Youth: A time of friendship, first love, and bountiful joy. Enter School Days, an anime chock full of all that youthful spunk but spiced up with a bit of malice, hatred, deceit, self-loathing, and rage. Brings back memories, doesn't it?
Now, if you want some passionate, innocent high school romance, I suggest you look elsewhere. The modern day Narutaru, School Days' name is about the most pleasant part about the whole series. It starts out innocent enough with our dumb-as-a-rock male lead, Makoto, developing a crush on a cute girl with whom he rides the train every morning, Kotonoha. Being that both are too shy to actually meet each others' acquaintance, Makoto's friend Sekai befriends her and the brings the two together in a romantic lunch outing on the school rooftop; it's love at first sight, or something. Their relationship gets off to quite the rough start, so the two begin to confide in Sekai, our local relationship expert, and ask for advice on how to make their fledgling romance work.
Sounds innocent enough, right? Well, turns out Sekai has a crush on Makoto too, and as the two spend time together trying to council his relationship with Kotonoha, a little spark gets lit. As Kotonoha builds confidence in her relationship with Makoto, his feelings begin to shift elsewhere, and that's when things start getting complicated. School Days certainly doesn't sugarcoat any of the series' relationship troubles from there on out, as hearts start getting shattered left and right and friendships become venues for abusing others for personal satisfaction and gain. Other problems slowly ooze their way into the characters' lives, ranging from bullying to social rejection, and, just as in real life, some handle it better than others.
Though typically not a fan of series that highlight the morbid facets of human interaction, I must admit that School Days is definitely one of the best of its type. The structure and presentation of the series is put together brilliantly, compacting its content to start well, climax flawlessly, and end with a rather shocking bang. Unlike so many series that simply thud after they peak, the ending to School Days is neither rushed nor poorly scripted, and provides some, might I add disturbing, closure. The final lines conjoined with the last scene proved incredibly fitting, which ended up leaving me with an uneasy sense of completeness. None of the events that transpire in the series are meant to be pleasant in any form, and the writers were absolutely sure to make that message loud and clear by the time you finish.
For a mid-2007 production, though, the animation left a lot to be desired. Shortcuts were taken left and right to simplify characters aesthetics, and the production quality was downright shoddy on a number of occasions. Unlike many recent series which take advantage of exceptional lighting techniques to create dramatic atmospheres, there's simply none of that present in School Days; aside from a random slap or slamming of a fist on a desk, the characters just didn't seem alive on many occasions.
The scenery proved slightly better, though not that much. Lighting and shading varied from scene to scene, ranging from vivid and dramatic one minute to droll and boring in the next. Perhaps I've been spoiled with recent masterpieces such as Death Note, but visually I never felt as if I were involved with what was happening. The quality did improve as the series progressed, though, and I suppose saving the best for last worked on some level; while you won't be blown away by any form of visual mastery, the script is strong enough to fill in the emotional gaps without much pause.
Though I've not much to say about the musical score, the voice acting in School Days was absolutely stellar. Sekai's seiyuu, for instance, captured her character's persona brilliantly in the final episodes. All of the voice actors managed to pick up on the emotional subtleties of their respective characters, especially during their spouts of anger, which really helped animate the script where the actual animation fell short. From the faintest quivers to the most authoritative of yells, the emotional struggles of each of the characters came alive, and this really allowed the series to take full advantage of what it had to offer.
By the end of School Days, every curse word in your vocabulary will find itself aimed on Makoto in one scene or another. If you've ever wanted to know what a true bastard acts like, he's your guy. Unfortunately, I think the creators over-emphasized this in the fact that every girl seems to want to him, and he ended up feeling superficial. Even so, his evolution from shy nerd to malevolent jerk invokes a genuine taste of disdain for his character, and drives home much of the finale's emotional finesse.
Sekai, though, was by far the highlight of the flamboyant drama. Not only did she have perhaps the most interesting and well-voiced character, but her presence is what really made the series have the emotional impact that it did. Both her strength and her moral courage, though initially appearing pure, end up quite befuddled and questionable, which makes her both a character you care for and hate simultaneously. She continually shocked me with her mixture of both moral authority and judgmental lapses, which allowed her character to really personify the morose atmosphere that pervades in the series' latter half.
Kotonoha, on the other hand, proved likable and amiable throughout, and given all she must endure, you cannot help but pity her. Yet, come the end of the series, even she becomes a rather questionable character, and I'm left with quite mixed feelings regarding the outcome of her decisions. By saying anything further I'd be pushing on spoiling her character so I'll refrain, but she's certainly not as black-and-white as she first appears.
If you take a story that includes everything from a love triangle, to sexual promiscuity, to rape, to characters you'd expect to have continous flowing flaws and come on the edge of breaking down, you'd expect it to be great, right?
Honestly, I'll probably never watch the series again. It might sound harsh, but read further. School Days is a series that depends on how you want to approach it-for those who want a shocker series, it'd probably be more of a pleasant watch than those who look for solidly constructed characters and something different than the norm, and despite what some may say about SD being unique, it's not. There have been some series that have used the same formula of shock factors (i.e. Shuffle!). The problem isn't so much building up the conflict, it's the hollowness of it. There are some themes here that are built, but lack proper development. I know the predominant argument for SD is that it's not meant to be realistic but entertaining...but where does the line for entertaining merge? Simply by graphic drama. I could understand some rollercoaster rides - for example a series that deals with multiple relationships and pregnancy is the josei series NANA, an anime adaptation done well, though with some slight saturation in it's dramatic themes. However, despite SD introducing some potent themes, I couldn't wrap my head around or even feel more than some bland sense of pity for the characters, and by the end, it left me feeling disgusted because it threw any sort of tangible tension out of the window.
