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On “School Days”: What are We Supposed to be Feeling?


I’ve been thinking about this show a lot recently. Partly because, after defending Makoto’s flaws as being understandable in my earlier posts, I now feel like joining in the hatefest that is sweeping the anime blogosphere. I get it now. This guy is despicable. He deserves the BAD END that is surely, like a slow train, a-coming.

And yet, I also wonder: why this character in this kind of show? What is it that these creators want us to feel and understand at the end of the day? Why give us such a dislikable protagonist–don’t we want to like and root for him?

One possible answer, of course, is good old fashioned schadenfreude–pleasure as we watch Makoto crash and burn, twisting in the wind of his treacheries. Because maybe we have seen jerks like Makoto continue to get the ladies, over and over again, using them up after having their pleasure for a moment to move on to their next prey. Maybe you were even the “good friend” who got that call from her at 2 AM, full of sobbing and misery, and after listening for an hour or two about what a jerk he is, and after she says “I know I could count on you. You’re such a good listener,” she hangs up the phone, and you lie in bed, knowing not long afterwards that they will be having makeup sex and you will still just be the “shoulder to cry on.”*

Maybe this anime was made for you, then. Especially if Makoto gets stabbed or shot.

But maybe its more complicated than that. Oddly enough, despite the loads of fanservice, this show is actually quite moralistic. It can easily be read as an object lesson in the way lust destroys relationships that otherwise would have promise. Never have Jesus’ words been more graphically illustrated (heh)–“if you look at a woman lustfully, you have already committed adultery in your heart.” And the actual adultery usually follows not long after, which is exactly what happens in these recent episodes. Moreover, on that front, Makoto is not the only blameworthy character. Sekai, surely, did more than her part in teasing and coming on to him in incredibly unsubtle ways, because deep down she lusted after Makoto too.

There’s a difference between Makoto and Sekai, though: Sekai has a conscience. She genuinely wants to do the right thing, but finds her will weaker than she perhaps thought; her conflicted desires doom her because on one level, she’s getting exactly what she wants when she makes out and sleeps with Makoto. She must share some of the blame. It’s inexcusable, but it’s understandable and forgivable even; it’s very human. We all have that experience and so long as her conscience isn’t seared, there is still hope for her. Conflicting desires are a part of being human. And the thing with lust, in real life, is that it is so frequently mixed with genuine care, love, and affection, which is undeniable in Sekai.

Not in Makoto’s case, though. He is particularly repellent because he lacks that conscience. He feels no shame whatsoever that after he becomes bored with Kotonoha, he can just move on to Sekai, without even telling Kotonoha the news. There is no trace of guilt or shame in this cad, unlike with Sekai. He has no appreciation for all the effort that poor Kotonoha is expending to try to please him. He takes her for granted almost from the start. He has no desire to do anything except satisfy his urges, which is why he continues to jack off to porn after he gets a girlfriend and looks at dirty mags on his first date. One thing that porn addiction does to people is that it makes them quickly bored and frustrated with real women, and this is exactly what we see happening to Makoto and Kotonoha.

Makoto is thus easy to hate. But why make him the main character? Are we, in fact, supposed to subconsciously envy his playa-ness while simultaneously condemning him so we can feel morally superior? We get our rocks off to Sekai’s striped panties and bra and still get to feel good because we think we’d do better than Makoto as he feels her up behind Kotonoha’s back. Too many stories trade in that kind of hypocrisy, and the heavy fan-service certainly leads one to think that it’s that sort of show. And it still might turn out that way, depending on the ending. I hope it doesn’t. That would be cheap and exploitive.

I sense, however, traces of something a bit more complex. Sekai, for one, is too complex and active a character to be simply shunted aside as a victim. Kotonoha is at last beginning to develop a spine, though it is too late to save her relationship with Makoto. The women, in other words, are going to refuse to merely be victims. Sekai in particular–who I find a fascinating, tragic character–is going to discover the degree to which being unable to articulate her desires clearly has led to destruction, and how hard it is to repair the damage. She has the desire to do right; can she do it? Kotonoha has to face a choice in whether she will continue to define herself as being “Makoto’s boyfriend” or something else–and that something else may lead her down, not up, into rage, despair, and helplessness. Like in the other lurid soap anime, Kimi Ga Nozumo Eien, everyone’s actions have long-lasting consequences, and some can never be undone. The struggle to try anyway is the stuff of compelling drama. So I hope we get to see the women in the show struggle and develop as characters as much as we take pleasure in seeing Makoto take his deserved hits.

And as for Makoto himself: perhaps the whole scheme in building up the character of the female leads is to make us feel the pain that Makoto helps to cause in their lives. It would shatter whatever illusion we might have about the glories of being a playa. The consequences will be laid out with people we have grown to care for. In real life, provided the murder doesn’t happen first, this is the only way people like Makoto learn if they ever do at all.

It’s probably fitting that the show always ends with the disclaimer that it is a work of fiction, and that any resemblances to real people is purely coincidental. As soap operatic as it is, there are probably people out there for whom these conflicts and struggles hit close to home. The situations are a bit contrived, sure. But the awkwardness, the little excuses, the little lies that build on one another, the fading denials as the adulterous lovers grope one another–that’s all too realistic. Maybe the best we can hope for as audiences of this show is that it will help us recognize when we do the same with those we care about too. Sometimes, we need dark and bloody catharsis to help us see where the road leads if we go down that way. Better, after all, that fictional characters do the suffering for us than to wake up in the morning with no escape from the real messes that we make.

*No, this was not based on direct personal experience. Well, not exactly anyway. What? What? Stop looking at me with those suspicious eyes! I swear, I got over it already! Just kidding.

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