Is This Boat as Nice as I Imagine it? Reflections on School Days

school days kotonoha sekai swimsuit beach

My recent post on School Days is less about the show itself but rather a reaction to Ito Makoto. The resulting discussion from that post however, not only covers the perspectives on the show overall, but is also some of the best discussion all year here on We Remember Love outside of posts on Macross Frontier .

I knew School Days is a pretty notable show. Instead of popular, it’s notorious. Cinco Bajeena describes it most effectively I think:

Maybe more importantly, School Days takes a common format, the harem genre, and asks its viewers to look at it in a new light. It turns anime love triangles around to their dark side in unabashed horror. It adds incredible complexity to a genre that is basically pretty simplistic though it purports to deal with human emotions. And for that I can’t fault it at all. Just as an example: in a dating-sim or harem I would assume that a three-on-one would constitute a pretty desirable outcome, but when it appears in the show, it plays like a jaw-dropping tap-dance of cruelty.

In this post I’ll reflect on the discussion in that previous post towards making new meaning or giving new perspective in what I’ve come to see as an important show.

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The First Order of Discussion: The Morality of Makoto

sadakups says:

September 10, 2010 at 1:00 am

[…]And yes, poor Kotonoha. I really lost it when she had those lifeless eyes. Makoto really needed to die.

I wanted to start off with the most judgmental comment. Let us accept that there are viewers who reacted extremely negatively towards Makoto in particular. Also, most eloquently put,

Crusader says:

September 9, 2010 at 1:41 am

I don’t think my joy at Makoto and Sekai’s demise stemmed from jealousy but rather from utter hatred of such a lifestyle and such rampant irresponsibility and hedonism. It’s not that I see Makoto as a vehicle of lost opportunity or the path not taken but as the path that many of my peers hoped to pursue at a time in High School when war came to our door step and few ever stepped up to the challenge while the rest justified their cowardice or simply pursued their lust as if nothing had changed. I see Makoto’s existence as an affront to Zeus, one of utter selfishness and irresponsibility. That for once in anime in a harem series where the cancerous existence is terminated ruthlessly brought me no shortage of joy it is not so much a hell as it ended how every harem should end. […]

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But it doesn’t end here.

Canne says:

September 10, 2010 at 10:22 am (

[…] Personally, I hate him because even at the end Makoto hasn’t realized that what he did was wrong. His death is not so satisfactory to me o_o

Some justification, and what I think is an interesting statement. There is a unilateral acknowledgment of the extremity of the retribution in the finale, described at times as having “shock value.” For Canne at least, this is not shocking at all, but a comeuppance that fails to redress the enormity of Makoto’s transgressions.

I take this also as the end being a fulfillment of the descent to hell. The idea of hell, at least the one that resonates with me, is that there is no further possibility. Suffering and error, in a human life also represents opportunity for learning. Not so here in School Days. There was regret, but it was in terms of “why did I let things come to this?” and the lamenting is on the circumstances and not reflection on transgressions on others. This applies to all three protagonists.

school days sekai kotonoha setsuna christmas

Second Order of Discussion: the Dynamics of Hate

I noted that the hatred for Makoto, as with Sekai among others, is entirely on moral grounds as if they were people that can be held accountable for their decisions. Consider this exchange:

foomafoo says:

September 9, 2010 at 9:13 am

I agree with you that the catalyst of why the show went wrong was Sekai. If it wasn’t for her “lust” and probably jealousy and dishonesty to begin with, then there shouldn’t have been a bad ending although I can’t reassure the probability of Makoto still having sex with other girls. This is why I hate her so much. She could have snatched Makoto in a more “civil” way. err wait, is there any civil way to snatch somebody’s lover. I guess none. She’s screwed up.

I replied,

ghostlightning says:

September 9, 2010 at 9:30 pm

I want to distinguish two kinds of affinity/lack of in a show:

Watsonian = the appreciation of a character as a human being in the show.
Doylian = the appreciation of a character as a created work.

From a Watsonian perspective, I agree that Sekai is detestable. From a Doylian perspective, I think she’s the most interesting character in the show.

School Days 26

It’s not just me.

animekritik says:

September 9, 2010 at 3:52 am

I actually really enjoyed this show. I had some vague knowledge that the ending was bloody, but it was fun to see how unexpectedly that all came out. I remember thinking Sekai was a really interesting and realistic character, whatever that means. […]

Acknowledging that Sekai, and perhaps everyone are detestable people. Being a work of entertainment however, it is sensible to think that at least one character, for us this is Sekai to be interestingly detestable. The appreciation for her is not the same as approving of her behavior in a real sense. (Or perhaps this is just me doing the guilt thing again).

