Reviewby Theron Martin,
Sub.DVD - Complete Collection
During his second semester of high school Makoto Itou's attention was drawn to Kotonoha Katsura, a cute, busty girl who attended his school (albeit in a neighboring class) and rode his train, but he lacked the confidence or relationship know-how to approach her until new seat neighbor Sekai Saionji saw her picture on his phone and offered to help bring them together. To that end Sekai befriended the shy Kotonoha and tutored Makoto in how to win her over, and indeed, the two do begin dating, since Kotonoha had also been interested in Makoto. Although he does try at first to figure Kotonoha out, Makoto eventually becomes frustrated with her reserve, especially her reticence towards advancing the physical aspect of their relationship, and his attention wanders towards Sekai, who also likes him but had been holding back in support of Kotonoha. As Makoto and Sekai's relationship heats up, Kotonoha gets hedged out, while schoolmates poke and prod from all sides. Nothing good can come from such a situation.
The TV series version of School Days, which aired during the summer 2007 season, was actually the second anime adaptation of the 2005 adult visual novel of the same name but the first one to tell a complete story. (The other was a single-episode ONA in 2005.) Though it does have occasional humor elements, especially early on and during one later school festival sequence, it is primarily a dramatic slice-of-life romance which initially centers on a love triangle but eventually expands to a broader harem approach. It spawned a meme: “nice boat,” which is a specific reference to a picture of a boat which replaced the original airing of the show's final episode. (Although ironically it could also refer to the final scene of the series, the person responsible for creating it had no way of knowing that at the time.) If you do not already know what this meme means then looking it up or the circumstances behind how it came to pass is at least a partial major spoiler for the series' finale.
Almost from the beginning School Days separates itself from most other harem series and visual novel adaptations in that it has an air of plausibility about its events and characters. No grand contrivances are necessary to set up the basic character and relationship situations, and the only significant suspension of belief required is that a teenage girl like Sekai would be wearing a waitressing uniform at work which is cut like an American football cheerleader's outfit. The way events play out (to a point) is realistic enough that it may even strike uncomfortably close to home for some viewers; teenagers playing at love games absolutely can be that catty and/or thoughtless in real life, and betrayals of the nature shown here really do happen. The series starts in a very placid mode but gradually becomes more unsettling as it reinforces that it is not going to follow typical anime trends by having its male lead either remain loyal to his girl despite distractions or be innocently unsure of who he likes and thus shy of committing in any direction. It is not going to have the girls just cooperate or compete good-naturedly as he tries to sort out his heart. In fact, it is not even going to be clear that he has much of a heart. That gradually turns the romantic developments from unsettling to disturbing and eventually even outright ugly. And that can make the content either fascinating or difficult to watch, perhaps even both.
The story also examines expectations for male leads in harem series. Western fans commonly complain about the traditional milquetoast nature of such characters and frequently wonder why such characters do not take greater advantage of being surrounded by willing girls. That male harem leads are essentially audience insert characters is an explanation commonly given, but the reasons run deeper than that. Akatsuki in Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero shows one way such characters can go wrong if they are more assertive and aggressive; Makoto Itou shows another. He is not one of the lovable lechers all too common in anime or a character whose faults are played up for laughs; he is simply an ordinary teenage boy who prioritizes fulfilling his needs and ultimately has so little interest in love or the romantic trappings that go with it that he eventually has difficulty even giving lip service to them. When he starts sleeping around or copping out on his responsibilities, he is, with the possible exception of one scene where he deliberately sticks it to an ex, not necessarily being evil; he is just being very selfish and self-centered. Sadly, individuals like Makoto definitely exist in real life – in fact, almost anyone who went to a coed high school or college probably either knew one or knew about at least one such individual – and the contempt bred from that might well contribute to Makoto being among the most reviled of all male protagonists in anime. Even if that has no bearing, he still earns that distinction well enough through reprehensible behavior so shockingly different from anime norms that it can be unsettling.
