School Days focuses on the life of Makoto Ito, a first-year high school student living with his divorced and unseen mother in the fictional city of Haramihama. During his second term, he becomes infatuated with Kotonoha Katsura, a soft-spoken schoolmate who shares train rides with him to and from campus. When his homeroom seating plan is rearranged, he becomes acquaintances with Sekai Saionji, an upbeat girl who takes a special interest in his newfound crush, befriending the two and providing them the grounds to meet. In spite of her triumphant efforts however, Sekai becomes jealous of the new couple, having developed feelings for Makoto herself.
I had read in a few places that School Days was a lot darker than it initially seemed. Though the artwork and detail aren’t exactly of the highest quality, this might go to explain its origins in the visual novel genre. Originally dismissed by me as just another slice of life school romance drama, it was hinted at that the storyline takes some pretty unprecedented turns, so this was enough to pique my interest.
Things start off innocent enough. Makoto has been admiring Kotonoha from afar but doesn’t really know how to approach her. The girl who sits next to him in class, Sekai, cottons on to this fact and begins to play matchmaker on Makoto’s behalf. After befriending Kotonoha and inviting Makoto to have lunch with them, Sekai’s plan is a success. When Makoto thanks her for all her efforts, Sekai says that she will take a kiss as payment. And this is where a love triangle between our three leads starts to make itself known.
Sekai continued to give Makoto advice on his love life despite hiding her own feelings for him. When things start to get a bit more serious between Makoto and Kotonoha, Sekai offers to give Makoto ‘training’ about how to touch and seduce girls. All the while innocent and unassuming Kotonoha can’t think of a reason why Makoto is losing interest in her. Makoto begins sleeping with Sekai but won’t officially end it with Kotonoha – just hoping that she gets the message instead. Between school rumours and her own intuition, Kotonoha confronts Sekai but still refuses to give up on Makoto despite all her worst fears coming true. She still insists to everyone that she is his girlfriend, not Sekai. And so things begin to get complex and we begin to see the toll that this web of lies and deceit is having on the characters.
My first impression of School Days? Makoto is a total dick. Of unbelievable proportions. He’s taken two genuinely lovely girls and done nothing but upset them and needlessly complicate their lives since the beginning. I’ve watched Kotonoha go from being a shy, thoughtful, hardworking girl into an anxious, paranoid and slightly unhinged individual. And in the same respect Sekai went from a friendly, energetic and positive classmate into a drawn, quiet, troubled girl. It doesn’t feel like Makoto was affected by, or even acknowledged the effects that his fickleness and cowardice is having on those around him. It just appears to be the girls that suffer. Of course, this might have something to do with the fact that, in the visual novel, he is controlled by the player and so Makoto’s moral compass is completely handed to whoever is controlling him, but this doesn’t come off well in the anime and just makes him come across like a card-carrying sociopath or just one of the worst human beings alive – considering where the later episodes end up. It doesn’t appear like his activities with Sekai are completely consensual either by the hesitation she has and the looks that flicker across her face.
I wouldn’t say School Days was one of the best anime I’ve seen, but it does score points with me by standing out because it takes one of the most formulaic anime structures (and one that I approach with caution), and turns it on its head. It shows a simple teenage romance premise that grows wildly out of the protagonist’s control to his own detriment.
And the ending is one of the most brutal I’ve seen. It’s not my intention usually to reveal too many spoilers, but anyone who’s seen School Days will want to discuss the last 10 minutes of the final episode, which is essentially a bloodbath, followed by a grotesque twist of events followed by the weirdest ‘sailing off into the sunset’ scene I will probably ever see. Things spiral quickly, and is certainly the worst result for Makoto based on his litany of poor decisions.
I’m glad I watched it – it’s ridiculousness made me laugh, its notoriety made me curious and that shocking ending had me transfixed. It was surreal.