School Days: Bleak and misanthropic

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I think School Days is one of those shows where even if you haven’t actually watched it, you probably still know how it ends. That was the case for me. Before today, I had never actually sat down and watched School Days in its entirety, and I only watched it because so many of you guys voted for it. Oh, I had definitely seen its infamous ending on Youtube, and I had always had a vague idea what the show was about. But until today, I did not realize, however, that School Days was about more than just a love triangle gone wrong. In fact, girls pretty much throw themselves at our main character left and right, even when they know it isn’t the right thing to do. What I’ve come to learn most of all, however, is that this is a hateful, little show. You can measure badness in a lot of ways, and perhaps School Days isn’t bad because it’s poorly made or anything like that. It is bad, however, because the show is utterly soulless.

Maybe it’s the fever talking, but after marathoning School Days in a single night, I feel nothing, No outrage, no sadness, no anything. But according to some of my readers’ comments, School Days should have had a more polarizing effect on me:

“…in the end, I went for School Days, based on how entertaining Harem Hill is, and how tightly School Days fit into the Harem hill paradigm – until it departs from formula in that manner that made it infamous and stand out from dozens of identical Harem stories out there.”

“As fun as bashing School Days sounds in theory, it’s kind of a dead horse by this point.”

“School Days

Because I want to see you rage.”

“School Days would be fun more if you were doing a blind run via the visual novel (just one route), that way you don’t know what ending you might get or where the story is going. As for the anime, it’s actually pretty bland until the infamous ending which I’m sure you know about already.”

“I’m glad you put School Days on the poll, because I’ve been curious of what you might think about it.”

“…School Days would crack me up.”

But again, I’m not raging. I’m not laughing. I just don’t feel anything. Frankly, I have a hard time giving a shit about School Days. This is just a bleak, misanthropic little show. Some people have called it a satire of harem anime, but I don’t see it. I’ve said elsewhere that the best way to satirize something is to take that something seriously. So what happens when you try to take the harem genre seriously? What happens when you take your average, horny teenage boy, and stick him in a situation in which all the girls want to fuck his brains out? Would you end up with something akin to School Days? Maybe. Does School Days thus show the inherent flaws in the classic harem formula? I don’t think so. I think the show merely sneers at the conventions instead of subverting them in some pursuit of truth. Yes, it’s certainly the case that most bland harem leads are sexually inert. Give them a chance to grope a girl, and they might do so inadvertently, but they almost always apologize after the fact. And this is where the buck stops for School Days.

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Yes, Makoto is a selfish, horny teenager who will bang any girl with a pulse. And yes, the girls throw themselves at him inexplicably just like what you would find in your average harem anime. But the problem with School Days being satire is that it isn’t actually serious enough. Just because a girl ends up carving another girl’s stomach open doesn’t mean you’re being serious. Had the anime truly taken the harem genre seriously, we would have gotten some “Voila!” moment in which the characters realize that the harem dynamics are utterly incompatible with real life relationships. But not once did anyone ever say, “Yo, let’s stop what we’re doing before we actually hurt someone.” Girls like Hikari and Otome eventually shun Makoto, but only for their sake. Makoto eventually returns to Kotonoha’s side, but again, not because he actually feels any remorse or guilt for hurting her like a normal person would. He falls to his knees and cries in front of her out of concern for what he has done to her, not what she has become. So the show isn’t satire. The show is quite earnest, actually. It’s quite earnest in its hate.

Essentially, no one’s human. Everyone’s just a concept, and their job in the story is to inflict as much pain and suffering to each other as possible. School Days doesn’t make real human characters act out stupid harem dynamics. It merely says, “Look, this is the worst case scenario in a harem. Isn’t it fucked up?” So the ending is purely masturbatory. The individual characters are stupid, and their actions meaningless. Not a single character in this show displays a single ounce of humanity. Makoto’s best friend rapes Kotonoha out of nowhere just because it would be a shocking thing to have in the story. The bullying girls all meet up at Makoto’s apartment to bang him just because “[w]e shouldn’t be the ones who are missing out, either.” They just want to see “how ‘good’ he actually is.” Satsuna lets Makoto fuck her if he agrees to break up with all of the other girls for Sekai’s sake. Finally, Kotonoha snaps just so we can get a cool action shot of her attacking Sekai with a bloody cleaver. You soon realize that these aren’t real characters with real human feelings or motivations. They’re just concepts designed to maximize misery within the story.

