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.
All in all, though not an anime that will sweep you off your feet, School Days weaves a horrific tale of the human heart's ability to be treacherous and cruel toward its fellow man. The joys of youth fade idly into the back-story, and by the end of the series they seem all but a distant past. In fact, following the ending credits, the series' first thirty-seconds or so are replayed, and I found myself looking back on them in a completely different light. Though definitely not everyone's cup of tea, if you have a strong stomach and a willingness to endure some rather disturbing moments, give School Days a once through - you won't be disappointed.
When Makoto saw Kotonoha on the train one day, he fell in love at first sight. Luckily, his classmate Sekai’s nosy personality ensures him an introduction to his crush, and soon the two begin to date. However, Kotonoha isn’t the only one with eyes for Makoto - a fact that any horny teenager would be delighted with. With endless temptations, lies and heartbreak at every turn, Makoto and Kotonoha’s relationship will soon be put to the ultimate test...
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Though I'm a big fan of slice of life and romance, I'll watch just about anything that catches my interest. My opinions tend to be pretty level-headed, but I have been known to be controversial from time to time! Feel free to lay into me if you so desire, as I always appreciate feedback - positive or negative. I hope you enjoy reading!