The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Terrible Anime Challenge: On Poor Decisions and Pushing the Limits of Viewer Endurance in School Days

有敬酒唔飲飲罰酒 –Cantonese Idiom

Makoto Ito grows enamoured with Kotonoha Katsura after running into her every morning on the train, and shares with Sekai Saionji, a spirited classmate who agrees to help him get closer to Kotonoha. However, as Sekai provides tips and creates situations that push Makoto and Kotonoha (who returns Makoto’s feelings) together, Sekai begins to develop feelings for Makoto. After a few dates where his advances are deemed hasty, Sekai offers to provide “lessons” to Makoto. After a group outing to the local water park, Makoto begins to grow listless and begins pursing a relationship with Sekai. The two manage to keep this secret until Kotonoha overhears Sekai declaring her love to Makoto. She refuses to believe it, even in spite of having caught the two kissing earlier. However, with Sekai spending more time with Makoto, Setsuna, Sekai’s best friend, begins to believe that Makoto is dating Sekai. She wants Kotonoha out of the picture, but Makoto, feeling remorse at having left Kotonoha alone, promises to dance with her at the school’s culture festival. When the culture festival comes, Makoto learns that Setsuna never really forgot about how’d they met, and after a day’s work, Setsuna kisses an exhausted Makoto while Kotonoha sees this go down. On the second day of the culture festival, Otome, a classmate of Makoto who’d known him since middle school, takes him to a special “break room” where she forks Makoto’s branch. As the culture festival, Makoto regenes on his promise to Kotonoha and dances with Sekai instead. However, Setsuna is not convinced that Makoto is separated from Kotonoha and aggressively kisses him in front of her. When Sekai sees the secretly-captured footage, she demands to see Makoto, but runs into a depressed Kotonoha. Sinking into a depression herself, Sekai begins skipping school, while Makoto boffs Hikari. Soon after, Otome’s friends begin taking Makoto on a twelve-city all-percussion concert. When Sekai develops nausea and vomits, she assumes she’s pregnant with Makoto’s child and announces it to the class. Makoto’s so-called friends-with-benefits distance themselves from him, and while out looking for someone to shag, runs into Kotonoha. Realising the hurt he’s caused her, he apologises and tearfully embraces her. Kotonoha and Makoto go out for dinner, and upon returning to his apartment, he encounters Sekai. They fight, and Kotonoha forcefully kisses Makoto, prompting Sekai to leave. Pressured by Kotonoha and Makoto to abort the unborn foetus, Sekai seeks to talk with Makoto, but recalling the pain he’s caused, she stabs him to death instead. When Kotonoha arrives, she’s driven over the edge by Makoto’s corpse. Kotonoha calls Sekai out to the school rooftop, where she executes Sekai and disembowels her, learning Sekai had lied about being pregnant. Taking Makoto’s remains with her, Kotonoha rides into the sunrise on a sailboat and proclaims she can spend eternity with Makoto. This is School Days, an anime whose reputation preceded it, and a series I had adamantly refused to watch until the Twitter anime community compelled me to do so. For my troubles, I was rewarded with a series whose thematic elements is about as subtle as a brick through a window.

“All hail the conquering hero. Let us remember him as our protector and not the one who gave us…this. As our saviour, and not our betrayer! Let us see him forever as you, and not as you. All hail the conquering hero, the one who was supposed to save us all! But now, I must save us…from you.” -Kotonoha Katsura, #TeamKotonoha

“This…is this what you wanted? Is this what you were looking for? Was everything you’ve compromised, everything you’ve done, worth it? Was it? Your relationship is over, Makoto. Mine is just beginning.” –Sekai Saionji, #TeamSekai

