This review first appeared on my MAL profile. It may exemplify some of my ‘objective criticism’ ideals.
“Death is a great price to pay for a red rose,” cried the Nightingale. “Yet love is better than life, and what is the heart of the bird compared to the heart of a man?”
(Oscar Wilde, The Nightingale and the Rose)
- SINGING WITH YOUR BREAST AGAINST A THORN
This is an anecdote. I was with my friend. My friend likes to talk about his class. His polytechnic class was “full of no-hope rich bastards and hoes” or so he claimed.
These are literary representations of our various conversations. The details are true but the representation is not. This is because memory disappears into a fog. Forgetfulness bears a latency period before its full flowering. If we forgot less we would suffer more. If we forgot less we would change. The fact is, we don’t change, because we don’t remember.
I may be merging two or three different facts into a similar story. But that doesn’t really matter. The main thing is the details are true.
“So, anyway, my friend was with this girl for around five to six years. She like very nice nice quiet quiet type, but then he got bored, and he break with her.”
“Wow. What a bastard. So you met her before.”
“Ya. Like once. But she always stick to the boyfriend, then when we were around she like never speak that much one.”
“So what type of guy is he?”
“Like. He’s a Christian, so he say before he want to wait for the right one. Then like my other bros always like to tease him like “Eh you still virgin ah?” like that. But he’s also an asshole. So, then, he say one day he break with her, because he say like five years already she still don’t want to give in, so he got fucking pissed, then break lor.”
“Wait, didn’t you say he “wanted to wait for the right one” before that?”
“Yah. Exactly. That’s why he’s an asshole.”
“One day this bloody idiot starting shouting in class.”
“What did he say?”
“Like before he say he had a relationship of eight years. But then he one day come in, and he shout “YESSSS I BREAK WITH MY GIRL AND I GOT A G-CUP SLUT”… and like me and my bros look at him like he’s a complete fucking idiot. Like he just go in and shout “I GOT A G-CUP SLUT” in front of the whole class. Then he say because of that he go treat his friends out for dinner… because he got the G-cup Slut.”
The point of these is to contextualize the possibility. Kotonoha exists. Makoto exists. Sekai may not possibly exist. The world is quite large and we never really know. In Korea, a male pop singer received a letter written in menstrual blood. They call the hardcore fans ‘saesangs’. These types are developed upon the extreme tendencies of captivation. The whole lesson here is to never be captivated. Never let yourself be in a position to be so emotionally insecure that you are captivated. Because what you’re captivated by is not a person, but an idea, or a soul-less biological impulse.
- SHE HAS FORM, BUT HAS SHE GOT FEELING?
If we are to understand creation, we are to understand communication. A work of Art is a form of communication that exists to be universal and all-encompassing. It speaks to every level of being, and even seems to go beyond that. But certain works are made of lesser communications, and they may be very good at a certain type of speech, but nothing else.
School Days is very good at a certain type of speech. We must accept that as a work of Art it is wholesomely bad, and has a lot of flaws, and nowadays there are lots of better works out there that can do the same thing. White Album 2 can do the same thing without fluff or shock. Oregairu can do the same thing without condescending to the viewer’s intellect.
But any critique of School Days must always cede to one thing, that it is logical.
An argument functions logically when the premises fits the conclusion. For example, if you say that “Pooh is a Bear”, and you say that “Bears have claws” then you can come to the conclusion that “Pooh has claws”. To refute an argument you must either prove its premises are false, or the logic of the consequence is false.
But in School Days, the logic of the consequence is rarely false, if you accept these premises.
A: Makoto is a simplistic young man mostly driven by his libido, and doesn’t communicate properly because he’s a coward that likes to run from danger, and otherwise functions as an Everyman character. Despite the animation, from people’s comments we can conclude that within the logic of the world, he’s good looking.
B: Kotonoha is a simplistic young lady that is very insecure and doesn’t communicate properly because she’s shy, and has a thing for Makoto by seeing him a lot on a train. She is bullied and ostracized and has a shapely figure.
C: Sekai is an energetic girl that likes to get involved in other people’s business, and wants to play the match-maker due to having misguided romantic ideals, and also has a thing for Makoto.
Now Premise A and B, as shown by my anecdote, we can mostly accept. But premise C is problematic, because there’s a contradiction. The contradiction is a Match-Maker that falls in love. But we’re getting too far ahead of ourselves, and so let’s examine the logic of the consequence.
Premise A and B dictates that Makoto and Kotonoha will be attracted to each other, but for the wrong reasons. Makoto will be attracted to Kotonoha in line with his libido, whereas Kotonoha is attracted to Makoto as established in the premise. Secondly, from their lack of communication, it is inevitable that they will not sync well together.
