to indicate, anywhere, that there would be spoilers in the review. Believe it or not, it is actually possible to review a thing, and review it well, without spoilers; it's done all the time. Your complete disregard for your readers has transformed my first visit into my last. Wow, alchemy! Call the Elrics.

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