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The harem genre tries to pretend as though its tropes and conventions are possible. A satirical look at the harem genre would then reveal how utterly broken those harem dynamics really are when you apply them to real, actual people and real, actual relationships. But like I’ve said, School Days doesn’t employ the use of real, actual people. School Days takes a cast of reprehensible human-looking simulacra and has them all act in the worst ways possible. The show relishes in coming as close as possible to human misery. The show wants to convince us that we should cheer for Makoto’s death. The show wants us to hate each and every single one of its characters, and there’s nothing remotely tongue-in-cheek about it. We are meant to wholeheartedly embrace the anime’s ultimately nihilistic ending. Yes, Makoto gets what he deserves! Yes, the yandere bitch snaps and kills Sekai! Oh man, she even chops off his head! That is so metal! But then what? As you watch Kotonoha cradle her former lover’s head on a boat, what are you supposed to feel? What has the anime actually accomplished?

I feel nothing for School Days. It’s a hateful, little anime with nothing to say. In the end, School Days is no different from the cardboard cutouts it jeers. There’s even something rather smug about the way it embraces its own misanthropy. So in the end, it’s hard to give two shits about a show like that.

14 thoughts on “School Days: Bleak and misanthropic

  1. Flawfinder

    I think School Days is a victim of A) being treated better than it should by history B) why shock factor is a terrible storytelling method. Sure the anime might have been atrociously gleeful to look at back then and the jokes about the ending and “Nice Boat” will always be fun Internet quips. But as for actually watching the anime, if you did it with all the knowledge of its famous parts, then the shock isn’t there. And if the shock is gone, what else is there? A dull insipid show that’s not even all that pretty to look at.

    That someone thought to license this thing in the States just makes me facepalm. Someone I know said it best: “Too mean-spirited for the moe crowd. Too ugly and stupid for the hardcore crowd. So who exactly is the audience for School Days?”

    1. Flawfinder

      Oh and since you quoted me, I just want to state that your “feeling nothing” for School Days is one of the best bashings that could ever be inflicted on this show. I think “useless” is the most damning statement you can make for anything: anime or otherwise.

      1. IonCaron (@IonCaron)

        I’m just going to echo Flawfinder’s statement here. I don’t know if you felt a bit disappointed that you couldn’t give us your usual fun destruction of a harem show, but I have to say that this far outdoes anything else you could’ve done otherwise.

        A real response is the best response, and damn if hearing how you feel unaffected by this shit isn’t great in it’s own way. Indeed, the most damning statement is to be able to turn from a work and completely feel nothing from it.

    2. E Minor Post author

      But that’s the thing… if all School Days has going for it is shock value, then it is misanthropic and hateful. It’s only redeemable factor is that people are brutally murdered or mentally tortured.

  2. higgsbosoff

    And so, by virtue of the poll, we get to read you agonizing over this crap rather than giving us interesting insight on, say, Utena. Yet another victory for democracy.

    1. E Minor Post author

      I wouldn’t say I agonized over it. Unlike a regular harem in which you can play along with mock outrage, School Days is just bad. If this show was somehow a real person, it’d the type of person that you would just ignore and turn away from because any ounce of effort you put into engaging him or her is a waste of time.

  3. Bobduh

    Welp, kinda unfortunate something as empty and mean-spirited as School Days won the poll. At least the other top shows are actually worth watching!

    1. E Minor Post author

      Have only looked at Kyousougiga, but it seems pretty good. It’s also pretty dense to analyze. I may have bitten off more than I can chew with my limited schedule.

  4. IonCaron (@IonCaron)

    Hey, you made it!
    Insert celebration horn here

    Glad you pushed through the SD show despite being sick, but I’m even more glad you don’t have to do it again. It is true that this show is easily one of the most spiteful, hateful things in anime, and that it’s only real selling point is about as long as a Youtube vid.

    The reason I said “a blind run of the VN” is because I don’t think a lot of what happens in the show happens in the VN. At least, not naturally. If it does then…I have no idea.
    _I have a feeling the writer of the show looked at what made School Days popular and said “Well, we gotta build up to this!”, and set that as his main focus. See, any “Days” VN is sold entirely on it’s fail states. Hell, the biggest selling point of the HD rerelease of School Days was that in one fail state we get to see one of the two girls go for a pleasant train ride.

