When Hong Kong’s MTR opened in the 1980s, it revolutionised the way people could travel and commute around the city. Canto-pop singer Danny Chan would pen the song 幾分鐘的約會 (jyutping gei2 fan1 zung1 dik1 joek3 wui2, literally “A Date of a Few Minutes”), which spoke of a young man who runs into a girl on the new MTR ride, and although they only spend a few minutes together each day, he begins to fall in love with her. Just as they begin to know each other better, she unexpectedly begins to take a different route and leaves him wondering whether or not the gods of love are messing with him, unhappy that things never had a chance to go to the next stage. Danny Chan’s lyrics in “A Date of a Few Minutes” present a wistful melancholy of fleeting meetings and unrealised possibility, leaving listeners to wonder, what might’ve happened had things turned out differently? It is in School Days, of all places, that one such potential journey is explored. Danny Chan would’ve likely balked at the suggestion that the man and woman of his story would reach such a point, but this is one of the strengths in anime, which presents writers with the liberty to explore whichever direction they so choose. School Days opens with Makoto Ito encountering Kotonoha Katsura on the train, as Danny Chan’s song opens. However, rather than drifting apart, Makoto and Kotonoha begin dating. When he begins taking advice from Sakai Saionji, a classmate who takes an interest in him, School Days‘ core conflict comes into the open, exposing the unsightly side of romance: infidelity, jealousy, hatred and indecision. These ultimately culminate in Makoto paying the ultimate price for his decisions, and even fourteen years after its airing, School Days leaves a non-trivial impact on its viewers. I’m here today with Shallow Dives in Anime‘s very own Dewbond, whose familiarity with the genre allows for a completely different set of insights into an anime that is worth more than just its last five minutes of runtime.
- This is my second collaboration with Dewbond, and admittedly, having done a post with the formatting, it was much easier to figure out how to structure and style this post. Unlike last time, where we dealt with Yosuga no Sora, I see no reason to hide the remainder of the post behind a disclaimer: if you’ve scrolled this far down, past the rather nice image of Kotonoha, I’d say you’re ready to read this post! School Days might have a reputation for being quite bloody, but this is only the last few minutes of the series, and the moments leading up to it hit the viewer in different ways.
It’s great to have you back, Dewbond! If memory serves, this party started on Twitter: firstly, I must apologise for my tardiness, as I was also working on a side-project for a friend. It’s been a while since I’ve used Java and my first time trying to compile a standalone file. However, here we are now! You mentioned that School Days had a very strong impact on you, staying with you long after the last stroke fell in the bloody infamous ending now because of the path it took to get there. Unlike Yosuga no Sora, which explored things in smaller, self-contained stories, School Days is a full-fledged story. Where shall we begin?
Hey there Zen, I’m glad to be doing this again. I really enjoyed our discussion on Yosuga no Sora. I thought it was a fair and balanced look at the series, beyond the memes, beyond it’s infamous nature, and I’m looking forward to doing that again.
School Days is infamous among anime fans. Mostly for it’s legendary ending. It’s a show that came out during height of the fan-sub era, and frankly it was something that flew under my radar, but even I had heard about it. Recently our good friend Jon Spencer (@JS_Reviews) did one of his twitter watch alongs. I didn’t take part, but the discussion got me curious, and I watched the show a little while after. I’m really glad I did, because it’s something that’s stuck with me ever since.
What about you? How did you find School Days?
School Days began its journey as one of those shows that I never had any plans to watch, primarily because of its ending. I’ve known about the series for quite some time, although how I found it was rather unusual. In organic chemistry, six-membered carbon rings have a configuration known as “the boat”. I’m deviating here, but bear with me: the boat configuration is the least stable, and when I looked up “unstable boat cyclohexane”, thanks to the magic of Google, I ended up finding the “nice boat” meme that led me to School Days. This would have been a shade under a decade ago, and curiously enough, it was through encouragement from the very same Twitter programmes that I ended up joining the party for School Days: having other people to bounce thoughts off of and hearing from was encouraging. When I started, out of the gates, I found an anime that had a Da Capo-era feeling to it. There’s a sense of sadness and wistfulness that I can’t quite place my finger on, and the starting episode, coupled with knowledge of where things were headed, would compel me to watch the series in whole to see the precise path that Makoto walks to his own destruction.
School Days, at its core, is a story about the failure of communication, and the tragedy that happens because of it. It is a tragic story, for all of the characters who are involved I am very glad that I watched this show in my 30s, removed from when it was at the zeitgeist of the anime discourse, but because I think I would have a far different view of it. I think most of our discussion will be focused around the characters, and why don’t we start off with the biggest of the bunch.
Zen, what’s your feeling on Makoto?