Despite its rather nasty and brutish reputation owing to its ending, through its rather vivid and overt imagery, School Days‘ core theme ultimately speaks to the price of indecision, infidelity and a lack of faith. Makoto begins his journey as being infatuated with Kotonoha, but Sekai’s interference causes his heart to waver, and throughout School Days, he devolves from a caring and kind individual into someone who cares little for those around him beyond the pleasures of the flesh. In its original form as a visual novel, School Days allowed players to take Makoto on a moving story where he chooses someone and cultivates a meaningful and honest relationship, or make enough mistakes that would cost him everything. However, mirroring the knife’s edge that life sometimes is, mistakes hit and hit hard: the anime adaptation of School Days shows just how perilous of a dance relationships are: the possibility for error lies around every corner, and when one ill turn deserves another, Makoto ends up paying the ultimate price for building multiple, simultaneous relationships around lust and lies. The visceral conclusion of School Days therefore acts as a grim warning to those who lack the commitment and ability to take responsibility for their actions. Throughout School Days, Makoto is shown as making the decisions that consistently worsen his situation, and while his actions might be seen as being so poorly placed that one might have to consciously be aware of them to make them willingly, this aspect of School Days is one that is forgiven on the virtue that Makoto, Kotonoha and Sekai, whose age means that their frontal lobes have not yet been fully developed, are being driven by their hormones and irrational desire rather than a mediated course of action rooted in reason. As such, School Days covers off this particular aspect that may come across as jarring; younger characters with a propensity towards decisions that adults will find irrational means that there is little benefit to attempt an analysis on why Makoto chooses to act in the way that he does. The answer to this lies with the narrative: in order to convey the costs of unfaithfulness and lies, Makoto necessarily must act in a way that allows the story to both highlight the consequences, as well as showcase what kind of outcomes can exist in the visual novel. At the expense of portraying Makoto as a degenerate piece of scum, School Days succeeds in its original function.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • What starts out as a basic romance-drama very quickly devolves into a tragedy brought on by hubris and a complete disregard of the consequences: one episode into School Days, the viewer with no familiarity would not be aware that the anime would venture into territory that would evoke a strong sense of revulsion in viewers. At the story’s beginning, Makoto is spurred on by Sekai to pursue a relationship with Kotonoha, and things start out with a sort of innocence and excitement that brings to mind the atmosphere seen something like Da Capo.

  • As a Terrible Anime Challenge, School Days falls into the camp of “it lived up to existing expectations set by the community”: the anime is infamous, and this reputation is well-earned. However, having now seen the entire series, the outcome where Makoto pays the ultimate price for his lack of commitment does not seem so outrageous, and in fact, the challenge I faced in watching this series ended up coming from how Kotonoha was treated, and the generally flippant attitude Makoto was portrayed as having as the series wore on. Encouragement from the Twitter community was ultimately what led me to keep going.

  • I never would have watched School Days of my own volition, but a challenge from the anime Twitter community led me to join a group of anime bloggers in watching this series. Over the course of the discussion, I’ve seen attempts to rationalise Makoto’s behaviour, but I never really found them satisfactory, since Makoto’s actions seem to be guided by baser instinct rather than anything resembling logic. Freud is similarly irrelevant here since, even if we take his theories to hold true, there is no conflict between the id, ego and super-ego as Freud would have envisioned – Makoto is all about plowing as many people as he can get his grubby mitts on, even in the knowledge he is going to hurt Kotonoha in the process.

  • The page quote I’ve chosen for this talk, comes from a Cantonese idiom “有敬酒唔飲飲罰酒” (jyutping jau5 ging3 zau2 m4 jam2 jam2 fat6 zau2, literally “refusing to drink wine offered to you, and drinking the cursed wine instead”) that roughly approximates to “refusing a favourable offer only to take punishment”. In Mandarin Chinese, the phrase is rendered as “敬酒不吃吃罚酒” (pinyin jìng jiǔ bù chī chī fá jiǔ, where one “eats” the wine rather than drinks it): I’ve using colloquial Cantonese in mine simply because it’s more amusing that way.

