A long time ago (in 2006), I worked in a Blockbuster video store.
Around the same time, Rian Johnson’s first movie “Brick” came out. When I watched that movie, I loved it, but I realized that the premise of the movie is ludicrous.
On paper, the plot is the kind of high school power fantasy that I might have penned poorly at 15. Joseph Gordon Leavitt plays a high school student/private investigator who gets drawn into a plot filled with drugs, sex and murder.
So how do you sell a movie to people with that kind of premise?
I told people, “If you can buy that it’s a hard-boiled detective movie set in a high school, then it’s really good. But you have to buy the premise.”
School Days is kind of like Brick. If you can buy that this is a harem show set in a somewhat realistic high school, then you will be fine.
I, along with a host of other intrepid adventurers, made it through the entire 12 episode series as part of #Anitwitwatches. It’s kind of a book club for anime shows. And this is less a review of the show and more of an examination of my one main complaint about it.
At its heart, School Days is a criticism of harem shows, and everything about the show bends to that one point. It throws away character development, internal consistency and any shred of realism to accomplish that end.
It is so bad that I’m willing to accept that a girl can run across town in bloody clothes, carrying a bloody knife, and not get stopped because the show had exhausted me.
If the show needed it to happen, it happened. That is the School Days mantra.
I expect that Jon Spencer will disagree with my points. If you want to see an explanation about why it is realistic, read his review of it. We’ve had many of a discussion about this, and in some cases, I agree with him, but in many, I don’t.
There are plenty of places to start with this, but I’m going to start with what I will call The Makoto Problem.
The Makoto Problem
Of all the things I’ve learned in my life, the most valuable is that people don’t change on a base level on the drop of a dime. Epiphanies are often the product of hard work, self-reflection and an outside force.
I realize that we are dealing with fiction, but even in fiction, it’s more common to have a slow drift than a startling realization. When you do have the startling realization, it has to come along with something that shakes the character’s foundations.
Just to give two examples of this done well. When Guts overhears Griffith say that he can’t respect anyone who works for him in Beserk, it shakes all of Guts’ beliefs about himself and his relationship with Griffith. I buy the shift in Guts’ character after that point because the show established how Guts saw their relationship prior to that point.
Another example is when Rei Kiriyama loses in his match against Shimada in March Comes in Like a Lion. I can believe that it causes him to re-evaluate his life and seek more training. Because the show had built up to that point.
You might be asking what my problem is here. So let’s start with a question: Who is Makoto Itou before the beginning and at the beginning of School Days?
Well, we have plenty of characters testifying to the fact that he is a nice guy. We see him stand up for Setsuna in a flashback. At the very least, he has empathy for other people and acts on it.
Granted, we also see him be retiring, somewhat socially inept and lacking the basic courage to even talk to his crush.
The show further reinforces this at the end with the final post-credit scene. As much as I would like to believe that the final line indicates that he worked up the courage to ask Kotonha out, I’ve been told that is not the right interpretation.
This means that the sole instigation for everything is Sekai. We are left to believe that just by Sekai’s influence that he’s taken from a shy, retiring, empathetic guy to a sex-crazed fiend that doesn’t care what warm hole he finds.
Sekai doesn’t do anything really to create this character shift other than seduce him. We’re led to believe that the act of sex itself is so earth-shattering that it changes his very nature.
I don’t buy it. Either he is faking being a nice person, which means he’s a sociopath, or he is a nice person, which means he wouldn’t do any of these things. I understand that people are not logical, but they are consistent.
All of this is made even worse by the hard left the writers make in the last episode. After three episodes where he really is just having all of the sex and doesn’t care about the consequences, he suddenly rediscovers empathy. (I mean it’s not a complete reversal because he’s a dick to Sekai, but he went from being a Grade A Premium Cut jerk to just a normal jerk.)
He goes from not understanding why everyone is mad at him to accepting that he was wrong in one scene.
Why? Because he saw the wreck he left of Kotonha? That’s enough to make him rediscover empathy?
For the last three episodes, we’ve watched him plow a swath through nearly all the named characters. And this is what made him change his mind?
None of these points are consistent. I’m sure other people will find a way to make them line up, but it’s going to take a mighty big hammer to pound that level.
So why does any of this happen? Because the show needed it to happen. Makoto is a harem lead. He has be alternatively uncaring of anyone else emotions, yet likable. We need to be exposed to the ugly underbelly of having a dozen ladies chasing a man who refuses to pick between them.
One of the constant things I’ve heard is that the events in School Days could happen.
Here’s the truth. Singularly, yes, they could. Taken as a whole, no, they couldn’t
And I come armed with numbers. Every year school districts across Washington state survey high school students about a variety of health-related topics including sexual activity.
According to the 2018 results, about 26 percent of 10th graders reported having sex. That number goes up to 47 percent for 12th graders. What is important is that the number of people who had sex with multiple partners drops significantly to 5 percent and 12 percent respectively.
These numbers aren’t an aberration. We already know that Americans have more sex than the Japanese do.
If we assume the girls in School Days are representative of normal 17-year-old girls, then they are having way too much sex. (Interestingly enough, Makoto, statistically, is mainly having sex with virgins.)
That’s the problem here. Each time he has sex, it becomes less and less plausible. Having sex with Sekai, that’s reasonable. Having sex with Katou, that’s OK. When it gets to Setsuna, we have left the ballpark of plausibility behind. With Hikari, well we’ve left the village of the plausible and are into fantasy land.
What makes it even worse is that characters will leave behind reason and consistency just to get into Makoto’s pants. I like to call this plot pheromones. Setsuna fights for the entire show to make sure that Sekai and Makoto end up together, and she drops her drawers at the first chance to have sex with him.
This is made even worse by the “What if” tears in the airport. Has she completely forgotten that she wanted her friend to be happy? That she has done everything in her power to set her own desires aside for her friend?
I guess so. I mean if you squint really hard, then it makes sense.
The writers don’t even attempt to make an explanation for Hikari. She comes over to get Makoto to talk to Sekai, and just somehow ends up in bed with him.
With each girl Makoto sleeps with, it not only becomes less likely he would sleep with another, but the reasons they sleep with him become even more ludicrous. The most hilarious is when he has a threesome because… well… because.
We get back to the question. Why does this happen? Because it has to. If we’re going to have a harem show with real consequences, then as many of the girls need to sleep with him as possible.
Why it doesn’t matter
I don’t expect to convince anyone with my arguments, but I was left angry at the end of School Days.
I was angry because I felt like the writers acted on whims, and forced characters to make decisions that simply didn’t make sense. They used plot magic and hand waving to paper over those decisions with enough explanation that you could build a reason if you wanted.
Much of this show’s third act happened because it needed to happen.
If I can be indulged to bring up Watchmen again, one of the things I like about that story is that I could read it as a story. The characters remained internally consistent. They acted in consistent ways, and they didn’t seem to obey the whim of some invisible hand.
I’ve spent nearly 1,600 words talking about why the plot and characters of School Days are complete and utter bs. But I don’t think it matters.
To come back full circle, there is plenty of interesting criticism to be found in this show. I want to watch it again sometime to pick out all of the lines I missed, or see images with a new or different meaning. Even in the last episode, I think you could make the argument that Makoto is still running away by choosing Kotonha.
But the only way I’ll enjoy the show is to realize that it’s a criticism of harem shows and to check my suspension of disbelief at the door.
As always, thanks for reading.