Makoto’s choices and ability (or inability) to communicate lies at the heart of School Days. In the visual novel, the fate that awaits Makoto is driven purely by the player’s choices, so it is possible to achieve every ending, from the best outcomes that sees Makoto a loyal and devoted partner, to the outcome the anime chose to portray. In the anime, then, School Days‘ portrayal of Makoto begins with him being indecisive and uncertain. In those early stages of his desire to be with Kotonoha, Makoto bears the hallmarks of a youth awkwardly testing the waters for the first time, and in effect, is a blank slate. School Days chooses to send him down a trajectory where his indecision creates misunderstandings that he is ill-equipped to deal with, and while it is easy to sympathise with his situation early in the story, when he is struggling to work out his feelings towards Kotonoha and Sekai, the latter parts of School Days see him descend into madness. As an anime, School Days bears the hallmarks of an Aristotelian Tragedy, where the sum of Makoto’s actions and the fallout they have, creates an ending where the viewer is pleased to watch his downfall. Here, the tragedy is that Makoto’s fate is entirely preventable, and for me, I was left with a simultaneous sense of pity and cathersis following his end. It’s a decidedly strange feeling, and Dewbond, I’m wondering if that played a part in School Days leaving a strong impression on you?
Makoto is one of the reasons I am very glad I experienced School Days in my 30s, where I’m wiser, and more removed from my teenage years. Many people, rightly so, view Makoto as the overall villain of the piece, but honestly, he is just as much a victim as the other characters. Now don’t get me wrong, he’s an asshole. Indecisive as all fuck, and a coward unable to take a stand or make a choice, however the situation and environment he is in sets him on that path. I know that may be shocking to some, but let’s get real for a second.
Put yourself in Makoto’s shoes. Your a teenager in the throes of puberty. All of a sudden you find yourself landing the hottest girl in school, but you find out she is a meek, quiet and sheltered flower, unable to return the feelings, or needs that you clearly want. Then all of a sudden, the girl who set you up, starts to let you ‘practice on her’ and doesn’t reject your advances when you start to make a move. THEN, all of a sudden you have a bunch of other girls, all of them attractive and pretty, start throwing themselves and spreading their legs for you, offering you ‘no strings attached’ sex.
Zen, you look me in the eye and tell me that any young healthy teenage male wouldn’t go down the exact same path Makoto does. This is a boy with no guiding hand to help him, no parent to guide him, no authority figure to tell him what is right and wrong. A boy who suddenly is given everything he wants, with no real consequence. At his age? Can you honestly, truly be surprised at what he becomes, and that he is not a victim of an environment with zero accountability and (until the end) consequence?
I imagine that everyone has their own thoughts on the authenticity of Makoto’s actions, but most of the thoughts I’ve seen are made from a calm perspective removed from Makoto’s situation: I doubt anyone could look you in the eye, Dewbond, and fairly say they wouldn’t at least consider Makoto’s path as an option. When I finished watching the series, I am guilty of thinking to myself, “were I Makoto, I could have salvaged his situation”, even as Sekai’s stroke fell. However, when I look back at how I was at age fifteen, I’m not so sure. Back then, a lack of finesse is what burned one of my relationships to the ground. In retrospect, this was a mistake that is solely mine to bear: I do not hold it against Makoto for how things started out, and I would further believe that the series deliberately sets Makoto in a scenario where his parents are absent, and where his friends fail to provide him with support. Were he able to discuss his situation with a parent, or a peer, and receive proper advice on how to best proceed, Makoto would’ve likely been able to be much more honest about his feelings and take things more slowly.
In this regard, while Makoto is counted an asshole who earned his ending, I feel that the deck had deliberately been stacked against him out of the gates because, had Makoto acted as he should have, the outcomes would’ve been rather dull. While you and I both entered School Days with the foreknowledge that the anime took a cutting-edge approach to its ending, viewers from 2006 would’ve gone in not quite sure what to expect, and School Days starts innocently enough: Makoto sees a hot girl on the train, and a female classmate figures she can help close the gap, creating a love triangle out of the gates. Makoto himself might be at the heart of School Days, but no discussion of Makoto would be complete without considering how Kotonoha and Sekai impact him. During the Twitter party, participants held a spirited (but friendly) debate on whether or not Kotonoha or Sekai was the better fit. Curiously enough, School Days did an excellent job of conveying Makoto’s indecision to the viewers here: I don’t mind admitting that I am very much in the camp backing Kotonoha, but there were points where my heart wavered, and I saw merits to Sekai, as well.
Let me be clear that I am in NO way trying to give Makoto a ‘pass’, but more that I’m trying to paint a fuller picture of how he ended up that way. It is easier for viewers of School Days to fall into the trap of making Makoto the villain, and putting a bow on it, which I think is the wrong approach.
