Tuesday, November 24, 2009

School Days

We are used to tragedies happening on the grand scale. Famous Shakespeare plays like Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth, the accounts of Joan of Arc , and Oedipus Rex display this very well. Many times great tragedies are set in the past or fantasy worlds. But what would a tragedy that happens in our modern world be like? One that isn't on a grand scale. A tragedy grounded in reality, set in motion by everyday events, in which the worst crime that sparks it all involves cheating on others and not paying attention to people's feelings. This is what School Days attempts to show us. What we get in School Days is not sword play, epic battles, political intrigue, or anything of that sort. But we do have a sequence of events that ends up ruining the lives of all who are involved. We have love, romance, betrayal, and battles over the heart. This isn't much of a spoiler however, as only a few episodes into the series you can easily tell your heading down a dark and terrible path that cannot end happily for all. School Days is most definitely a contemporary school life tragedy if there ever was one.

School Days starts innocently enough, with Makoto Ito interesting in a girl who takes the same train to school every mourning that he does, Kotonoha Katsura. Makoto is a regular high school freshman, to shy to approach the girl he likes, and content enough just secretly admiring her. But when he hears the urban legend that if you take a picture of the girl you like, use it as the wallpaper of your cell phone, and no one notices for three weeks you will be able to go out with that person. He figures he has nothing to lose, so sneaks a picture of the girl and uses it as his wallpaper. But when a female classmate, Sekai Saionji who sits next to him, notices his phone's wallpaper, she realizes he has a crush on Kotonoha, so she plans to become their "matchmaker" and get the two together. Surpringly enough Kotonoha had also has noticed Makoto and developed a bit of a crush on him. So Sekai succeeds in getting the two lovebirds together. But later, when Makoto asks Sekai what he can do to thank her, she steals a kiss from him and says that's payment enough. It seems Sekai may have developed a bit of a crush on Makoto as well. It makes sense since the two were hanging out a lot lately. The real problem here, is perhaps Makoto also has feelings for her. The three become friends, and in due time a love triangle develops. The series involves lots of kissing, making out, and eventually lots of people having lots of sex. In fact I can't remember the last show that displayed this much sex, especially considering the age of these characters (what are they all 15?). Although none of the sex is graphically displayed, this does help give the show a bit of an edge. Top that off with themes of betrayal, revenge, loss of innocence, using others, ignoring others feelings, the meaning of friendship, and love vs lust, and you can see this isn't exactly a show for the kiddies. Actually it's quite a mature show that's much deeper then you would think. Besides brining up the issues of teenage sexuality (and everything that goes along with it), the show shows us exactly what happens when you ignore others feelings, play with people, and use people. It shows us what effects our actions have on others, and what that causes others to eventually do. And it does all this without once letting us hear the inner thoughts of any of these characters.

This series is a depiction of what would really happen if the type of romance often shown in harem anime series were to be brought to the real world. This is the real life verson of a harem, because you can sure bet if a harem were real it would not be all sunshines and rainbows, probally something more like this. In real life the girls would not be happy about their man being interested in another women. And the guy could not be shown in good light, if he's basically cheating on his girlfriend back and forth. He could not be a good person, if he's in a relationship like this. And the series is not afraid to show that. As the story goes on many other girls get involved, and many are practiclly throwing themselves at Makoto. This leaves me wondering where these girls were when I was in high school. And as contrived as it is, it does work. And you will have to be a little forgiving, as this series is attempting to dissect the harem genre. The anime is also a deconstruction piece, attempting to brake down the romance/slice of life/h-game adaptation genres. This is quite a goal, and on the large it does succeed. There are some small contrivances of course that will have to be over looked (a "rest room/lounge" for couples to mess around in during the school festival is pushing it a little), but over all it does not come off as too unrealistic and it is successful on turning the harem genre on it's head, inside out, and corrupting it to hell. This is quite a feat.

As for the characters of this anime, I can imagine there will be many out there who won't be able to stomach them. And for good reason, most of the cast is either annoying, terrible people, or a combination of the two. So why watch it? Well as Mark Thomas of Anime on DVD points out in his review of the first few episodes, the story is really good. And indeed it is. It's a really addictive show from start to finish. It's something new that you probably haven't seen before, and fans of the genre of drama will eat this up. It offers a great twist on stories we've all seen, and it's cynical nature is more then fascinating. But this series is truly for those who can appreciate realistic characters. And I for one loved the way this series handled it's characters. None of them are heroes, or unrealistic teenagers always happy go lucky, or something. Instead they are life like characters, many who may hit far to close to home to some. They are all very flawed, and have real life problems, goals, anxieties, feelings, self-doubts, and fears. And a lot of them make some really terrible mistakes. If you don't like watching people make a lot of mistakes the show might not be for you. And over the course of the show a few of the characters will do what seem like truly despicable and stupid things. However we must not judge them too harshly. For they do not have the birds eye view of events that we do. They are caught up in the moment, and unable to see what those around them are thinking and feeling. And the most important reason we should not be to tough on them, is because their mistakes are our mistakes. Sure it's easy to point out when these characters are being jerks, or selfish or stupid when your watching the show. But will you be able to tell when your doing similar things? While many will become aggravated by many of the characters, and truly learn to despise them, by the end of all this I mostly feel sorry for all of them. I'm sure the part of the intent of the series was to make you dislike some characters, and get bothered by them, and it does seem to succede. But when all is said and done, I can't help but feel sorry for everyone involved, even the characters many seem to really hate. Sure I am bothered by them, but in the end they were all truly human. They all have some redeeming qualities, and none are truly monsters. However the same goes for the other side of the equation. Very few if any of the characters are truly innocent, or entirely good people. And that's very interesting. This series is brilliant in it's abilities to evoke such emotions as hate, anger, and disgust. And it will really surprise you at times. Rather then being apathetic about these characters, we care. At least we care one way, or the other. We may not love them, but we have a feeling about them. And that is very important for me while watching a series. If I have no feeling toward any of the characters then I ask what is the point in the end?