  • How does the page quote fit in with the themes of School Days, one asks? The answer is simple enough: Makoto is given a perfectly good setup and the path forwards seems clear, but he ends up picking the set of decisions that end up being the worst for him. Hence, instead of taking something favourable, he takes the cursed route instead. With that cleared up, I offer a screenshot in lieu of a lengthier explanation as to why I’m on #TeamKotonoha, in the knowledge that this is probably not an adequate reason. From this moment alone, I knew that I was watching the uncensored version of School Days and would be getting the full experience later down the line.

  • While Freud is useless throughout School Days, Makoto’s actions are probably best described as a very visual and tangible description of the shortcomings of greedy algorithms. These algorithms work by trying to do what’s best at the current step with the aim of finding some global optima. Further to this, greedy algorithms are designed make whatever choice seems best in the moment, and then solve any problems that arise later. However, in practise, greedy algorithms typically fail to find the global optima, usually get stuck on some local optimum instead, and may even find what’s known as a “unique worst possible solution”, which is the worst possible outcome (e.g. in a travelling salesman problem, the longest path that can be taken to hit all of the vertices in a graph).

  • Makoto’s behaviour mirrors that of a greedy algorithm in that at some point in School Days, he acts in a way that satisfies his biological urges in that instant, which is a local optima. Whenever the situation changes, Makoto acts in such a way as to ensure that he can continue sating his desires in the moment, without considering the consequences of his actions. This is evident in how Makoto jumps between Sekai and Kotonoha early in the series, falling on Sekai to fix any problems that arise with Kotonoha, and then eventually growing “bored” of Kotonoha enough to openly mess around with Sekai.

  • In practise, greedy algorithms are usually frowned upon because they don’t provide a global optima as a result of not knowing all of the data available. However, there are some scenarios where they are utilised. In particular, networking solutions often have made use of greedy algorithms to reasonable success, and greedy algorithms are generally faster from a time complexity perspective, making them acceptable for approximating solutions. I’ve now given readers the elevator pitch equivalent to greedy algorithms: School Days captures what the risks of using greedy algorithms are in an anime format spaced out over twelve episodes, and while one might not recall all of the terms, this is how I’d describe a greedy algorithms to folks who don’t have a computer science background.

  • Of course, for folks looking to learn more, there’s plenty of materials out there, and I won’t bore readers any further with what belongs in a university, rather than an anime blog. Makoto’s infidelity initially has limited fallout: he’s struggling to choose between Kotonoha and Sekai. The problem is compounded by the fact that Sekai’s friends, Setsuna and Hikari among them, seem to think that Makoto is dating Sekai. Sekai’s initial desire to help Makoto does not have any altruistic motives: she hopes that over time, Makoto will break up with Kotonoha and then be with her.

  • The topic of altruism is a challenging one, and this was one of the papers that I wrote for my second university course on research methods and the fundamentals of logic in persuasive writing. One of the biggest strikes against evolutionary altruism was the idea that altruistic acts, seemingly selfless, actually help the individual committing it to begin with, and the individuals knows this, hence their decision to do something that may lower their fitness in the short term. This may take the form of reciprocal altruism (i.e. “if I help you, you’ll help me”). From Sekai’s perspective, School Days supposes that true altruism does not exist, and she’s clearly expecting some form of payoff in the long term.

  • After the culture festival, School Days takes a nose dive and sends Makoto on what would be known as a “non-recoverable” path: once Setsuna kisses him and reveals her desire to have him be with Sekai, as well as recalling that she did have feelings for him to some extent, Makoto’s moral compass takes a total leave of absence, and Makoto’s decisions become increasingly poor, making it impossible to sympathise with him: while he’d been agonising over whether Sekai or Kotonoha was a better partner and was subject to difficult choices early in School Days, after this point, any sympathy a viewer may have had for him disappears entirely.