Third Order of Discussion: What School Days “Does”

I’ve made a pretty bold claim in the previous post, wherein I said that there aren’t any any alpha male characters in Japanese harem anime tradition. This was challenged.

image imageimage

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen enough of Love Hina to validate this. However, I basically made a Black Swan argument; that is, it only takes one example to disprove my thesis. I willingly revise my statement to say that the alpha male is an outlier in the tradition of Japanese harem media works.

As I’ve noted in the previous post, School Days enjoys a lot of credit from critics.

imageimageimage

Without discrediting whatever merits there are in this show, divergent opinion does exist.

Hanners says:

September 9, 2010 at 12:06 pm

I can’t really agree that School Days is a parody of eroge – rather, it’s a game to anime adaptation that has eschewed the tradition of picking a “good ending” route from the source material that it adapts, and has instead turned it on its head by choosing the most violent and malicious ending possible. I’ve seen a fair few eroge where there’s at least one ending that ends up with you being stabbed, killed or something along those lines, but rarely do such endings make the trip to TV screens.

I’m kind of torn on whether this makes the anime exploitative or brave, but I have to commend it for one thing, and that’s the way the final episode really shook me up – I walked away from my laptop genuinely feeling a little wobbly and numb after watching it, and I can’t say that for many other shows.

For similar reasons, that’s why I’m not surprised by Makoto at any point during the series; he’s a typical eroge male protagonist, and the series makes the mistake that almost every anime adaptation of similar games seems to fall into. Male leads in visual novels are empty, heartless vessels because it’s up to the player to give them a heart and conscience, or to forget any such emotions and just concentrate on bagging as many girls as possible. The trouble is, an anime adaptation can’t give you that ability and so the empty vessel remains so, which is why they become almost universally detestable, especially when coupled with a decision by the producers to cram in as many aspects of different girls routes as possible. […]

While not a direct response to Hanners, otou-san may as well have made his as such:

otou-san says:

September 10, 2010 at 4:19 am

Frankly I don’t think you overestimated the creators too much, if at all. I like the satire angle, always have. How I viewed the story when I saw it — and I found it to be brilliant for this — was as a plan to introduce small elements of realism into standard eroge format, and via that method hold a mirror to the player/viewer.

Girls in eroge are goals, not people. Sexual encounters are “scenes,” not physical events that carry lasting meaning to their horny teenage participants. So you keep the same path and mechanics, but you add consequences, everything gets too real too fast and slides out of control.

I think that’s why Makoto makes everyone so uncomfortable. Sure, you hate him because he’s a “jerk” or whatever (and he’s not exactly, he’s just the king of horrible inaction). But what you really hate him for is looking too much like yourself. It shatters the pleasant illusion of what it’d really be like to live inside an eroge or harem.

The last thing I want to indulge is a semantic quibble derby on the definition of parody and satire. What I’m willing to grant is that School Days is self-aware. Like Pontifus, I am generous in giving credit in that self-awareness is indicative of intelligence in the work.

Ultimately, what people want to give credit for in School Days is that there is an intelligence to it, an awareness of what it does and the willingness to go all the way with it.

School Days 36

The conceit here is that the goals and scenes, as noted by otou-san, are set along a single narrative continuity as if a human being actually attempted to, as SDS above mentioned have sex with all the available women he is acquainted with.

There is another dynamic here at work. The player of the VN would attempt to have sex with all the attractively rendered 2D girls, by playing all routes in multiple play-throughs. Makoto for the most part is granted the sexual favors in the show. Perhaps this is only a necessary contrivance in order to align the sexual encounters in a single continuity. But, it does underscore the passive avarice of Makoto, and cast Sekai and the others as enablers of his lust.

The satire or parody works in that Makoto is the person in the looking glass. The viewer at least for the first play-through attempts to do right  by the girls he likes most. It is during subsequent play-throughs when the moral self-image of the player loses consistency with the in-game behavior.

  1. 1st play-through: player plays game, inserts himself into character (Makoto). Usually will attempt a one true love scenario.
  2. subsequent play-throughs: game/character plays player. Options and availability determine the choices of the player, with the view of accumulation of “achievements” towards completing the game. (Player has sex with everyone). Makoto runs the player.

In a single continuity, there can be only one version of Makoto. School Days challenges the viewer that it is the second, and always the second way is what the (male) viewer is up to. No one really goes through the trouble of acquiring an erotic game to find true love.