The thing about School Days is that there actually is no villain, there is no bad guy. The entire cast is at fault, some more than others, but like I said at the top of this convo, it is a story about the failure of communication, the inability to be honest with each other. Sekai and Kotonoha are very much villains as they are victims, and like you say, the story isn’t complete with how these characters effect the story.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t focus much on the shipping when I watched this, but I do think that Sekai was the better fit, because she had spunk, zeal and a personality, but that also is what ultimately cost her in the end. So why don’t we talk about her first. What are your thoughts on Sekai and her story in School Days?
When you put it that way, School Days does feel like it could be like some of history’s more infamous disasters like Chernobyl or the Titanic: the disaster was a culmination of poor decisions which were individually troublesome, but devastating when taken together. Of course, there were some individuals who contributed more to the disaster, and in School Days, Sekai acted as a catalyst for what we saw. However, at the start of her journey, Sekai is simply an energetic and spirited girl that is the polar opposite of Kotonoha, someone who’s fun to be around and who knows what the ladies like. At the start of School Days, Sekai is more suited than Kotonoha as a partner for Makoto. However, Sekai shares the same fault as Makoto does: despite taking the initiative, her reluctance to directly hurt Kotonoha means that she suppresses her own feelings for Makoto, and she decides to play a more dangerous game, ostensibly coaching Makoto on how to get closer with Kotonoha while privately hoping that he begins seeing her as a romantic interest in place of Kotonoha.
Playing games, rather than shooting straight, was the aspect of Sekai’s character I found most repugnant. Right out of the gates, Sekai’s motive was suspicious; members of a population do not act in a way as to diminish their fitness by means of altruistic acts unless such an act were to have better returns later, after all. As it stood, Sekai’s decision to “help” Makoto increasingly gave the sense that she was tampering with something without being aware of the consequences, and so, when her actions begin backfiring on her, I found it very difficult to sympathize with her situation. That’s just me, though, and I’m curious to hear what you made of Sekai, as well.
While all of the characters have a part to play, and a share of the blame, it is Sekai who probably has the most direct influence. As I discussed in my own blog post on the character, Sekai is someone who suffers buyer’s remorse. Once she helps get Kotonoha and Makoto together, she isn’t content enough to let sleeping dogs lie, and let the relationship rise or fall on its own. She just has to get involved, has to try and make Makoto happy, and that is when her feeling start to surface.
Like with Makoto there is no wise man or mentor to guide Sekai through this, to tell her “you made your choice, live with it’ instead, she keeps coming back to Makoto over and over again, as if he’s a drug. In a way, she’s a coward, because she won’t just rip off the band-aid and risk hurting Kotonoha, or suck it and realize that she had her chance and blew it. Her inability to do that is what ultimate leads to her faking a pregnancy and finally snapping in the climax.
Not to mention, Sekai is probably the most ‘teenage’ out of all the girls. While Kotonoha seems to feel nothing, Sekai feels to much. She’s angsty, moody and prone to fits of depression, so much so that Setsuna (and oh damn fucking SETSUNA!) has go to such insane lengths to try and keep her happy. Again, a lot of this could have been negated with the help of a mentor or guiding hand, but instead it is left to rot and fester, until it literally kills them all.
Do you agree Zen? Or am I missing something here?
I think we see eye-to-eye about Sekai, then! The lack of guidance is definitely shaping out to be a recurring theme in the whole of School Days; for Sekai, I had admittedly felt Setsuna would be the one who keeps her in check and offer advice where needed, but instead, when Setsuna implores Makoto to look after Sekai, I had a gut feeling that his situation would nose-dive. It’s a grim reminder that playing for the local optima is not always the best idea in the world, and like chess, where doing what looks immediately best might not always yield a desirable long-term solution. Indeed, it seems like everyone in School Days is so fixated on being happy in the moment, that they often forget about the long term consequences of any action, and it boils right back over to the absence of a more learned mind to push Makoto and the others from making bad decisions. With this in mind, I’d say we have a strong handle on why Makoto and Sekai fell, and the decision-making that leads Makoto to bed Setsuna, Hikari and Otome. This leaves us with Kotonoha, whose concurrent interest in Makoto is what creates the initial conflict within Sekai. While I openly admit that I’m rather fond of Kotonoha, she is, in many ways, an unremarkable character until her feelings for Makoto warp into something destructive. The question I have here is, do the same rules apply to Kotonoha? That is, in the presence of genuine support from friends and family, her path might not have ended with such a bloody outcome?
