Sep 10, 2012

Anime Review: School Days

School Days logo overlayed on the main cast looking at the viewerGot a friend who’s not into anime but you kinda wanna show them something to change that? Well, you could always show them School Days and then you wouldn’t have a friend anymore to worry about.

I’m sure you all have seen Spinal Tap. If you haven’t, there’s a very famous scene (and line) from one of the fictional band members talking about his amps: “These go to eleven.” He was referring to volume. School Days has a knob, too, only it goes to 12 and it’s about crazy. Each episode flicks that knob one more notch to the max until you get to the end and…

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

How are you? I’m doing okay, just calming down finally after repeated fits of rage while watching this series. I have a lot to say, though admittedly I’ll be basically just restating, less eloquently, what the THEM anime gang already said about this show. It’s less plagiarism and more the fact that they know what’s what and you should really just be reading their reviews instead of mine.

School Days is a troll series.

It effectively rick rolls you as you watch, dialing up the crazy with each episode. You will continually think it can’t get worse and then it does. Again and again. Until the last episode when it ends with what is symbolically a big middle finger.

Oh, by the way: spoiler warning! I’m not going to try to give away all of the specifics or assume you’ve seen it already, but it’s damn hard to talk about this show without getting into the details. And you know what? I’m not going to feel sorry for “ruining” it for you; it’s better if you skip it entirely anyway.

Kotonoha leans in to clean Makoto's face as Sekai watches

It begins rather simply, the first episode is a setup to a fairly formulaic love triangle that will probably leave you yawning. They try to mix it up by starting immediately with a confession (even titling the episode as such), but there is a reason most don’t do this. Confessions are normally emotional high points, whereas this series downplays it and even skips the actual confession to show her talking to a friend about it afterwards. Okay, maybe they just want to get to their budding relationship and explore that instead. “Well, maybe it gets better,” you’ll think to yourself as you continue on.

Most of the characters are pulled straight from the usual archetypes with not a single attempt at originality. The male lead is a flustered idiot, the tomboy is a cliché friendly type, and the girl he has a crush on is an overplayed delicate type. The animation is perfectly adequate, occasionally attempting interesting angles and cinematography (although to varying degrees of success), but is otherwise flat and plain. The voice actors are notably a bit iffy, some are okay but others feel like its their first real gig, and most sound too old for their characters. The music is mostly forgettable MIDI fare, but there is some decent piano work thrown in and the intro/outros aren’t too bad.

But, if you’re like me, you’ve heard countless times what an M. Night Shyamalan twist it has, and it always manages to get mentioned in those lists of recommended anime titles. It’s reputation precedes it and it certainly looks solid on paper. It’s just too bad that it seems so boring and cheap. “Give it a chance!” you hear your brain tell you. How could the hype lie?

By three or so episodes in, though, you’ll start to get frustrated. I know I called Zero no Tsukaima frustrating but this quickly surpasses it. Makoto, the male lead, is annoying. It’s sometimes endearing to see him be such an eager beaver for his girlfriend (at first) but mostly he’s just wishy-washy and dumb. Sekai, the tomboy, is aggravating since it is so obvious she digs him but is bottling it up instead to help him court the other girl. And Kotonoha is just… well, she’s kinda shy but means well, I suppose. She tends to be the most sympathetic of the lot. This turns out to be more true than I could have ever anticipated.

Kotonoha happy and blushingYou see, by about halfway through the series, you start to get the feeling that the entire point of this show is to see how much every other character can take a giant stinky shit on Kotonoha. She wants nothing more than to try to be a good girlfriend and learn how to handle a relationship, never having had one before. All the while, Makoto turns into a cold ass, Sekai betrays her by cheating with him, and the girls in her class continually pick on her in increasingly cruel ways.

Then the visual novel roots of the show start to seep in. You’ll get side characters given moments in the spotlight with the male lead if only to get their time in. As I’ve said before, most animes coming from VNs tend to suffer from trying to merge a lot of separate girls’ stories into one canonical storyline and it is almost always with awkward results for the girls not chosen as the main girl. Their love feels tacked on, obligatory, and worse it tends to contribute to a harem feel despite most VNs not portraying them that way. It becomes a game of “let’s see who falls in love with the lead next!”