Makoto is hardly the only despicable character in the series, either. The trio of girls who gather around Kotonoha's classmate Otome essentially bully Kotonoha, and the stunt they pull with the video camera late in the series borders on the sadistic and is certainly criminal. (But, again, such a thing being done is hardly unbelievable and possibly even more credible now than when the series was made.) Sekai's friend Setsuna is not as big an offender but causes trouble in her own way and is hardly diplomatic in trying to drive away Kotonoha. Sekai is not blameless here, either, as her dishonesty about her own feelings and ultimately selfish motivations for setting Makoto up with Kotonoha are the source of most of the trouble in the series. (And whether she intends it to go that way or not, she does effectively steal another girl's boyfriend.) Even cheerful supporting characters Hikari and Taisuke make their own missteps late in the series. The only actual innocent character amongst the major cast in the series is Kotonoha, who becomes a study in what happens when a fragile heart and personality are pushed to the limit and broken. All of that contributes to the series' justly infamous ending.
And oh, that ending! Not much can be said about it without engaging in spoilers, but trust that there is a reason why it has wormed its way into the general anime consciousness. A series whose developments had been gradually-paced through episode 9 starts ramping up with episode 10 and hits an alarming rate of developments with episode 11, perhaps in an intentional effort to show how once the dam bursts on achieving one's sexual freedom, a flood can happen. That leaves the inevitable backlash for the finale. Put that together with the way everything progresses to that point and the series can easily be looked at as a deliberate deconstruction of harem series, or at the very least a not-too-subtle jab at how ridiculous harem series are as a subgenre.
For all of the bold moves that the story content make, the artistic effort by studio TNK is decidedly lackluster. Character designs are all run-of-the-mill, rendering quality is inconsistent, and neither the coloring nor the background art is anything special. The animation is likewise unimpressive. The presence of fan service is spotty; for most of the series it is of the “leering camera” variety, which seems to be indicating where Makoto's eyes are wandering (i.e., a girl's chest, hips, or lips), but every once in a while it pop in a completely random panty shot and a single episode has a single scene of completely random defined nudity. (Sekai's work uniform could probably also be considered fan service.) Some sexual situations are also strongly implied. The one place where the series does get very visually daring is during its finale, which includes an utterly unforgettable perspective shot.
On the musical side, a score composed predominately of light piano numbers is used very sparingly, with long stretches passing without any musical accompaniment. When numbers are used, they commonly heighten the unsettling nature of certain developments or gently enhance dramatic turns. The minimalist approach is effective and contributes greatly to the content not descending into melodrama before it specifically wants to. Supplementing it, especially in late episodes, are a variety of low-key insert songs. Opener “Innocent Blue,” which is used throughout, is bland and unmemorable, but the handling of the closer is a little more creative. The same graphic set – of pictures flashing on the screen of a flip phone – is always used, although the exact pictures, and their exact order, sometimes varies. A total of eight different songs are used, whose exact lyrics and tones are keyed to what was going on in each episode and/or which character was most featured.
An English dub is not provided for this release. Amongst the primary Japanese cast members, most have hentai or semi-hentai dubbing experience and only Daisuke Hirakawa, the voice of Makoto, has done much for major roles beyond this series (Rei in the Free! franchise and Muneakira in the Samurai Girls franchise, amongst others). Perhaps not surprisingly, he gives the best performance, as he convincingly portrays Makoto's attitude at every stage. Other performances are sufficient without going overboard, which would have been easy to do in many of these roles.
Discotek's release spreads the 12 TV series episodes across two DVDs. Also included is the School Days: Magical Heart Kokoro-chan OVA episode, which fiercely lampoons the cast and series content as it parodies both team super-hero series and magical girl series. It is quite funny, and does include reference to “nice boat” if one watches carefully, but absolutely should not be viewed before the final TV episode. Missing, however, is the Valentine Days OVA. No other Extras are present, not even company trailers. Original Japanese credits are retained, with translated and English credits only in a Credits option on the main menu. The subtitles provided do, unfortunately, contain the occasional spelling error.
Despite its efforts to analyze and reinterpret harem series, School Days probably would have sunk into anime obscurity if not for the nature of its final episode and the circumstances surrounding it not airing. However, those analytical efforts give it a value beyond its sensationalism. If viewers find Makoto unlikable, it is because he was meant to be an object lesson, not someone that they should want to relate to. That the actions of him and the others progressively push the series away from what's expected of harem series holds a fascination akin to watching a train wreck play out in very slow motion. Thus while the series may not seem very memorable at first, in the end it is hard to forget.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : C+
Art : C+
Music : B
+ Strikes out far from the beaten harem path, unforgettable finale, one OVA included.
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