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.
11 thoughts on “School Days is complete and utter BS and it doesn’t matter — An #AniTwitWatches post”
“We’re led to believe that the act of sex itself is so earth-shattering that it changes his very nature.” Alright, so obviously I disagree with you on a lot of this, but this one line really stuck out with me so wanted to address it first. Scientifically, yeah, sex does alter your brain (especially after the first time). You can become addicted to it as a result even. So this is unlikely, but it does actually happen.
As to your points about the plot bending over backwards to make things happen, this is why I encourage a rewatch. There are a lot of justifications and explanations, but they aren’t always obvious. Some are setup quite early and than not paid off until far later, meaning it can be difficult to keep everybody’s motivations straight on a first watch. That’s totally reasonable by the way, the immediate reaction kind of trumps careful observation and I’m not faulting anyone for that.
My rewatch comment is particularly relevant to Setsuna and everything that goes down with Sekai there. I think that going in with that in mind and really looking at it, you’d see that this is perfectly reasonable and not stretching things in the slightest.
While it is interesting that you pull in stats for Japanese high school students and their sex lives there are two issues I take with this line of thinking. The first being that while this sort of thing is highly unlikely, there are outliers in stats. This is just one of them. Secondly, this is genre commentary and the cast is about on par with most harem casts so it’s more it checks requisite boxes than anything else. That’s the reason for the number of girls.
Even setting that aside, serial cheating is also a real thing. It’s not unrealistic for the lead to get with folks even if we were applying real world logic to the situation. It’s plausible, which is where School Days wants to sit as it moves closer to its ending.
Finally, I’d like to remind you that Makoto is a fresh high school student. He’s not that old and he’s completely inexperienced at the start of the show. While the show does require him to continue to make increasingly poor decisions, his motivations for doing so are never ambiguous.I’ll speak to this more in my review tomorrow (though it is limited for reasons I already mentioned to you earlier), he’s sleeping with these women because he is afraid to commit to a decision, and at the same time, doesn’t want to hurt anybody. Obviously he does, and it bites him for both reasons.
That’s why when he finally does make a decision and a happy ending is in reach, the show does not reward him for making the “right” choice. He’s still made to suffer the consequences and is not absolved of his actions, if anything, the show only drives its condemnation even further.
I’m conflicted about your article because you do state that these things ultimately don’t matter, that the show is “good” in spite of these things, but I also feel like this is still coming from a place of a more emotional reaction. Again, which is fair, but the emotional reaction misses out on justifications that do exist withing the text explicitly. I’ll give you that not /everything/ is perfect, and some things really do lack a super solid justification (Hikari has some implicit stuff, but it’s the least concrete out of everyone as an example), but there’s more here than I think you give it credit for. I guess that’s really what I’m trying to say.
Anyway, if you ever do rewatch the show, I’d be very intrigued to see how your views shift (or if they stay resolute even). Appreciate you taking the time to write this up, and of course, for joining the watch! I hope we can really enjoy ourselves with Girls’ Last Tour as well 🙂
Oh jeez, I wrote a lot >.< Sorry about that lol. I guess, just check out my review tomorrow would probably have been enough.
So I’m going to assume that I failed to communicate my point. Because it’s pretty obvious from what you wrote that you do not understand what I’m trying to say.
For School Days to be realistic, sex have to change Makoto a base level AND these girls need to represent a statistical outlier AND we need to accept that their motivations make sense AND we need to accept that he’s a serial cheater AND…
My point is with each of these unlikely actions this series moves further and further away from the realm of plausibility. You keep trying to separate them and say, “Well this one action is plausible.”
Sure. In isolation it is plausible. But taken as a whole. No. They aren’t
BTW the statistics are from Washington state. I made the jump to Japan because it’s frequently reported that they have less sex than Americans.
My point isn’t that the show is “good” anyway. My point is that if you view this show as a commentary on harem shows then the inconsistencies and inexplicable behavior make sense. But you need to understand that it is a commentary before you start watching, otherwise it’s complete and utter BS.
In fact, you repeat my point back to me at one point in this comment where you say, “Secondly this is genre commentary…”
One final point, if you are going to make a point, bring evidence. This paragraph is really bad.
“As to your points about the plot bending over backwards to make things happen, this is why I encourage a rewatch. There are a lot of justifications and explanations that are not paid off until far later, meaning it can be difficult to keep everybody’s motivations straight on a first watch.”