  • The other two quotes on this page are from Halo 5‘s #HuntTheTruth marketing campaign. Both quotes are chosen to mirror the different factions’ thoughts on Makoto: Sekai seems less literate and would talk in blunt terms, while Kotonoha is well-read and would therefore be more poetic. There are some who believe Sekai is the better choice for Makoto, and others (like myself) who hold that Kotonoha is the winner. The latter would vote #TeamKotonoha, and the former would back #TeamSekai. My reasons for being on #TeamKotonoha are simple enough: Kotonoha’s loyalty and unwavering feelings mean that she embodies commitment, a trait I admire and respect in people. In the end, Sekai comes across as being an interfering busybody who created her own demise.

  • As School Days wears on, Kotonoha begins to be neglected and mistreated, both by those around her and the circumstance that Makoto’s put her in. Feeling bad for Kotonoha becomes an inevitability, doubly so owing to the fact that viewers have seen Kotonoha’s younger sister, Kokoro, and the joy that she expresses at the thought of Makoto becoming Kotonoha’s partner. Thus, even without actively knowing, Makoto will end up hurting Kokoro, as well, with his decisions. Having not played School Days myself, I cannot say for sure whether or not it’s possible to save Makoto with good decisions if we’ve already gone down this path: perhaps one would need to mod the Infinity Stones into School Days in order to save Makoto from himself.

  • Of course, if we consider things from a more rooted perspective, Makoto is quite beyond salvation. Seeing Kotonoha in this state was particularly difficult, and it was ultimately this piece, coupled with Makoto’s blinding arrogance and stupidity that made School Days a difficult series to watch: School Days never got to a point where I felt an inclination to stop watching, but I’ve never done well with seeing good people made to experience terrible things. Kotonoha’s suffering only really began after she met Makoto, and when Otome learns of this, she does everything in her power to make life difficult for Kotonoha, as well.

  • Towards the end of School Days, Makoto begins getting it on with everyone within arms’ reach: during the culture festival, he and Otome end up screwing one another in the secret “relaxation lounge”, which was subsequently filmed and broadcast for the whole world to check out. It’s a crippling blow to Sekai, and coupled with Setsuna’s sudden departure for France, proves too much to handle: she begins skipping school wholesale after.

  • Before we enter the final stages of this School Days discussion, I’ll provide a brief overview of the community initiative that sent me down this path: it’s called AniTwitWatches, and involves watching older anime in real time to discuss them. The criteria for inclusion is that the anime must be available by legal means, and each Monday, participants will offer snippets of their thoughts on that week’s episode. The programme is a relatively new one, having started in July 2019, and I joined the School Days party later on the game, motivated by a friendly group of participants and a desire to see what would happen if I pushed myself through a show I had adamantly refused to watch.

  • The outcome of this was a host of bad jokes and wisecracks that I’m sure alienated the community. In spite of this, I am still invited to participate on the next one, so I’ll have to reassure the others that I’ll play a little nicer. Girls’ Last Tour appears to be the anime of choice, which is an excellent one. This series, I remember best for its surprisingly deep and meaningful messages despite a seemingly simple setup. I will have much more to share with AniTwitWatches on this one than just bad jokes.

  • Once Kotonoha is spurned, her eyes take on a dull character that became iconic of all yanderes in later works; she spends several episodes in a right state, exhibiting signs of delusion as she acts as though she’s still with Makoto. When Makoto realises the extent of the damage his actions have caused, he takes her back. Life returns to Kotonoha’s eyes. Entering the final episode, whose outcome is so infamous that it is no longer counts as a spoiler, I admit that I was glad to watch this one reach its conclusion.

  • While I’ve no qualms showing blood, guts and gore on this blog (see my DOOM and Wolfenstein posts), intuition tells me that, were I to show Sekai killing Makoto and leaving him to bleed out, or Kotonoha disemboweling Sekai, the search engines would not take to that too kindly. I’ve stated this before, but I’ve never had any trouble with over-the-top violence in video games, whereas in anime, gore nauseates me. I’m not sure why this is the case, but primarily for my own sanity (and a lack of desire to see this blog scrubbed from search engines), I’ve therefore left the most explicit moment of School Days out and leave the curious reader to check the series out for themselves.

