12 Days, 12 Moments: Day 11–School’s Out

You didn’t think I’d forgotten this moment, did you? I deliberately saved this moment and the one I’m posting tomorrow on Christmas day for last, as I do believe they represent watersheds for the year, defining moments that portend future changes in anime in general, or a least will be remembered for many more years to come.

Today, of course, I speak of the end of that lurid soap opera so innocently titled School Days. I could just say “Nice boat” and you’d all understand. But here’s a little further reflection on what it means for anime in general.

Sugar, spice, and everything nice...on a boat

Day 11: School’s Out

It couldn’t have come at a better time for the anime studio, that girl murderer the English blogosphere so affectionately dubbed “Axe-tan.” And the censors played right into their hands by more or less confirming by their censorship what the fans had been expecting and clamoring for–a bloodbath. This was an anime, after all, whose audience expectations were unlike most others: it had an eager audience who called for nothing less than the death of the protagonist (not the antagonist) because of its sheer hatred of his actions and character. And the show fanned those flames deliberately with each passing episode. I should know. My own blog entries about the episodes prove it, because I got into it, too.

The overturning of audience expectations is probably what School Days will be best known for, particularly for the cliche-ridden genre to which it belongs. Sure, it wasn’t the first harem show with a genuinely psychotic character undone by jealousy (that would be Shuffle!). Nor was it the first show featuring many loli girls committing horrific acts of violence (Higurashi 1st season, anyone?). Merely putting the two together might have gotten you an interesting murder mystery show, or tragedy. No, what honestly made it unique was the degree to which the entire narrative was calculated to make the audience want those outcomes, rather than seeing them as shocking, sad events. The creators, of course, did one better than even the game, by adding an extra layer of sadism to make it extra memorable; were Makoto only stabbed to death, I do not think it would have gotten nearly the same amount of attention, because that was in many ways the least surprising part of it. They knew they had to push it even further, and they did, to the point where I thought there was an element of glee in the carving up of the main characters. That element is what makes it so different from most harem anime, which takes pains not to depart far from the overall feeling that the world is a basically nice, safe place, where girls are nice and sweet and pliant (deep down, at least) and the guy nice and sweet and considerate. No wonder the logo of School Days was shattered in the final episode. This ending represents the shattering of that conventional world, and has already left its mark in the way we watch shows like Myself; Yourself and even otherwise innocent outings like Kimikiss and Clannad. The term “nice boat” has even shown up in anime itself already. It has become a permanent part of otaku culture because this ending is now a permanent part of our expectations whenever heavy emotional love drama comes around.

And that’s all the show really had going for it in the end. In my judgment, School Days is not a very good show on the levels of plot or character; despite some promising moments in the first half, it spiraled into unbelievability and outlandish outcomes as more and more girls were introduced as actors in the story. Makoto’s conscience-free actions got more and more brazen, with nary a genuine sobering moment in sight, and more and more girls threw themselves thoughtlessly at him. Its memorability is purely based on shock value, and I predict that it will only work this one and only time. Because like it or not, it has permanently altered the harem romance landscape, in which any future similar endings will simply evoke at best a comparison–“oh, that was just like School Days.” Nor would it be able to count on crimes happening just at the right time to raise fandom to a fever pitch. It was a perfect storm, really, and one that I find unlikely ever to happen to any imitator.

School Days got there first, and you never forget your first time. So shall this show be remembered. It’s less certain whether fans in general want a second, a third, a fourth time, though. I don’t. But it’s undeniable that this is one of the key moments of the year in anime.

This is an Anime Blogging Collective post. Other participants include

Author: gendomike

Michael lives in the Los Angeles area, and has been into anime since he saw Neon Genesis Evangelion in 1999. Some of his favorite shows include Full Metal Alchemist, Honey and Clover, and Welcome to the NHK!. Since 2003 he has gone to at least one anime convention every year. A public radio junkie, which naturally led to podcasting, he now holds a seminary degree and is looking to become Dr. Rev. Otaku Bible Man any day now. Michael can be reached at mike.huang@animediet.net. You can also find his Twitter account at @gendomike.

5 thoughts on “12 Days, 12 Moments: Day 11–School’s Out

  1. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an anime whose success or failure hinged so much on the ending, and the last episode in particular. If they had gone with one of the “good” endings from the game, it would have been an utterly forgettable show. If they had done a straightforward adaptation of one of the bad endings, it would be somewhat more notable, but hardly one of this year’s standouts. Only by combining two of the game’s bad endings, adding an inspired anime-original final scene, and riding the wave of publicity from the nice boat incident did the show become the bombshell that it was.

    It’s definitely one of the most ridiculous “realistic” (i.e. no fantasy/sci-fi elements) series I’ve ever seen, but after the last episode I stopped thinking of it as a real-life soap opera and began to see it as a morality play or tragic fable of sorts, where verisimilitude is subservient to the central theme–in this case, “one man’s selfishness and indecisiveness destroy the lives of others as well as his own”. Not to say that the overall message of School Days is a positive one, or that I’m a better person for having seen it, or anything like that, of course. Just that it’s not the kind of show where questions like “how the hell did Sekai go from Makoto’s apartment to her apartment and then to the school (presumably via public transit) without anyone noticing the copious bloodstains on her uniform?” matter.

  2. @Andrew: you hit it on the head. This is a morality play and exploitation fiction, in the manner of a 19th century novel which used lurid sex and violence to draw readers in, only to “punish” them by giving the characters gruesome fates for their “sins.” I always felt that the tone of the show seemed oddly moralistic. Of course, I think it’s a mark of bad storytelling to contort the plot and character in order to Teach A Lesson, and School Days did that in spades. We’re not going to remember the lesson as well as how nasty Kotonoha could really be by the end. I talked a bit about this in my last audio column, Art and Soul.

  3. That is very true. This show was boring. Very, very boring. At the end of the first episode where Sekai kissed Makoto, I was thinking, “wow! this is sure to be the kind of show to make me feel terrible I’ve been looking for!”, and I was right, it made me feel terrible, but not in a good way. By the fourth or fifth episode, I was multiplying numbers in my calculator as an excuse to look away.

    It seems to me that people are only watching it in a bandwagon kind of way. It is hard for me to believe that this many people actually enjoyed it. Unfortunately I did hop on for a short while. Damn impressionable teenage mind.

    I found myself irritated seeing from then on comments on different anime episodes about people saying, “I hope it doesn’t end like School Days”. They would say that on every single show that had even said the word love once. The post-school days effect was instant paranoia. I even saw one of those comments on Hayate no Gotoku for chrissake.

  4. but why it had to end like that , i didn’t get the message or the lesson to learn ,besides the obvious one.
    i mean at the 11th and 12th episode i was thinking:”hmm! maybe be one of the characters it’s having a nightmare or premonition ,IDK!!!,……. everything was looking fine till the episode when everything started to go wrong.
    when i saw the girl kissing makoto on the train station,i was hoping it’ll ends nearly like “Toradora!”…. but noooo…it went beyond that XD…..wow/ i just don’t understand.my last thing to write is that
    that ending was memoriable , but i think it would’ve better if sekai had to die so makoto could stay with the other girl. at least that would’ve be a more releaving ending…… this ending just got me frustrated.  just like “Toradora!”…….sigh.

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