I also want to talk about Setsuna, but yes, it’s time to for Kotonoha. Out of all the characters, Kotonoha is probably the biggest victim until the moment where she finally loses her mind.
Kotonoha’s problem is that she has no backbone, she is a coward, a sheltered flower who is unable, or unwilling to accept the truth: that she and Makoto aren’t a good match for each other. Instead she clings to him, or rather, the idea of having a boyfriend so much that it ends up driving her insane. I also don’t think this is helped by the fact that Kotonoha is bullied and harassed by Otome (who i also want to talk about) which is just another layer of poison on this cake.
In regards to her obsession with being his girlfriend, it is very human, especially for a child at that age. Your first girlfriend or boyfriend, to many people, that is the biggest thing that has EVER happened to them, and opens up a whole new world of experiences and feelings. Kotonoha seems to be very much like that, and like everyone else, there is no one to guide her through the problem. She’s ride or die for Makoto, even when he blatantly cheats in front of her. Her entire life is consumed with the idea of being Makoto’s girlfriend, so much so that she just seems to disregard everything else. It’s as terrifying as it is tragic.
I also found it quite genius, the series has Kotonoha imagine riding off into the sunset with her ‘knight in shining armor’ to live happily ever after, and the series ends in a cruel version of that. Kotonoha rides off into the sunset, but not the way she expected. I thought that was a powerful and brilliant way for the story to go out.
What’s your take on Kotonoha?
We’ll get to Setsuna, Otome and the others all in good time, you have my word! What leads to the inevitable conclusion School Days presents is a culmination of the sum of everyone’s actions, a perfect storm, as it were; discussions simply wouldn’t be complete without the others.
On Kotonoha, you bring up an excellent point. Like the Sekai, Makoto and the others, it is the case that left to run amok, Kotonoha similarly represents what could happen without external help. Her story, incidentally, is one that many go through, and if I may indulge in a little reminiscence, something similar happened to me some years back. I had asked someone out, and because they were set to embark on a homestay while studying abroad in Japan, replied to my kokuhaku by asking me to keep things on the table. Inevitably, they ended up meeting someone while abroad, and I still remember the evening when I learned of this. I can attest that it hurts every bit as bad as what Kotonoha experienced. What kept me from falling to despair and melancholy was a combination of two things – family and friends telling me to keep my head held high, and a summer project with the research lab at my university to keep me focused. I had the advantage of people in my corner to offer support, and a goal to keep me occupied. Kotonoha, on the other hand, has neither of these things. Her parents are absent, and the bullying at school prevents her from focusing on anything else. I’m not saying that in the absence of support and something to work towards, I would’ve gone down Kotonoha’s path, but it is likely that my melancholy would’ve lasted much longer and may have had a physical impact on my well-being.
I yield that my preference for Kotonoha during the AniTwitWatches event was motivated primarily as a source of humour for those participating: in retrospect, Makoto and Kotonoha failed as a couple because of the fact that both are inexperienced and have incompatible expectations about what a relationship entails. Makoto’s mind is on bedding Kotonoha as soon as possible, while Kotonoha is unsure of what happiness looks like and attempts to suppress her own expectations for Makoto’s sake. There is a lack of communication, and only a minimal effort to reconcile these misaligned expectations. With the points you brought up, Dewbond, I am beginning to appreciate why Sekai is a better match for Makoto: she’s able to keep up with him and is more open about what she wants in a relationship than Kotonoha, leading Makoto’s heart to waver. In such situations, one would expect Kotonoha to be more forward, to step up and make clear her own feelings, but because she never did so, it allowed Makoto to get away with increasingly more trouble.
It is here that School Days excels, and not just with Kotonoha: by removing all of the safeties for each of Makoto, Kotonoha and Sekai, the story is set for a cataclysm to unfold. Countless writers and poets before School Days have spoken about the dangers of obsessive love and its attendent tragedy, some of which have indeed seen as bloody a conclusion as that of School Days. School Days‘ ending, however, is impactful because of how twisted it became: we recall that at the beginning, the anime felt like a standard romp through a high school drama. Small things soon arrive to create a sense of unease, in the form of lapses in judgement, actions that signal a lack of faith, and like reactor four at Chernobyl, whose meltdown was caused by a series of unfortunate circumstance, it becomes clear that School Days is hurtling towards disaster right at the halfway point. The culture festival is where School Days really ups its ante, and as preparations begin, a sense of unease grips the series, sweeping away the light-hearted moments that characterised the first half.
It is a slow burn for sure, and you are right that School Days is more light-hearted in the first half, only getting dark when the cultural festival starts, when shit starts hitting the fan. It’s important to note, that it’s not only the main characters who are players in this. The secondary cast also has a guilty hand, no one more so that Setsuna, and boy oh boy does this girl REALLY fuck things up.