  • Par the course for a Terrible Anime Challenge post, I’ll need to provide a scoring summary of School Days. I think it would be fair to assess this series a B- (7 of 10, or 2.7 on a 4-point scale): having a very clear story and message works in School Days‘ favour, and Kotonoha is hawt. However, between all of the characters who come across as little more than assholes, I saw no incentive to follow anyone to see them improve over time: I believe School Days marks the first series I’ve seen where characters regress as time passes. There’s no reason to root for anyone save Kotonoha, and viewers feel a perverse sense of satisfaction when the characters suffer (again, save Kotonoha). I’m not about this life, and I’m much happier seeing people make discoveries that make them better for their troubles.

Prior to the Twitter community’s decision to watch School Days, this anime had admittedly been on my list of shows to never watch during my lifetime by reputation alone. Besides the ending that became infamous owing to the finale’s coincidental timing with a murder in Japan, and a protagonist that was impossible to get behind, School Days‘ theme and goals are the polar opposite to those of the shows that I do choose to watch. With School Days in the books now, my opinion of the show remains quite unchanged: it excels at its intended objective, but remains quite difficult to watch. In particular, the anime’s treatment of Kotonoha is disturbing. Despite being a sweet and kind girl who’s into books and exhibits loyalty to a fault, she’s cheated on by Makoto, bullied by Otome and her circle of friends and betrayed by Sekai. Suffering misfortune after misfortune following her decision to date Makoto, her reactions to the events of School Days were an inevitability with a terrifying implication, that in people, there is a potential for great evil if one is pushed far enough. Supposing this to be the case, School Days has one more additional message for viewers: that there is nothing to be gained through acts of bullying. Despite having now sat through an anime that remains quite notorious even a full thirteen years after its airing, I find that School Days and other similar series remain quite outside the realm of shows I would willingly watch. Makoto’s stupidity and the suffering that Kotonoha endured, coupled with Sekai’s interference, means that going through the episodes proved to be even more of a test of patience than Glasslip, which is saying something. While I was able to discern School Days‘ theme and objectives, this series nonetheless remains one that is remarkably difficult to stomach, and in the end, I only endured thanks to a combination of the support of a friendly segment of the anime Twitter community and a limitless pool of bad jokes.

5 responses to “Terrible Anime Challenge: On Poor Decisions and Pushing the Limits of Viewer Endurance in School Days

  1. Jon Spencer January 20, 2020 at 21:10

    I hope you’ll give my article a read on Wednesday because I think you’ll gleam some interesting bits that you aren’t super sure of here in your writing. Still, I’m surprised you gave this such a high score and had fun. Thanks for joining the watch! 😀 I hope you’ll consider rewatching this some day, it does benefit from doing so, but don’t force yourself of course.

    Like

    • infinitezenith January 20, 2020 at 22:02

      I wasn’t aware that B- was a particularly high score, but then again, even after all this time, its probably ingrained in me: back in my university days, the honours program I was in defined “satisfactory standing” as B or better, and in grad school, a B- was a minimum pass. My own standards probably impact my letter grades, which are subjective as heck.

      As for reading your post, I definitely look forwards to checking things out; my perspectives of School Days come from that of a very specific background and mindset, so I am most interested to see things from other points of view. Shows typically do appreciate in value (as I’ve found out from doing the “Masterpiece Anime Showcase”: notice that Kanon is, ironically, one of the related posts!), but whether or not I go back to have another go at School Days will depend largely on how much time is available to me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jon Spencer January 20, 2020 at 22:11

        A B- is not bad for a show that is toted as “the worst anime ever made” by several in the community. Anyway, thanks for joining and look forward to having you in the next one 🙂

        Like

  2. Pingback: The Otakusphere: Different perspectives, #anitwitwatches and I can’t stop copying Crow, – In Search of Number Nine — An anime blog

  3. Pingback: Revisiting School Days: A Collaborative Exercise in Considerations of Full-Life Consequences for Team Kotonoha and Team Sakai | The Infinite Zenith

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