Worse, Makoto is not a good guy. He’s clumsy and dumb at first but he increasingly becomes cruel and heartless and then outright depraved. I am not joking, either. A large focus for awhile seems to be watching him descend slowly into wickedness. It becomes harder and harder to believe these girls see anything desirable in him.

Dr. House smirking with text "Do I get bonus points if I act like I care?"Never before have I seen such a despicable showcase of cruelty and douchebaggery. We all love sarcastic asshole characters, in fact it’s mostly the makeup of your average American sitcom. And who doesn’t love Dr. House, the king of all sarcastic assholes? But we love them because they say the sarcastic and mean things we all wish we could say sometimes, but don’t because this is real life where feelings get hurt and relationships ruined. It’s a nice escape to see such colorful characters crack lines at each other for 24 minutes. But it’s also carefully scripted humor. Makoto isn’t a funny asshole. He’s just callous and selfish to the detriment of all others. It’s not enjoyable to watch.

The bottom drops out in the last four episodes. At this point, Makoto has not only tossed aside Sekai in favor of other girls, he’s soon shacking up with damn near every girl you’ve seen in the series thus far, with absolutely no remorse and an uncaring insatiable desire for sex above all else. He is a coward who never truly breaks up with Kotonoha or Sekai and just kind of avoids them when he loses interest.

You will be screaming mad, if you are like me. You will think it cannot get any worse. But remember: I told you this series dials up the crazy. every. episode.

By the last episode, your eyes will be twitching, your veins about to pop, and you’ll be so confused and crazed with seething rage that you won’t know how to respond when the finale hits you like a ton of bricks. And then you realize they just trolled you.


School Days is a troll series. It is. It leads you, unsuspecting, down a seemingly innocuous path, slowly incorporating more and more ridiculous drama. So slowly that you tell yourself they are just building tension or other vague sounding screenwriting tricks. But it never stops getting crazier until it basically gives you a “fuck you” with the ending. Because a boat.

You know what? That’s pretty ballsy, in a way. It’s genius, but in that 4chan horrible kind of genius. It’s like the writers wanted to see how far they could take you and how far you’d stick around before pissing in your face.

Bravo, guys. Bravo. You win. I was School Days roll’d.

But wait! Did I just give a bad review?

You might have thought to yourself, “How come that Sean guy always seems to enjoy and recommend things in his reviews? Does he lack a critical bone in his body?” Well, Timmy, it's simple, really: I try not to watch shit.

I do a bit of research and feelin' around on the ‘net and with select friends before committing to even downloading (whoops!) streaming things these days. There was a time in the early aughts when I gobbled up at least half of what the fansubbers put out, regardless, and I have dozens of full series rotting on CDs that I never watched. I don't have the time, mainly, to devote like that anymore, and furthermore life is too short to spend watching dinky tripe.

And you know what? I had every chance to stop myself here. My wonderful, darling girlfriend of 8 years (!!) whom I cherish even said: "Don't bother, it's stupid." I brought up the show to a friend and his reply was to restate the show's title, trail off with a verbal ellipsis and then sigh heavily, and give me a "Well, about that…" look.

Sometimes consensus is a good thing to follow. It can help me navigate the sheer multitude of series to find the good ones. But, then again, let's not forget that consensus says Naruto, Bleach, and Full Metal Alchemist are the best things since sliced bread. Maybe they are, and maybe I'm just being a snob for snubbing them, but I'm okay with that. I see it as no loss and I have no interest in them anyway.

And furthermore, it's a good point: sometimes you shouldn't follow the consensus. School Days is consistently brought up, but they also bring up Clannad (maybe it's good but I still have no interest and cannot no matter how I try find any in me) and a number of years ago it was all about Kimi ga Nozomu Eien (which, granted, was not bad, just... not worth the hype it garnered).

I still think School Days is worth skipping, but… it succeeded in generating a lot of strong emotions in me. Not good ones, per se, but even so. Isn’t that the point of stories? This one was hardly satisfying but damn if it wasn’t effective. So, there’s that.

Should you watch this? I guess you just have to ask yourself one question: “How much do I hate myself?” There’s your answer.

As of this writing, you can watch School Days for free on Crunchyroll.

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