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.
The First Order of Discussion: The Morality of Makoto
[…]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,
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. […]
But it doesn’t end here.
[…] 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.
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:
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 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.
It’s not just me.
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.
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.
Without discrediting whatever merits there are in this show, divergent opinion does exist.
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:
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.
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.
- 1st play-through: player plays game, inserts himself into character (Makoto). Usually will attempt a one true love scenario.
- 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.