    The difficulty is that, at least for the show, not only are it’s selling points already known prior to viewing but the entire journey is a clusterfuck of misery as you stated. Maybe it’s a reflection on the morbid curiosity of the readers in the VNs, though. If your story’s biggest selling points are the “HOLY SHIT” shock bad endings, then the player/reader will do their damnedest to get those bad endings to see them, thus devolving the story into one long trek of assholes and spite until they get their money shot.

    Who knows? Maybe School Days succeeded in replicating the experience of reading the VN for most people. In that sense it’s a great adaptation.
    But a great adaptation of shit is still shit.

  5. Vrai

    A tip of my hat – I can’t say I disagree with your assessment. It is indeed a mean, vicious minded, and often petty little show with only one likable character (I’d argue Kotonoha is at least closest to sympathetic). Damned if I don’t enjoy it anyway, as a foremost guilty pleasure.
    Maybe it’s just me storing up years of bile at the soulless machinations of the cookie cutter bottom barrel anime SD apes so effectively (where yup, the characters are still inhuman concepts, except the audience is meant to take them as wish fulfillment material), but yes. There is a certain joy in seeing it all torn down, a kind of nasty catharsis that only works once. It doesn’t make it good, or even worthwhile, but I’d say there’s a use for it, especially considering it came out during the worst throes of that effortless, unimaginative glut of bland-pseudo moe anime that were all immediately forgettable (though perhaps we should say that Higurashi too accomplishes that, with a more stable and semi-worthwhile structure).

    1. E Minor Post author

      The thing is that I dislike those “cookie cutter bottom barrel anime” as much as the next guy, but I’ll approach them on my own terms. It just doesn’t sit right with me to literally torture the characters just because of what they represent.

  6. The Real Sugoi Sugoi

    > In the end, School Days is no different from the cardboard cutouts it jeers. There’s even something rather smug about the way it embraces its own misanthropy.

    My thoughts, exactly. Like you, I watched a while back it after listening to people spewing praises of it left and right. Judging by all these acts of fawning, I thought that I was about to watch a masterful series about psychological horror, but I was wrong. As you put it, the show has nothing to say. The show’s violent end felt more like it was executed for edgy shock value rather than anything in the way of meaningful social commentary.

    Worst of all is the pretentiousness it oozes (as you pointed out). It jeers at cardboard cutout harem shows while showing itself to be no different than its subjects of ridicule. At least with popular harem shows like “To Love-Ru” or “Highschool DxD”, you don’t get any sense of this attempt at pompous self-deception. The shows are what they are, and are honest about it. They make no pretensions of being anything different or higher-minded, unlike “School Days.”

    I have a special hatred for shows like “School Days”, simply because of its pretentiousness of claiming to be above the things they poke fun at. It’s also why I hate the “Monogatari” series (and its endless spin-offs), “Family Guy” and “South Park”.

    By the way, I hope you’re going to cover “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders.” It just came out, like, yesterday. That’s another show/series that makes no pretension of being anything higher or enlightened than it is. It’s just a purely flamboyant, over-the-top action series. No claims of social commentary or insights on human nature there.

    1. E Minor Post author

      No claims of social commentary or insights on human nature there.

      I’m going to watch it, but I agree that it doesn’t have any commentary or insight on human nature. As a result, I don’t really know what I would blog about. The craziness of the episodes? That’s not really what I tend to do here.

  7. Ax_v

    When I first heard of the anime, I thought it would be entertaining, because people who die. Needless to say, I was disappointed. As for the show itself, like you, I felt nothing for it when it finished. Actually, I was confused, because I didn’t how how I should feel about it. I enjoyed the misery the characters went through, but I was annoyed with the overuse of misery. I enjoyed the death seen, but not only was it censored, there only 1 (or 2 depending on how you want to look at it). So in the end, all my feelings for the show get cancelled out. I watched this whole show in one sitting as well, the whole day went by, but in the end it didn’t even matter. Which is a shame, because the idea of a harem satire is very interesting. Although, I have heard (but I cannot find the exact quote) that this is more of a satire on eroge more than harem. I can’t remember their exact points that they made, but it did make some sense. Anyways, thanks for reviewing this, I was very interested to see your thoughts on this show, and others as well.


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