Somehow, I just couldn't totally say this series was bad despite the bitter taste it left in my mouth, because it really wasn't considering what the story was trying to convey overall. It wants you really to hate some of what the characters do and present it in a way that's controversial. I have the feeling if you're looking for a story with a lot of shock factor and less traditional romance and realism, School Days would be more in your venue. Yet, for someone who looks for relatable emotions and good, developed characters, it truly isn't here.
School Days focuses on three main characters: Makoto, Kotonoha, and Sekai. Makoto develops a slight crush on Kotonoha while riding the subway one day, and when Sekai notes Makoto's crush, she throws her support in hooking the two together with full support. Yet, she harbors a secret fondness for Makoto in her heart-a factor that becomes the worm that eats its way through the hearts and progression of the series to come.
From that point on it becomes a web of betrayal and sexual deviancy, and while that factor sounds intriguing, the presentation of School Days really doesn't back that factor up because it doesn't give the characters as much weight on that factor. Makoto himself is a lackluster male lead with an insatiable desire for lust and sexual promiscuity-and while in his construction it does make you hate his actions, he's not more than 1 dimensional with tunnel vision-no reasoning (and I have to clarify-it's not so much what he does that's the problem, but more or less how it's developed), and very little shown to show the backbone of his addiction. Only in the final few episodes you actually see some hint as to where he laments and realizes he has a problem-a stronger irony it would have been if not presented so late or so lackluster. Sekai and Kotonoha, along with the harem cast of girls in the series, are unfortunately the victims of this deviancy, yet none of the girls, save for Kotonoha and Sekai, are given adequate development to really give Makoto's affections weight-then again, perhaps it ties in with their roles overall, not really given much heart, but as pawns in a game where their hearts are given less weight than their bodies. This could have had so much more potential if the time were taken to really give the side characters as much focus as Sekai and Kotonoha, but unfortunately, it was impossible to do.
I'll give it to the series for developing Sekai and Kotonoha, probably the better developed characters in terms of stark impact of all the events, but by the series end, it was clear that things were turning toward the extreme route for both girls.
The series does have nudity, but not as prominent in the TV version compared to if you saw the DVD, much more overt in places, and heavier than that are the series thematics, hence I'd give this series a rank for a more mature audience.
Then there's the ending, and I think it could strike the viewer in a number of ways. For me, the ending was only partially expected, but it would have had more impact (i.e. given a greater shock) to me if it didn't feel tacked on and rushed beyond oblivion. The reason I say it's rushed is because there's a lot that happens and it really could have just as well had another ending, but it went the route that most people thought and came off as a display moreso than something you could really feel sentiment toward. My approach with this series might be different than what most may view it, because in entertainment, people may not give this as much weight because it puts on a good show subjectively, but for me who looks for heart, good characterization, and lasting value in a story, this series doesn't excel.
School Days actually could have been much more of a beautifully told tragedy, but ended up as nothing more than a shallow watch. I'd only recommend this to those who aren't looking for a traditional romance or those who don't mind series with conflictive confrontations and themes without much expansion or development.
I didn't always like the character designs for School Days, but it gradually warmed up to me as the series went on. Backdrops, Cel production values for School Days are very well done and noted for a 2007 title. I can't take away much from School Days on this aspect and I think people will enjoy it, save for some points where it seems a little choppy on the design.
The soundtrack to School Days was among the more noteworthy ones I've heard in quite some time. The opening theme didn't really catch me at first because it does feel like the opening to an ero game, but it grew on me as I watched the series. The insert and ED themes, particularly "Waltz" by Kanako Itou, were beautiful and definitely among my favorites overall.
Voice acting actually made School Days better among the characters, the VAs were well chosen for the personalities, but the overall story was what took away from the characters more than the quality of the acting.
Not much to note on the characterization-the characters aren't handled as well as they could have been. The primary three are perhaps the characters you follow most throughout the overall series, and honestly, are the only ones that are well developed, even Makoto I'll admit.
Sekai was easily the most likable in the start of the series with her upbeat and overall sweet personality, and you really feel for her in some scenes when she comes into conflict with Makoto for not being decisive about his affections, and she ends up being just as flawed with her own insecurities.
Kotonoha may strike some as being the typical shy girl stereotype...and indeed she is. There were some scenes I even tried myself to really feel for her character, but the way the series didn't expand on the things that happened to her, or just left situations without really taking her character further that disappointed me.
The secondary cast aren't developed all that well, and easily fade into the background save for points where they cause or perpetuate conflict among the main three. Somehow, if the secondary cast were given more collective weight and development, this could have been a better series.
This is one of those anime where the idea was much better than the actual show itself ended up being.
It gets a LOT of flak for "one dimensional characters" but i think that's a lot more to do with the short run time than anything else. Had this been a 24 episode series it would be even more amazing than it already was. As it is, it's my absolute favorite "harem drama" and what i would gladly call important to the genre as a whole. It takes the harem genre and pulls it aside, forces it to examine itself and say "no, that's not how that would happen". It's by far the most realistic depiction of what would happen if a fairly introverted high school boy started dating the most beautiful girl in his class, followed by other attractive girls basically throwing themselves at him.
It's easy for guys to white knight it and say "no way would i act like that" but saying and DOING are two different things. This show felt more honest to it's characters, as one dimensional as they were, than any harem anime i've ever seen has. I also have yet to see ANY harem anime that DOESNT pack itself to the gills with one dimensional trope girls, so even that excuse doesn't stand.
Either way, all in all this series moved me, to tears in more than a few places, and will always be one of teh best, most important anime i've ever seen.
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I've been hearing so much about this anime that I decided to watch it although I'm not into shoujo. I have to say, I got disappointed. It actually isn't anything more than some average harem shoujo with a STRONG ending. I wouldn't recommend it unless you really this kind of anime.