Setsuna is Sekai’s enabler. She is probably the one person in the entire anime that actually has the power and influence to fix this miss. She alone probably could have sat Sekai down, told her the harsh truth, and helped her moved on. Instead, out of fear of upsetting her friend, and struggling with her own feelings towards Makoto, Setsuna instead just sits there and lets things set themselves on fire. She keeps pushing Sekai to chase after Makoto, trying to set them up, and push them together. It gets to the point where she even offers HERSELF to him in order to try and bind him together with Sekai.
I mean really, it’s like throwing gasoline on a fucking fire. Setsuna makes everything worse, and again it shows off the anime’s theme of failing to communicate. If Setsuna had just been honest with her feelings, told Sekai that “hey, you gotta let this shit go, he made his choice, let fate decide” or said “Look, I like Makoto too, so if you don’t step up, I will.” then, while it still would have been messy, things would could have maybe been salvaged.
Then Setsuna has the gall to skip town, leaving Sekai with no support system, which only drives to the insane lengths she starts to go to keep Makoto to herself. I mean I can only IMAGINE what Setsuna’s reaction would be when she finds out what happened to the three of them. It probably scarred her for life. Zen, what’s your view on the character?
Setsuna probably represents the challenge that youth face in their friendships – we’ve established that communication failure is what leads to the tragedy in School Days, and it becomes a matter of knowing how to approach conflict resolution. Among you wayward characters, this is muddled by that particular hindrance of not wanting to disrupt the status quo: everyone seems so focused on not wanting to make someone sad in the short term, find that immediate happiness quickly. In Setsuna’s case, while I found that she may have had the capability of stopping the runaway situation that defines School Days‘ second half, the anime presents her as being doomed from the beginning: Makoto’s initial kindness to her early on is what creates these feelings that linger, and because she now also wants Makoto to some capacity, has a conflict of interest. On one hand, she wants Sekai to find her happiness, but on the other, must tend to her own feelings. In this sense, Setsuna is in a position to stay this madness, but is unable to owing to a lack of character. As you’ve noted, she could either stand down or step up and make clear which choice will take, either decisively sacrificing her own happiness for Sekai or throwing Sekai under the bus for her own gain.
However, I feel that Setsuna’s situation, already a troublesome one since she’s entangled in something without guidance of her own, is worsened by the abruptness of her move to France. Setsuna is fighting the clock here, and ultimately, it looked like desperation is what drives her to boff Makoto in a last-ditch effort to convince him to stick with Sekai. Like Makoto, Sekai and Kotonoha, Setsuna’s situation is one brought on by a combination of ill fortune, which I see as leading her to making the final choice that makes everyone’s fate inevitable: by bedding Makoto, it gives him the impression that everyone is up for the taking. With this being said, we have the benefit of hindsight and no involvement, and Setsuna’s possible decisions seem obvious. For a high school student, who may not have the same experience or developed frontal lobes to slow things down and think things through, I believe that Setsuna was acting in the moment for whatever appeared to be the local optimum without fully understanding the consequences of her actions here. School Days ran on a razor’s edge in places, and it does feel like that with any sort of proper intervention from an older character, whether it be a teacher, parent or even an older friend, wrongs could have been safely righted before reaching critical mass. Were Setsuna to find out what befell her friends, the only certainty is that it would create a host of mental health problems for her.
Having now looked at Setsuna sealing Makoto, Sekai and Kotonoha’s fate, through a combination of willful and unintended ignorance, School Days has reached a similar state as Reactor 4 that fateful night in Chernobyl: Makoto believes he is practically invincible and is attempting to bang everyone in sight, Sekai is desperately trying to reach Makoto, and Kotonoha, like the deadly void coefficient of an RBMK reactor, silently watches, her negative emotions turning inward and transforming her heart into a ticking time bomb. Now, at this point, I do not think that Otome or Hikari have the same impact as the others did, but I could be quite mistaken here. What do you make of things as we hurtle towards School Days‘ equivalent of a meltdown, Dewbond?
Well I do agree that Hikari doesn’t really do much, and is just another girl who gets involved, but Otome is a bit different, as she is the bully who constantly harasses Kotonoha. It is clear that Otome is jealous of her, mostly because Otome seems to be a tomboy while Kotonoha is a bombshell of a woman. That bullying is just another dose of poison and really what drives Kotonoha to cling to Makoto as desperately as she does. Not to mention that Otome and Makoto are childhood friends, which pushes her to make a move on him.
