ANIME NORMAL LIVES SERIES
Full list of the review series can be found on this page, 3rd post from bottom:
School Days ends up being more of a social experiment, testing the audience’s will to accept change in decade old stereotypes. It is offering a most unorthodox twist in the end and stands back to see how the viewer will react to all that. It is meant to shock him into liking it but the probability of backfiring is simply too high. All because of the notorious fame of NTR (cheating on your lover), as well as because it was fooling around with a genre that still sells well and is meant to be pure escapism and identification to ideal situations.
To its core and most of the duration, School Days is indeed a school romance / slice of life story. Heck, the title itself is meant to fool you it is. The second half though goes for something which is definitely not one of the same old finales. In a way it is very unique for its genre. Unfortunately, all its appeal is based on last moment shock effect, and like all similar series which start normally and suddenly get all gory in the end (like Narutaru or Alien Nine for example), it is basically a slow build up towards a sudden free fall. It indeed leaves you in awe, especially if you are still new to the medium and were not spoiled of what happens in the end. After the shock passes and you calm though, chances are you will realize that the whole show is basically remembered just for its finale. And in case you are a hater of NTR (like most people are) then you will definitely hate the whole show instead of seeing it as something new.
This is a rather unfair side effect the show has, one that makes me lose hope in the genre ever managing to break free of its tired formulas. If you have watched enough school romances / slices of life anime, you probably know how there isn’t much variety to how things play out. The lead boy will either have his girl chosen since episode one with all the rest being just distractions, or he will choose one in the final episode, or in most cases he will not choose at all and leave it open-ended. None of these cases ever involved the boy choosing one girl before midway dumping her for another girl. Even in hardcore shoujo manga where such things are a lot more commonplace, the person who breaks a relationship is always treated in the most negative way. It will be characterized as arse, bastard, whore, traitor, and such things.
Such is the case with Makoto, our lead hero in School Days. He begins as yet another cop-out indecisive lead, unable to express his feelings to the girl he likes most. And as usual there are lots of girls who like him and constantly seek his attention. As the series moves on, he remains as such, but unlike practically everyone else of his stereotype, instead of choosing none, he actually gets to bang them all. He is still indecisive at which girl he likes to have sex with most but in his case he just tries to hoard them all instead of running away because he doesn’t want to hurt the feelings of everyone else he doesn’t choose. He eventually just doesn’t care anymore and turns completely apathetic towards it. This is what makes him a rather one-of-a-kind protagonist and after the countless harem leads I have encountered I actually liked the change for once. He is an inversion of the generic harem lead; not likable for a good reason, but hated for a good reason.
The problem of course ends up being how you will perceive this change. Just inverting things doesn't necessarily change them from bad to good. Just from boring to different and depending on your expectations the results vary. I liked it for the sole purpose of being uncommon and even one-of-a-kind. For once the guy is not constantly tormented by neurotic bitches; he just storms in and gets them all. Most others on the other hand, saw it as a turn from a typical school romance to a NTR hentai and just hated his guts. If one is not tired of the same old romantic stories playing out in the exact same way, and expecting all of them to turn out the same, then he will hate any attempt at changing the formula. Which is again what I was talking about innovation being accepted in such a cold manner and embracing the stereotypes even firmer. Ever wonder why anime are getting staler by the year? This is why; the majority loves the stereotypes and dislikes change.
Before you misinterpret my words here, I must clarify that I am not a supporter of NTR or cheaters or whatever. Makoto is meant to be hated as a character but that is exactly what should give credit to the show instead of bogging it. It is different! It is a twist! It is an insight to the story of a cheater in a non-hentai title. And it doesn’t even end just like that either; one of the main female characters is damn memorable for her going insane and batshit violent in the end. One of the boldest cases of yanderes in anime ever! Why dislike it so much? It is a wonderful new aspect to look into. And don’t tell me there aren’t many lustful teenagers out there going for as much variety as they possibly can and there aren’t women who go all crazy and violent about it. Or is it purely the fact that school romances / slices of life anime are supposed to be solely about fan catering, escapism, and sheep viewing? And again, this is better to be seen as a social experiment (aka trolling) instead of a pure school comedy. If you expect to identify with the lead character and hope to see a most ideal situation, then yes you will hate it. If you try to see it as something different, you may even end up perceiving it as a farce instead of a deconstruction or a twist. It is really hard to accept sudden changes in a genre that is meant to be pure escapism. It’s like watching porn that midway changes to a philosophical debate about the meaning of life. It’s not going to work well.
On the other hand I do admit that only the finale is what ends up being remembered for, which is little for a 12 episode show. It is a shocking idea that took 10 episodes to slowly build up before it jumps of a cliff in the last two. A bit weak in this regard.
As for the rest of the technicals, the production values are good in terms of coloring, shading, and outline consistency. Voice acting ain’t bad either. And for once everything looks like it popped identically out of the eroge it is based upon. Ah, yes, I forgot to say it is based on a game which is famous on its own for other reasons. Not only it is the first game to offer video cut scenes instead of just static pictures, it also had a big number of bad endings, most of which were bloody and horrifying. The same feeling passed to the adaptation and you indeed have the main story played out as it is. And for once it didn’t hold back on either the sex or the nasty turnaround of the protagonist. It wasn’t a mediocre simplistic school romance, nor an emotionless 2 OVA hentai with zero plot. It was both! The perfect combination! With added gore and insanity for a finale! Heck, the finale was so brutal that they replaced the last episode with an irrelevant boat video, the fact of which created a trope of its own. “Nice boat” now is a term for series whose last episode is just so damn shocking it just gets removed or heavily edited. And needless to say, I liked it a lot.
… The ending, not the boat.
As you can understand, the value of this anime is big. Even if you hated it and never plan to watch it again, it will forever be remembered for its bold attempt to do things differently. It didn’t exactly succeed but a big hooray for TRYING TO BE DIFFERENT DAMMIT! Infamous or not, I sure give it some credit and a small place in history. Even bad publicity is still publicity.
At this point I must stress out how I usually hate shock effects in anime and I always vote down on them when I see them. Someone reading how I give a credit at School Days for using shock factor, while at the same time doing thumbs down to all the rest, seems like a contradiction on my part. Well not really. In all those other shows I am so negative about, the shock effects there come literally out of nowhere or end up being more interesting than the characters themselves. This is not the case here; the splatter thingy in the finale is something that can happen in real life as well and the characters turned out as such in a believable way. There is no magic, or mind control, or time travel, or any other crap to add a supernatural aspect that makes everything feel like random nonsense. Everything in this anime felt like REAL LIFE, unlike other anime (Narutaru, Higurashi, Madoka) where the high amounts of shock effect are forced through uncanny means that bent free will or common sense. Over here, it is pure FREE WILL and NO BS MAGIC STUFF. And I know how anime are more fun when it’s about handseals, magic swords and rubber pirates, but that is not why I liked this anime. It felt real. And most hated it for that. Such a shame…