What They Say:
“Your romance will come true if you keep your love interest’s photo on your cell phone screen for three weeks without anyone knowing.”
Will Makoto win his love by taking a picture of Kotonoha without anyone knowing?
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the visual novel of the same name that came out in 2005 and was only just discontinued in 2011, this 2007 studio TNK anime series adapts it in twelve episodes in a way that seems simple at first but turns into anything but. With it being a few years old, the show still stirs memories from those that saw it during its original run, which was also one of the first shows Crunchyroll brought over when they changed what their business model was. While I had a heard a lot about it, I never watched it myself until now. With so many shows dealing with high school romance, even with the supposed twists, it wasn’t one that I could just be all that eager to get to considering what my usual slate of them is like.
Which is unfortunate, because School Days is likely to be one of my all time favorite high school romance series.
The show revolves around a group of high school freshmen where some of them knew each other in middle school while others are new to each other. There’s a decent primary cast and an interesting supporting cast, but the supporting cast doesn’t become involved more until the second half where it just spirals out of control. For the leads, things revolve around Makoto, a kind of generic everyman leading male where he has the expected looks but little else to him in terms of personality. He’s a bit of a cipher in that you don’t know what kinds of interests he has, how his grades are or even a really good best friend that he confides everything in, though there is a superficial one in the supporting cast. Makoto is a blank slate to some degree, which is good and bad.
What drives the initial round of events is that he becomes interested in another student named Kotonoha, a quiet and shy type that he sees on the train every day and has grown fond of. When she notices him, things start to move a little, but mostly because of a friend of his from middle school, a more outgoing young woman named Saionji, starts to give him the push towards talking to her. She serves as a decent catalyst for it, helping to bridge things in the beginning between them such as the three of them having lunch on the roof together. It’s kind of cute how she helps him, but you can also see the little bit of sadness to her as well as there are obviously feelings here. You can see the usual dynamic of a triangle playing out here to some degree, and it moves quickly into it whereas most series would take the full twelve episodes to really get there.
Where things go in a different and welcome direction though is when Saionji finds out that Makoto is having trouble with Kotonoha because of her very shy nature and the way she’s so timid when it comes to touch. Not that Makoto is innocent in all of this because he’s a somewhat typical horny teenager, one that wants to kiss her and even more grander overtures rather early on in the relationship since he hasn’t a clue about what to do or how to act. What really throws things for a loop though is when Saionji offers to teach him what he needs to know. No, not how to talk to a girl and flirt with her. How to fondle, handle, kiss and actually have sex with. They go the distance but there’s a sudden shift as Makoto is now completely into her and begins to just shutdown when it comes to Kotonoha, who hasn’t a clue about what’s going on.
Amusingly, Makoto’s getting lucky must have given off some serious pheromones as quite a few other girls start to take notice of him. Some have had an interest since middle school while others are getting into him now. It’s really interesting to watch this unfold as you see Makoto getting caught up in it all, thinking far more with his little head than his big head, and even while he’s sleeping and getting closer to Saionji, he’s taking advantage of whatever else comes his way. Which is quite a few young women. There’s even a cultural festival two parter where there’s a special “break room” where people get sexual with each other and he ends up in there, as well as others, which in turn becomes the subject of a video that’s shown to a group of female students, much to their shock and delight. It’s brutal with how the girls treat each other, but it also has that air of truth to it as well. With Makoto caught in it and some of his partners seeing it, not knowing they’d slept with the same guy, and others that are interested in Makoto seeing it, it’s a piece of work.
Watching the dynamic of the series is something that really captivated me after it got rolling. One of the things that many shows do, both in Hollywood and in anime, is the whole chase is greater than the catch. Think the whole Sam and Diane angle from Cheers all those years. Once you catch them, it’s like the writers don’t know what to do with it. With anime, I’ve always felt, especially with the ones based on manga, that the original authors simply never had real relationships themselves and don’t know how to write anything past the chase, which is why that’s how they usually end the series. Very few go past that, at least in the shoujo/shonen realm, leaving you to go to josei and seinen manga for something that feels more real.
And, outside of the last ten minutes of the series, School Days feels very real. So much so that a good chunk of it with how it plays out that it reminded me of events at my own high school. Not involving me, but others in my class where sex was frequent, people played around and hearts were broken and things got very intense. And people left the school as well. With so many series being so chaste, playing the will they game, it’s very refreshing to see one that shows the fallout from it, from the poor choices made and how others impact them. Seeing that play out here, in compressed and harsh form is a real treat to watch. It’s similar in a way, very limited of course, to why I enjoyed the first Kimagure Orange Road movie so much. It gave us a what happened next and showcased the emotional fallout.
Teenagers, especially of a freshmen age, dealing with intense feelings like this with nobody that they can truly talk to or learn from leads to situations like this. Makoto is just enjoying the ride with how all these girls want to have sex with him. He’s certainly not innocent in all of this, nobody truly is, with the way he pushes Kotonoha away and then proceeds to sleep around. Saionji is in the wrong from the start with what she does and how manipulative she becomes to keep him, not realizing that someone who cheats to be with you will cheat on you as well. Kotonoha is the one you feel the most sympathetic for as it all starts to turn to crap because she didn’t see it coming, is kept out of the loop and is struggling to find her place in things. She’s getting bullied by the other girls who don’t believe her and Makoto isn’t making it easy. While you do feel for her, she gets so in denial as the truth is out there that it makes it harder to be sympathetic, but at the same time you can understand it to a degree because it’s her first love and she’s getting hurt in a very big way.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the series as a whole, it definitely ends with that visual novel feeling where you wonder just how badly it’s all going to be. And you know it’s going to go badly by the eleventh episode as there’s little in the way to salvage the situation. You can imagine a few other ways to go, but here things take their violent turn, more so than one might expect, but I have to say that by the midway point I was pretty much saying that with the way the series was progressing, it was going to have to end with bodies on the floor. But with the way the cast grew and the supporting cast made some serious impacts on the lead, it was impossible to really tell who was going to do what to who. Or whether it was going to go like Heathers, except actually go through with it. It definitely leaves an impact, with or without those final ten minutes, but I’m glad they offered up here.
School Days is one of those series where it definitely can be divisive with anime fans for a lot of reasons. While the cast as a whole may be unlikable, they are engaging in situations that a lot of teens end up in, whether adults want to believe it or not. I loved that the show moved past the whole playful stage and dealt with the real fun in storytelling – the relationships. They’re messy, awkward, leave a bad taste in your mouth at times and push young, emotional and sometimes unstable teenagers into horrible positions where they can’t see any outs. The show hits a lot of good things here, with appealing character designs, decent animation overall and a cast that has a lot of potential in general if they had a bit more time to really get into who they are. There’s a lot of reasons to really hate this show, but I found a whole hell of a lot of reasons to find each episode to be thrilling to watch. It’s a show that definitely should be seen just to know which side of the fence you’ll end up on.
Streamed By: Crunchyroll
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