Yet, my favorite scene of School Days actually comes from Otome, and it is the scene near the end, where she finally sees Makoto for what he has become, and kicks him to the curb. The scene where she is in the restaurant, looking at the picture and then throws it out is an EXTREMELY powerful scene for me, because it the one moment where the harem part of the anime suddenly ‘gets real’. That stuff never happens in a harem anime, so when it does here, it’s like a punch to the gut. Maybe because your hoping that everything will work out, that things will go back to the joyful blissful ignorance that Harem anime have always survived on. But in School Days (and in real life) that’s not the case. Otome is done, their friendship and romance is dead, and she’s moving on, Makoto be damned.
I just really, REALLY love that scene, and it really feels like a Rubicon crossing moment, especially when you have it juxtaposed by Makoto trying to contact any of the girls and finding that they’ve all abandoned him. It’s chilling and Otome, despite being guilty of pushing Kotonoha to a fragile state of mind, is the pinnacle of that. Frankly, she’s the one person in the entire cast who walks away mostly unscathed and a better person.
Irrespective of her connection with Makoto in the past, I found Otome’s treatment of Kotonoha to be despicable; her bullying Kotonoha was motivated purely by petty reasons, and for the trouble she causes her, I’d say that Otome gets off very lightly. With Otome, her character is a mixed bag for me: while she catches on the mistake of getting it on with Makoto and disavows him subsequently, I felt that this was more in disgust as a result of Makoto’s infidelity and the realisation that she never would’ve been able to get him to see her as someone special. As such, while I hesitate to say that Otome comes out a better person, I can agree that it’s true she’s learnt a lesson about relationships and therefore, unlikely to repeat the same mistakes that afflict everyone else.
Having said this, Otome’s ultimate fate is not explored any further: this is one of those aspects of School Days that made it quite haunting: there are many unanswered questions left in the wake of Makoto boffing everything that moves in the series, and as we leave the culture festival behind, the stage is set for the series’ climax with the impending arrival of Christmas. This is normally a time of joy, but by now, Makoto’s dug himself into a hole – everyone’s dissociated themselves with him, except for Sekai and Kotonoha. The desperation that each of Makoto, Sekai and Kotonoha have makes the final act of School Days a particularly powerful one, and the conflict becomes much more visceral.
Maybe coming out a better person was too generous. I should say that she comes out the most unscathed and scarred, and she does seem to realize what has happened and learned from it, the same can’t be said for the other characters.
Which brings us to the climax, which has defined the series like few others have. The time where the kettle both literally and metaphorically boils over. Sekai’s despair and murder of Makoto is both cathartic and tragic. Cathartic because Sekai finally seems to break free and seize her own fate, and Makoto, villain as much as victim, gets his comeuppance, but tragic because of what has happened. What has driven these innocent teenagers, without any guidance or support, without the ability to communicate to become.
It is the natural horrible and bloody conclusion to where the series has gone, and I am so glad that School Days didn’t pull any punches, didn’t try to make things work out, or reach a happy ending. Seeing Sekai just snap, act, realize, and then regret feels so real. It is just absolutely heartbreaking, even more so when you realize what it does to Kotonoha, and how far she has fallen. The young shy girl who just needed time understand her needs and hesitation, driven insane and delusional, that while she rides off into her long awaited sunset, it isn’t what she, or the viewers expected.
It has been memed, loved, hated, and discussed, but I honestly top to bottom, 100% love this ending, and it remains an extremely gripping conclusion, right up there with the best anime has to offer. What’s your view Zen?
We’ve finally reached the ending – this was truly the singular moment that defines School Days. Watching Sekai cut through Makoto with a kitchen knife, only to be slain by Kotonoha in turn, is so shocking, I felt that it overshadows everything else that happens in those moments after Otome and the others distance themselves from Makoto, right up to the point where Sekai’s pent-up frustration finally manifests. Even before the deed is done, however, we can feel just how intense Kotonoha and Sekai’s emotions are. There’s a sense of desperation about the two, and every bit of hurt is visible in how everyone acts. In particular, watching Makoto embrace Kotonoha, bringing the life back into her eyes, was a moment of conflict: on one hand, it’s touching that he realises his error, but on the other, who’s to say he’s not turning to Kotonoha simply because everyone else has tossed him? Either way, when Sekai finds that Makoto is back with Kotonoha, something in her snaps, resulting in a conclusion of great finality. The events leading to Sekai stabbing Makoto are often forgotten, but they are no less important.