Episodes 1 – 3 deftly establishes this logic. In the first date, he pushes her around to do things, and always get what she wants wrong. When he visits her house, she only can interact with him through the mediation of her sister. Long moments or silence and unease are always depicted (very good use of silence is scattered throughout the whole series, but it’s not as cinematically profound and precise as Evangelion, Kare Kano or Manabi Straight).
Episode 3, furthermore, contextualizes it very nicely with the fact that Kotonoha is merely happy that Makoto calls her his full name. Intimacy based on a socially determined generalization, undermined by the fact that no real communication occurs between them. This is both their faults, and yet it is dictated through the logic.
Episode 3 ends on one of the best uses of episode-endings I have seen since Evangelion.
Logic further dictates that Sekai will impinge on the situation, which makes her appear within Makoto’s view-space. As a libido driven Everyman, he is drawn to her simply because she pushes forward.
Given the premises, everything else follows (well, until the last two episodes, but it just follows a different logic, which still makes sense if you view it at a wider angle, as I’ll show later). If the primary conflict of miscommunication, love-misunderstandings, and lust are established in the first 3 episodes, and if everything else follows properly, then that is a sign of well-crafted art, especially compared to a lot of other works that merely pile comedic fodder upon a shoddy edifice of deus-ex machinas. To fault School Days for this is to not give the Art enough credit, and to fail at criticism.
But what we can criticize are exactly those premises. The problem is that the premises lack any kind of foundation that later pure-psychological romance drama works would do so well in the future. I wouldn’t say that the problem is the unbelievability of Sekai’s sudden advance onto Makoto at the very start of the series which triggers everything off, since it is quite plausible, but the problem is that we aren’t even given enough backing. It’s like being thrown in the middle of a story where things are happening due to causes we can’t explain. Like the idea that many people like Makoto. Other than a few off-hand comments, nothing is ever done to press on this further. It is very believable that White Album 2’s Haruki, a similar character type, is well-liked because he shows it in his interactions with others, but none of this really occurs in School Days.
It is this lack of foundation that is detrimental, which could have been remedied if a lot of the comedic baggage had been cast away for proper development. In the obligatory pool episode, 8 minutes is spent on fodder before something significant to character occurs. Looseness and laziness, even didactic looseness (this I’ll explain later) is bad conduct.
Later appears another premise
D: Setsuna is a strong-willed girl that fiercely protects Sekai, and may have a thing for Makoto.
This premise actually falls into the zone of Deus Ex Machina simply because it exists merely to foul up the plot and was never established in any of the earlier episodes, so it feels cheap. Furthermore the psychological motivation leading to her will is so haphazard that hardly anyone will believe it.
Anyway two premises being quite solid is not too bad, and we’re only talking about a referent to reality. The second level is the didactic level, and this is the ‘deconstruction’ part which, of course, everyone loves. While the first two premises make sense in the logic of reality, the second two make sense in the logic of creating the extended abstinence PSA that is School Days in its entirety.
- WHAT A SILLY THING LOVE IS
The show is obviously didactic, given the glass breaking that occurs over the title at the start, which kind of indicates that everything was planned in such a way.
I shall touch on a few points here, listed in order. Firstly is the theme of communication. Secondly is the aspects of Harem Anime & romance ideals & feminism etc… Thirdly is a small bit on Japanese societal moral hazards.
From the start to the end, the most important motif of the whole School Days happens to be mobile phones. In fact, it’s also one of the Anime’s greatest strength to depict, extensively, such a central core in contemporary life so thoroughly. And besides communication technologies, it also functions as a higher metaphor for most of the problems within School Days, being a lack of communication.
As already established, Makoto and Kotonoha lack communication. When the love triangle continues, a lack of communication brings things down further. Communication Technology is used to keep people out of the loop. When Kotonoha sends a message to Makoto that she’s busy with something, he forwards it to Sekai to continue their tryst. This was one of the quite good moments in the show, when the event was happening simultaneous to Kotonoha being ostracized within a rumor storm created by cell-phone manipulation. The under-depiction of communication technologies has been quite a flaw in many romance or drama centered anime, and besides Steins;Gate and Hibike Euphonium (which involved an app and Whatsapp style messaging) there hasn’t really been much shows that show that.
Well, so it basically makes Kotonoha as much of a simplistic idiot as Makoto, but of course its backed up by her past, and at least she has quite a nice foundation going for her. The key problem is Sekai, who is the eternal big problem of the whole show. Since we know the whole show is going to be a love triangle (as any show which has two heroines will become), the problem is how. The most unbelievable characterization is that Sekai is completely in love with Makoto at the start, and yet is also completely supportive of Kotonoha, and this, furthermore, is given no good reason. Later it becomes the “I can’t break our friendship” thing, but then there’s no extremely long process to back that up, like in White Album 2. Sekai would have been more believable had she been manipulative from the start, and yet when asked by Hikari whether she’s with Makoto, she denies it, until she has a change of heart in episode 4. And even when Makoto advances the first time she fends him off. This basically shows that Sekai actually was honestly ‘helping out a friend’, and yet none of that was properly established except for a “now I’m friends with Kotonoha look at this picture”.