This one as well:
“My rewatch comment is particularly relevant to Setsuna and everything that goes down with Sekai there.”
Either bring evidence or stop making veiled references to there being evidence that I just didn’t see. Because I’m a reasonably intelligent human being. I’ve been enjoying stories of varying complexity for most of my 43 years on this planet.
If you have proof then show me. Tell me where to find it. Point out the reference. Otherwise, all you’re doing is insulting my intelligence, and not adding anything to the conversation.
As to your statement that I’m having an emotional reaction. Yes. I am. It’s because I had my expectations set, and those expectations weren’t met. I don’t think on its face that School Days is a good story.
I think it’s good commentary, and it’s interesting, but I think it fails to deliver on being a good story.
Anyway. I have insomnia, and I wrote this comment at 4 a.m. So if it doesn’t make sense that’s why.
First up, wasn’t trying to insult you man. Just want to be clear on that. I appreciate you taking the time to discuss as well. Don’t want any bad blood over School Days of all things (the irony).
As for your 4 AM insomnia writing, no worries, I get ya. I understand your points. I should say that I wasn’t very clear at what I was getting at either, so you didn’t fail to communicate the first time, I just failed to properly communicate my entire idea.
Part of this is that I spent literally all day writing about School Days and didn’t want to just repeat myself a whole bunch. While my article isn’t going to address everything here, it might add context. If it does, great, but if not, I’ll try and do better explaining now.
The benefit here at least, is we’ve both had some time away from the topic (so that helps). Right, so gonna try and walk through this from the start but if I miss something let me know.
When I brought up Makoto and sex changing him, I was not meaning to argue that sex changed him. I was more pointing out that if you wanted to interpret it that way, you could. There’s basis for it.
Instead, Makoto uses sex as a way to avoid conflict and process information. You can see that as time goes on he becomes more conflicted about sleeping around, at least when it comes to hurting Kotonoha and Sekai.
This fits his “nice” reputation as he’s trying not to hurt everybody’s feelings. Obviously this doesn’t achieve that, but that’s kind of the point. If you try to please everybody, you please nobody. You can also attach this attribute to genre commentary.
Either way, there is some obvious disconnect in life experience for the both of us here because I know people like this in real life (hell my mom was married to a guy like Makoto, which is why she rated it a 7/10 instead of a 9/10, as she said to me). My experience is with high schoolers, hers is with adults.
(Adding this retroactively so sorry if this isn’t the perfect spot, I had a thought about Makoto I failed to follow through on above). The only time Makoto does confront somebody, and thus, take ownership of the conflict he creates, is when he chooses Kotonoha. That leads to the (Hilario) scene where they make out in front of Sekai. Fully will admit, that is ridiculous lol. The show doesn’t reward him for this “correct” choice though. His resolution comes far too late.
As for the stats, let’s just set those aside. I think they are interesting on their own, I just don’t think they reflect the reality on display here well. This is obviously an “outlier” situation, and I think that’s fair to concede to the show even if you have c compounding issues with suspending disbelief.
As for my “bad arguments”, as you put them. I again, was not trying to insult you, simply stating that the justifications are largely there in the text. My bigger point with this is that I MISSED things so I know for a fact that it’s easy to miss something because some things are justified literally through 1 line of dialog and a brief scene that if you looked away for half a second you’d miss.
If the show were dubbed, maybe this wouldn’t be as big of an issue? Some speculation on my part, but this is a common enough occurrence with folks I’ve watched the show with or talked to, that’s why I am making this comment.
Regardless, let’s talk specifics. I’m going to keep /just/ to Setsuna, but I could do the same for all the other girls (though please don’t make me, that would be really excessive) save for Hikari, who I do agree, is the most stretch-y of the lot.
Anyway, Setsuna’s whole deal is she liked Makoto from the start. Sekai was originally helping to set Setsuna up with Makoto. This is explained in the final episode if you want a place to look.
As a result, Sekai argues that Setsuna should give up her seat next to Makoto so she can get inlet. This is obviously the thinnest lie that Sekai makes, but Setsuna goes along with it because they are friends.
That’s why when things start going on between Makoto and Sekai, Setsuna decides to back off. This is really important because she decides then to do everything to ensure this relationship works, it’s all “for the sake of Sekai” now.