For the messy end that Makoto meets, it’s quite difficult to feel sympathy for him in this case: having spent much of School Days‘ anime toying with the feelings of the women around him, and refusing to make a firm decision to spare others of the pain of rejection, Makoto’s death is something that, while shocking, also comes as a great relief for viewers. I imagine that many folks out there have naught but ill-will towards those who would do as Makoto does in a relationship, especially considering how difficult it is to start and maintain a healthy one. Sekai’s death, then, is something that I found to be the price of cowardice, of attempting to struggle with a problem alone rather than seeking out counsel from others. As for Kotonoha, she’s as alone as Sekai and Makoto ultimately are: it’s a pyrrhic victory in that while she does end up with Makoto (in a manner of speaking), one cannot help but blanch at what it cost her.
I think that the shock of the ending, and its implications, as well as the lingering questions that it leaves with viewers, is why School Days left such a splash. What fate befalls Kotonoha is unknown, creating an uncomfortable feeling that the whole story is not known, and this augments the impact of her brutally disembowelling Sekai: there is no closure as to what happens to Kotonoha and what’s left of Makoto. In most love stories, where there is a “happily ever after”, School Days strips out both the “happily” and “ever after”. It comes as such a surprise to viewers that School Days remains highly memorable even now. As for the infamous memes, I feel that they were perhaps a consequence of an unfortunately-timed murder that delayed the finale’s broadcast, and the attendant frustration of seeing the conclusion delayed. While I certainly felt the unease of School Day’s ending after watching it with Jon Spencer’s AniTwitWatches the first time around, I think returning with you, Dewbond, and unpacking the series a second time, has helped me to find closure in understanding the characters and the series better. How about for you, Dewbond?
When it comes to Makoto I can feel sympathy for him in a way. Not for his actions, which are cruel and self-serving, but for a boy who didn’t have anyone to save him, and was a product of his environment. That I think is worth a degree of sadness and sympathy, even if the man himself is not a good person.
Also, in the interest of fairness, I do want to spend a moment or two discussing what I think doesn’t work. As much as I enjoyed School Days, it is a show whose animation was frankly never good to begin with, and frankly hasn’t aged well at all. I would also say that Makoto’s jump from indecisive two-timer in episode 10, to relentless pussy-hound in episode 11 feels a little rushed. I would have really liked if he had had his own episode between that chronicled his decent. And as much as I love the ending and admire it, it does feel at times as if School Days cranked shit up to 15 when before that, everything that was humming along at an eight. It’s effective, but like with Makoto’s fall, there is a sudden jump that can feel unbalanced.
I think we are almost at the end here Zen, but I would be remiss if we didn’t talk about the music of School Days, most notably the opening theme, and two main songs played throughout the series. The one at the climax, and the one when Kotonoha first sees Sekai and Makoto cheating. I have my thoughts, but like with Yosuga no Sora this is the point where I stand back, crack open a beer and let you go nuts. So have at it!
School Days aired during the same year as Mobile Suit Gundam 00 and CLANNAD, two powerhouse anime that pushed the envelope for what was possible with animation. By comparison, School Days felt absolutely dated even for its time; background and lighting effects are simple, and the characters themselves are basic in design. The anime is, from an aesthetics perspective, reminiscent of Da Capo, which predates School Days‘ anime by four years. While School Days is no powerhouse in this department, its merits thankfully extend beyond its visuals, and the soundtrack is definitely one of those elements that greatly enhance the series’ impact.
I’m glad you bought this up, Dewbond, because the music of School Days contributes greatly to the emotional impact, and right out of the gates, we are captivated by the opening song, Innocent Blue. The song itself opens in an upbeat manner, reminiscent of the music from Da Capo, but as soon as DeviceHigh begins performing, there’s an echo in her vocals create an ethereal, haunting tone. As she sings, there’s a dissonance between her voice and the happy tempo of the instruments. The result is a song that pulls the listener in two directions: should they be happy or doubtful? The unique aural traits of Innocent Blue hints at what is upcoming in School Days, and I imagine that this is the reason why the opening was not used until the second episode, when the conflict between Makoto, Sekai and Kotonoha begins manifesting.
I believe the ending song when Kotonoha witnesses Sekai’s kokuhaku with Makoto is called Sea of Memory. This song was similarly used to great effect, and the lyrics seem to speak to Makoto’s impending loneliness as he yields to temptation even as Kotonoha rushes off to meet him. Finally, Kanako Itō’s To the Other Side of Sorrow outright sounds like a horror song that belongs in something like Elfen Lied or Higurashi: When They Cry. The slow, deliberate percussion creates a finality in what’s happened. The incidental music of School Days itself covers a wide variety of moods, from the comedic slice-of-life moments to the wistful tunes that accompany sappier moments where Makoto clumsily attempts to navigate his first relationship, or those sinister tracks adjourning moments of great tension and conflict, School Days utilises these to great effect. For me, Kotonoha’s theme is probably my favourite of the soundtrack songs: the use of strings is a reminder of Kotonoha’s innocent and pure view of the world. To see where she ends up is to see how love can corrupt as totally as any power. Is there anything you’d like to add, Dewbond?