The thing is, it is equally unrealistic for these girls to carve you up with knives as it is unrealistic for all of them to just give it up for you.

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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22 Responses to Is This Boat as Nice as I Imagine it? Reflections on School Days

  1. gwern says:

    Descent…hell…repentance….

    Well, I suppose I have to make the link. In Dante’s Inferno, one of the key ideas is ‘contrapasso’ – ironic punishment, a fate fitting the crime.

    It’s not merely suffering one’s sins (like the violent weltering in blood); the sinner remains as long as they sin.

    The ultimate case of contrapasso is Satan. Satan’s original sin was one of *pride* in setting himself up as equal to or greater than God. His punishment is to be trapped in the ice lake, perpetually trying to flap his wings to freedom – but it is those very wing flaps that cool the lake and imprison him. Were he to abandon his pride and delusion that he can free himself, he would be free. But if he could do that, there would no longer be any sin to imprison him for.

    • gwern says:

      There are of course later hells along the same idea. Consider C.S. Lewis’s _The Last Battle_ with the sinners wallowing in hell of their own free choice and the saved choosing the more pleasant heaven. There’s a similar cosmology in Swedenborg where the damned *prefer* the smoky hovels and ugly devils and reject heaven as noxious.

      But Dante is the important one.

      • Yes, I remember the Inferno as the only part of the trilogy I enjoyed going through (ha!). Perhaps the biggest part of the enjoyment is reading all the notes and references to understand who exactly did Dante send to hell, for what sin, and the fitting punishment.

        There’s something beyond schadenfreude that should articulate this pleasure. I mean it’s the ultimate punishment, and the creativity that went into the manner of hopeless anguish is remarkable… then you just can’t wait to see who and what is in the next circle.

        I’m rusty with my Dante, but where would the cast of School Days be?

        • gwern says:

          Well, it depends on which of the deadly sins you want to nail them for. They’re all pretty much damned for lust (premarital sex yay), obviously a few are going down for murder or self-slaughter, and as _primum mobile_ we may be able to send down our protagonist for pride.

  2. adaywithoutme says:

    Well, all I know is that I’m still holding out for that adaptation of Cross Days. Oh, and that I hate the female uniforms in School Days – they look like demented waitress outfits.

    I would note that I did do a serious read-through of your post; I just don’t have anything real to add since I’ve never watched School Days nor do I have any true desire to. Harem of any stripe just generally isn’t my cup of tea, even for the trainwreck potential.

    • Thanks for reading all this!

      I can recommend some works that have varying levels of harem structure/elements that I find quite meritorious:

      Bakemonogatari
      Highschool of the Dead
      Berserk (the latter volumes of the Manga)

      I enjoyed all these works, though perhaps not the way how a typical eroge player will enjoy a game or watch School Days.

      • adaywithoutme says:

        Bakemonogatari is one I do keep meaning to check out, if only because the art style seems so intriguing.

        I’ll admit to being surprised that Berserk had any elements of harem to it, although perhaps that shouldn’t be too completely shocking to me. Oddly enough, many years ago someone argued in favor of my watching it due to what this individual perceived as homoeroticism present in the work. In subsequent listed reasons for me to view it, I can’t say I’d ever run across that argument again.

        I did adore Tenchi Muyo, and I do love all those KeyAni shows, so perhaps I shouldn’t declare a dislike for the genre carte blanche.

        • There is definitely homoeroticism in Berserk, though wholly out of the context of harem. I actually don’t have a taste for harem at all. The shows I watch are mostly either outliers in the tradition, as well as outliers within my own personal canon. I have not watched any of the Key Game adaptations, nor am I interested in doing so.

  3. animekritik says:

    “In a single continuity, there can be only one version of Makoto. School Days challenges the viewer that it is the second, and always the second way is what the (male) viewer is up to.”

    That’s an excellent way to put it. Let no one cast aspersions at Makoto who has played eroge games lest they come back to strike him in the face!

    Also, wishing someone a fate worse than death is nasty. I understand getting a gut feeling like that, but we need to try to fight that urge and restrain ourselves. Otherwise we might be victims of:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ressentiment

    • Ugh. I should have built my entire piece on Makoto on Ressentiment… how could I forget all about it given Nietzche’s the Genealogy of Morals as well as Sartre’s “bad faith” appeal are my favorite bits in their respective philosophies. LOL this is why blogging is the realm of amateurs.

      Don’t worry, I’m not really as down on myself as I sound. I just felt I missed something I could’ve done well with.