Factor in the fact that Setusna is going to move away and that makes sense. I don’t know if you saw the posts explaining the comedy in the naming, but Setsuna’s name can mean “instant”, but she’s the most forward-thinking of the group (more an interesting tidbit than anything else).
Anyway, so jump to the moment Setsuna kisses Makoto. She knows what she is doing is wrong, but at the same time she’s:
1. Going to France, so no consequences, nobody is going to know…
2. She wants a memory with Makoto that is her’s alone, a fantasy where they work out.
That’s what this weird play thing is about. When I was saying “rewatch for Setsuna stuff”, I was meaning those bits specifically. I know you had some confusion on those parts, seemingly of your own admission, so again, wasn’t trying to insult you, I was actually trying to direct you to proof there (I was just unclear).
What about the time Setsuna sleeps with Makoto? I can hear you asking that. This too is explained. My comment about Setsuna doing everything for the sake of Sekai pays off here.
That mindset is what allows Setsuna to excuse her contradictory behavior toward Sekai. If I let Makoto sleep with me in exchange for agreeing to commit to Sekai, then that’s a win. Not to mention she does actually want him, so she’s clearly motivated in that way, Sekai is just a means to an end.
Not to sound like a broken record, but a rewatch did help me to see just how nuanced the construction of the story is. That’s why I make the claim to rewatch sometime (obviously, not right away, and you aren’t obligated to do so either of course). It’s also why I comment about reacting emotionally to the series, because it’s easy to tunnel in on “problems” and miss out on some of the things that either add clarity to or outright excuse some of them. Does that make sense?
Anyway, full agree on this being interesting and excellent commentary. That’s why I wanted us to watch it as a group, I think this work has value and the fact that so many skip out on it due to its reputation is unfortunate. Said reputation also probably painted some expectations, for better or worse, which are hard to remove yourself from so I’m not even trying to blame you for that.
Hopefully I did a better job explaining myself this time around? If not, let me know anything I maybe didn’t and I can try again, otherwise, I again appreciate you taking the time. Thanks again for joining the watch, discussion is a big part of the watch and you’ve contributed a lot to it, so that’s awesome 🙂
PS – I’m going to be out for awhile today and may not reply to anything you say to my other comment until later this evening. I just didn’t want you to think I was ignoring you or something.
I think the thing that’s missing here is the realization that School Days is not a stand-alone harem story (in which case you could make a strong argument that it’s BS, etc) but it’s an adaptation of an advertisement for School Days the Date Sim, and its primary audience when created was for people who had played/were aware of this date sim.
Date sims by their very nature have many potential plot lines, depending on which girls the player decides to interact with and the nature of those interactions. In order to keep the fans happy, all of these paths need to be represented in some form or another. This maps poorly onto a linear story that would be easy to tell in an anime series, which is why date sim-based anime series end up not making much sense plotwise.
Kanon, for instance, tries to blend the arcs with each girl into a single story. Amagami SS tried 3 episode mini-stories for each girl with a Good Ending, followed by a time reset. Neither is quite convincing when viewed stand-alone without knowledge of the source material.
When adapting School Days the Anime from School Days the Date Sim, the animators needed to consider what the strong points of the date sim were, and what the fans of the date sim wanted to see. School Days the Date Sim was famous for the Good Ending(s?) being nearly impossible to achieve, and the severity and horror of the all-too-easily achieved Bad Endings.
I suppose they could have made a “How To Win in School Days the Date Sim” anime, but that would have been as much fun as watching a walk through, and would have missed the point of the Bad Endings that were what people at the time were talking about. Instead, in the anime, the MC pretty much hits the buttons for all of the worst Bad Endings possible. At the same time!
For someone who had played (and lost, and lost, and lost again at) the game, watching this show was like watching a train wreck, as you already had a good idea of the likely consequences of the MC’s actions early on. A very entertaining train wreck at that. The suspense builds from episode to episode as the MC sets himself up for terrible things. And then, of course, there was the entire Nice Boat fiasco before the final episode.
Simply put, School Days the Anime makes sense and is entertaining in the context of School Days the Date Sim, and that’s what it was intended to do. Without that context, er, well, you’ve written a lot about how it fails as a stand-alone story. I’m not sure it’s fair to criticize it for something it never intended, though.
This anime is a mess which spits in your face after telling you to watch a different show after messing your mind. I guess the moral of what this anime is telling us is that not all protagonists are likable and not all endings are good. But seriously, good job on having an iron will and stomach watching this and also reviewing this train wreck.