The underdevelopment of this part is in proportion to a huge chunk of the development focusing on Kotonoha’s and Makoto’s lack of communication. As I said before, silence is used exceeding well here. This is, in fact, one of the most intricate and powerful uses of boredom in an Anime. Because, let’s face it, the show is very boring, because outside of the core drama the jokes are lame, and the dramatic parts can get too melodramatic without having the heft of character that allows for it to pass through (like kissing, in the rain), at least compared to later shows in the genre. But if we can characterize the boredom as being self-aware and depicting the actual process of falling out of love with a boring shy girl, then it fits together completely. (And I’m sure that ties in to another PSA regarding mobile phones as alienating)
But this is also where we come to the second part, which is about the Harem genre. Now most people are apt to point out that the whole show is making fun of the Harem genre, but this is more towards the end, when everything falls under-way. It also tackles a lot on Romance dramas and movies in general. Kotonoha and Sekai are quick to compare their lives to television shows and movies, which, Sekai claims, makes things “interesting”. Kotonoha is also quick to reveal her self-delusions when she lists a series of exaggeratedly romantic places as a part of her dream-moment with Makoto, to Sekai. The fact that the whole Anime starts due to something as silly as meeting on the train hardens this fact, that both of them are wholly inexperienced, inflated by their ideals about Love.
And these ideals of Love are compounded with ideals about Masculinity. Sekai, the eternal giver of bad love advice, always ties everything down to the catch-word ‘masculinity’ or ‘being a man’ whenever she wants Makoto to push forward to do something. Furthermore she always tells him to ‘be delicate of Kotonoha’s feelings’ which is an empty platitude when the more obvious thing is simply to point out straight that they just need to talk more. This ‘being a man’ conceit only backfires in the last moments when all hell breaks loose, and Makoto, realistically, can only ‘be a man’ by throwing away responsibility for anything around him. This places Sekai, as a giver of bad advice you hear everywhere in so many other shows, and as the only person willing to communicate with Makoto so much, and is completely submissive to his whims, as a plainly fantastic character. Sekai is the unreal driver, that slowly becomes contaminated with reality by the end of the show. This, of course, goes straight into feminist territory when Kotonoha becomes a woman who ‘blames herself’ for the indiscretions of the man. It’s quite a realistic thing, but it’s also a cliché used in soap-operas everywhere.
Well, of course there are other great touches. The perverted best friend becomes a completely pathetic sleazy character completely involved in Kotonoha’s breakdown by the end of the show. The ‘accidental groping’ due to train shaking, rather than being played as a comedic moment, causes Makoto and Kotonoha’s relationship to go through further obstructions.
And then we come to the last two episodes which, in time-skip, completely violates any sense of the consequence whatsoever, but is just so deft at tightening the noose around Makoto. I only can applaud these two episodes for the narrative deftness, showing a tightness of events that was so lacking in the earlier parts of the show. If only they kept that momentum for the whole show, and used incisive characterization at every moment, then it would have turned into something as well made as OreGairu season 2. But we can’t all have good things. Every step forward he tries to take, only brings him back, until the ending is completely inevitable.
But wait, before we come to the end of this small little review, we still have to touch on one of the largest and most glaringly infuriating plot pushes of the show, being ‘The Longue’ in the school. I cannot think of any reason why that would be there unless it was a stupid thing that stuck in the Visual Novel and they decided to leave it in for the TV series. Well, the other reason is that it’s just one of the many commentaries in Japan on moral hazards like Gyaru and Enjou Kousai and increased promiscuity among the youth.
- HEART’S BLOOD AND CRIMSON
We must admit that certain poisons are needed. There’s a lot of bad things in the world. Some works only serve to mirror the beast within. These are poisons, swiftly taken, that can turn into reinforcements. Look, for example, at the shooting that just happened today. Look at the interplay of thorns that happens every single day between people. People against people. And sometimes, just a simple call or message isn’t enough.
Because that’s what School Days is, a simple message directed at your heartstrings. A brevity of communication. One that was quite needed, but rarely has an effect. Art is an object. We must not expect it to solve our problems for us. Art is only useful to the extent that it serves as wholesome communication, but that susceptibility is born in the heart of the watcher more than anything else. Art is what it is, and we should have no expectations of it.
Stop saying that Art has to do the job for us. Recognize evil. Embrace evil. Analyze evil, within or without. Eventually the best you can hope to do is to have a good picture of things, and see things, even things you deem as unfit for your eyes, as clearly as you can.