  4. Bruno J Global says:

    Oh my, recent watchers of School Days, lol.

    You guys should watch the Magical Heart Kokoro-chan OVA. Consider it your reward/consolation.

    Anyway, I’ve been hearing about Boku no Pico…

  5. Marigold Ran says:

    In defense of Makoto:

    In order to rage against Makoto, and in order for the ending to make sense, several assumptions are accepted:

    1. It is not ok for Makoto to have sex with multiple girls.
    2. A suitable punishment for a guy who behaves like Makoto is death. More specifically, some believe that Makoto is irresponsible, guilt-less, and thus despicable. And despicable people like him should be killed.
    3. That Makoto is despicable.

    I do not accept these assumptions.

    1. If Makoto chooses to have sex with multiple girls, and if the girls consent, then that is his decision, and it is not my domain to judge.

    2. Killing someone for sex is a punishment that exceeds the crime, and that’s already assuming that pre-marital sex is indeed a crime. Certainly, murder-jealousy has occurred in the past, and it will continue into the future, but such homicidal behavior is not condoned in modern society. Furthermore, the belief that killing despicable people is a good idea is, in fact, not a good idea because the definition of “despicable” is highly variable and might include you.

    3. Is Makoto, in fact, despicable? If so, then which actions of his are despicable? Yes, he has sex with many girls, but so do rock stars, and they’re not generally considered despicable. When people hate Makoto, is it because they hate Makoto? Or are they channeling their hate of the girls who choose to have sex with Makoto onto Makoto?

    • The assumptions are too generous.

      It’s more like:

      1. It’s not ok to cheat, and to so in such a blatant and avaricious manner.
      2. It’s not ok to be irresponsible, to act as if you had no choice in the matter pertaining to behavior related to #1.

      See https://ghostlightning.wordpress.com/2010/09/09/the-comeuppance-of-a-coward-ito-makoto-and-school-days/

      3. It’s not ok to be such a coward; that is, to refuse to make decisions under the pretense of “avoiding to hurt others” as in the case of both Kotonoha and Sekai (Setsuna).

      4. The confluence of the above, and in consideration of how exactly the above played out. I personally consider Makoto despicable.

      5. I do not advocate his murder however, but as can be seen by the quotes above other people do.

      Your assumptions make him look like any other guy who isn’t in a committed relationship fulfilling his constitutional right to pursue happiness in lawful form in accordance to his genetic programming. No, that isn’t quite Makoto.

  6. Damn. I just finished watching School Days for the first time, and even did a blog on it. In the blog I analysed how I loathed the decision of the writers to pin all of the tragedy down to the horniness of the protagonists, but when reading this and taking into consideration the original medium of the visual novel, things start making a lot more sense. You sir have totally re-shaped my opinion on this series. I’m still not going to say I really enjoyed the offering, but it’s sure inspired me to think about it more carefully, rather than just passing it off as “exaggerated realism”.

    • Man, I didn’t enjoy it. Maybe I’d get titillated in parts, but that’s it. It was really painful to watch. That doesn’t take away anything from the brilliance I see in it. It fails as entertainment, but succeeds as a flashpoint of discussion.

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  9. capturinggod200 says:

    you know most of you people like to pin the blame on makoto or say he deserves to die yet praise or feel sympathy for sekai killing him when she is the one who started all him down the path of sex addict yet he is more despicable or unforgivable and deserves to die why cause he is a guy she killed him yet its a okay cause she’s a girl and looks pretty yeah shows how sick and depraved you guys are you disgust me.

    • gwern says:

      She started him down the path of being a ‘sex addict’? News flash: billions of people have had sex without becoming a ‘sex addict’. Makoto bears the most culpability.

      • capturinggod200 says:

        clearly you need to rewatch and analyse the anime because clearly he was like every other male lead the sekai came and hook him up with kotonoha when clearly she had feelings for him smart move would have been tell him before he gets with her rival in love not help him and get with her though kotonoha was at fault a little bit too for taking too long to become intimate giving makoto a case of blue balls which masturbating didn’t help ease so sekai saw her chance to strike and off free sex through her so called practice sessions then when decides he is done fooling around cause much his actions destroyed kotonoha emotionally and starts too turn over a new leaf hell the conversation before sekai goes in the kitchen if most feminist or chovanistic pigs who let there hate for him cause he is male in all this take the time to analyse what he was most likely going to tell sekai that he was going to take responsibility for the baby but still stay with kotonoha cause but he is dead.

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