The anime is very well written, and uses drama and suspense perfectly. The story starts off like any other light hearted romance, but by the end your left just staring at the screen, freaked out by what you have just witnessed. By the end you will be asking the same question Sekai poses in one of the last scenes, "Why?! How did this happen?". How indeed. Because looking back at the first few episodes, it's impossible to see this type of conclusion. Even with the noise about the ending, even with the signs it's taking a dark turn, one could not foresee this ending. And what an ending it is. Perfect in every way. The last few episodes are thrilling, and involve a few twists you will not see coming. And while the ending is very sad, and very screwed up on all levels, it is more then satisfying, and that's good enough for me. This series will have you hooked from the more lighthearted and more innocent beginnings, to the bone chilling conclusion. The series also has some of the best use of comedy relief I've seen in an anime in a long time. Many anime series seem to get this wrong, at least for my tastes anyway. But School Days knows when to have the class president hit a character in the head while sliding down a water slide, or have a funny "class fight" during the school festival that will have you cracking up. While largely a dark drama, the slight use of comedy relief at the right times really helps prevent the series from becoming too bleak.

On the technical side of things we have a mixed bag. On one hand the animation is not up to par with current anime TV series. While not outright terrible, it is mediocre at best. The series uses a lot of stills, pannings, and shortcuts in order to tell it's story. While not exactly distracting, it won't be winning any awards either. Some scenes do not at all flow well, and others have characters all moving at the same time in the same way, giving off a very robot like feeling. This easiest to see when a character enters a room, and all the others turn and face them. They all turn at the same time, and it's all very stiff. There are times when the animation is good, especially in the beginning and the episodes toward the ending. But seeing how this series is mostly talking, walking, making out, and having sex (lots of sex), I think they could have done much better. As far as the art goes however, I thought it was great. The character designs are what drew me to the series in the first place. they have this "rounded" feeling to them, that really makes them look a little different then your regular characters, but not too different as to take away from the main point of dissecting common anime genres. One small problem was how a few of the characters looked a little too much like each other, and in the begining it was a little hard to tell who was who. But after an episode or two I quickly got used to it. The color palette used is another strong point of the series. Lots of blues, pales, greys, and blacks are used, and it all looks quite nice. The series has this distinct look about it that I just love. The backgrounds are all good, but nothing to write home about. Although I did really enjoyed the many of the characters' rooms, the location right outside Makoto's house, and of course the "nice boat" scenery. The music however is in a word, perfect. I wouldn't change a damn thing about it. The opening theme may be a little too happy for some, but just like the opening theme to Shadow Star Narutaru , another deconstruction piece, it works to it's advantage. The multiple ending themes are all really great songs, although if I must pick a favorite it would be the endings of episodes three and eleven which use the song "Waltz", by Kanako Ito. This series also has a handful of excellent insert songs, all which add the mood perfectly. The right song is used to enhance this scene or that one, and some of them really help to add to the drama, or the suspense (towards the end of the series). Perhaps the best insert song is "To the Other Side of Sadness" by Kanako Ito, which I just can't stop listening to. It's used during one of the most important scenes in the series, and it really makes that scene. I have not heard any other series were Kaoru Okubo was in charge of the music, but I sure hope to in the future. Okubo really impressed me with the soundtrack in this, from great background themes, to amazing insert songs, and great openings and endings, nothing is off. I must have more!

There will be many out there who hate this series. And that is perfectly all right. This is not a show for everyone. They will find it's soup-opera-ish plot ridiculous and it's characters despicable, and will be bothered greatly by this show. But for those who can enjoy a good drama, one were the characters are realistic and flawed, this is the show for you. If you can deal with characters that you may dislike or even grow to hate, this is the show for you. Because the plot is so well written, and the show is so good, I think there are at least a few others out there who will really enjoy this. I normally would not review a series not licensed, since I usually only watch DVD's anyway. But once in awhile I check out a legal streaming show or two, and this was one of them. I watched the shows entire 12 episodes in two sittings, something I've never done before. I usually take weeks to watch even the shortest of series, so that speaks volumes for how much I enjoyed this series. I am not big on watching a show subtitled, but this show managed to entertain me the entire time. It impressed me so much I just had to review it. So if you think it may make such an impression on you, be sure to check it out. It's currently streaming on Crunchyroll, legally and for free. Now let's hope this great show gets licensed so I can watch it on my big screen TV with a great dub.

Prede's Raiting
5/5 Stars - Masterpiece


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  2. Dude you took on a tough one this time.

    All I can say is this exactly what I felt.
    harrem is not real. You want real? watch this. ;)

    I have a hard time both telling people it is awesome, but not recommending it to everyone.

    That's right, it is so disturbing to some they might not like it, and for some I know that they will say , OMG it is only the end that is good.
    I beg to differ, the middle part, right abound the festival dance, is where it gets really juicy for story. Without spoiling for others, all I can say is do not just watch this for the end.

    I do recommend this to people who like a show with a twist, a bit off color, and more gut wrenching than many.

    I commend you for the psychological title this month sir.

  3. Ah yes this was a tough series to review.But I worked very hard on it so I hope it shows. And yes I too really enjoyed the show as a whole, not just the really amazing ending. And I agree that the show kept getting better and better around the school festival, and things peaked with the dance. Very juicy. Every episode had my mouth gaping open, surprised at what they were doing with the series.

    Definitely a gut wrenching, off color show. And thank you so much for reading and commenting!!

  4. Great review, Prede. I will definitely check this one out. It sounds like something I'd like. Thanks!