Innocent blue is a great opening theme, and is both equally parts cheerful and dreadfully haunting. Listening to that song, long after I’ve watched the series very much gives the show an eerie theme. Like something isn’t right, which I think is what School Days is, a sense of tragedy and disaster just waiting under the surface. To the Other Side of Sorrow is also chillingly effective, and seems perfect to drive home the shocking and brutal climax. I’m not a music expert like yourself, so all I can really say that School Days has good tunes that fits the series well.
With that, I think reached the end of the discussion, so let’s wrap up with our final overall thoughts on the experience of the anime School Days. Zen, taking it all together, everything we’ve discussed and your experience. What do you think of School Days?
The first thing on my mind is that School Days is, and should be taken as, a series with merits well beyond imagery of the M/S Skagastøl that persists to this day. In portraying a visceral journey of hubris and downfall, of comedy and tragedy, School Days is not a typical anime, and where it excels is precisely showing how something so innocent can lead to another side of sorrow so quickly (pun intended!). It is important to note that while I certainly had fun watching School Days, which proved to be continually unexpected, the subject matter and presentation might not be for everyone. School Days is polarising for the choices that the writers made in presenting Makoto’s story: while doubtlessly effective in its intended message, I can understand why some folks might not be so fond of the series. How about you, Dewbond?
Like with Yosuga no Sora, School Days is an anime that deserves to be about more than the memes that it created. It is not perfect, no anime ever is, but it is a gripping and enthralling story about teenagers and teenage love that goes out of control. If there is one series that deserves the remake treatment ala Full Metal Alchemist and Fruits Basket, it’s School Days, no question. Even months after I have watched it and said my piece, I keep wanting to come back to it, to think about the story, the characters and the tragedy of it all. To be honest Zen, even though we talked about a lot of stuff, there is just so much more we could discuss. It is the kind of show that just gets my brain working into overdrive, in the best possible way.
Overall though, like I said at the start of this. I am very glad I watched School Days in my 30s, so far removed from my teenage years. I feel like I can appreciate the series beyond it’s ending, and really understand the characters and what happens to them, instead of just blaming Makoto for everything. It is probably the closest a harem anime has gotten to a ReZero like deconstruction, and while it doesn’t fully go that way, for someone who adores the harem genre top to bottom, it is a really great to see that something like this exists.
But most of all, and as the final word. I’ll say this.
If School Days were ever to receive a modern remaster, I would be quite curious to see how whichever studio adapts it would go about doing so: seeing Makoto, Kotonoha, Sekai and their bloody end with the standard of art and animation we’ve been spoiled by would be quite enjoyable, and I would think that, like Halo 2, whose core mechanics were solid, School Days‘ underlying story and message were great. As such, with a new coat of paint, a remaster would be a great way to get people into the series!
I honestly think that we could be here for the remainder of the month talking about School Days, much as we did for School Days, and I’m definitely glad to have given the series a go with AniTwitWatches. I can’t help but wonder what it would’ve felt like to have watched the series back in 2007, back when the anime first aired. I would’ve been pretty close to Makoto in age, myself. Maybe, I would’ve been dissuaded from pursing a relationship more readily!
Before wrapping this up, I would like to thank you for having participated in this collaboration: it’s always fun to gain new and interesting insights into a series, and for School Days, I’m very glad to have had your thoughts and impressions on the series! In my own post on School Days, I devolved into a rather boring talk on how School Days was a visual representation of a greedy algorithm and its implications; this one here’s been considerably more fun to write. It’s been great to have you back, and I hope readers also enjoyed this visitation of School Days with a fresh set of eyes!
With this, the collaboration between Dewbond and myself comes to a close. I come out of this conversation with the sense that School Days and Yosuga no Sora are not so different, sharing in the topic of unbridled romance and the impacts that it may have on people. In both series’ most visceral moments, the protagonists find themselves isolated, lacking any sort of external guidance and judgement to help them develop a relationship: just has Haruka and Sora turn to one another in a world that has taken all else from them, Sekai and Kotonoha resort to increasingly desperate means to cling onto those they love. As I did last time, I leave the interested reader with links to the sum of the materials we’ve written on the anime of today’s discussion. I wrote about School Days for the “Terrible Anime Challenge” some time ago, where I abstracted out Makoto, Sekai and Kotonoha’s decisions as a visual representation of a greedy algorithm, while Dewbond’s got several detailed, and insightful, breakdowns for each of Sekai and Kotonoha, as well as a whole-series talk.
Dewbond’s School Days Posts
Infinite Zenith’s School Days Post