It’s hard to be shocked nowadays. With 24-hour news feeding us footage of terrorist beheadings, the Grand Theft Auto series allowing us to blow away unarmed civilians and the White House now occupied by a living orange peel, being shocked becomes more difficult by the day. That’s not to say filmmakers, authors and online trolls aren’t trying to shock us anymore it’s just harder for them to do it. But let’s rewind for a moment all the way back to 2007 to revisit one of the most shocking (and badly drawn) pieces of animation ever put to celluloid: School Days.
School Days is a Japanese anime series that starts off normally enough. Makoto Iko sees Kotonoha Katsunara on the train. Makoto falls in love and asks Kotonoha out with the help of his childhood friend Sekai Saionji. Sekai decides she wants in and forms a love triangle. This common and basic plotline soon starts spiralling down into something darker involving betrayal, rape and eventually murder. School Days’ downward spiral is a slow one over twelve episodes where a great deal of nothing happens culminating in a tragically bloody ending. There are no winners in School Days and that’s what makes it interesting; it’s just a shame everything in between is really boring.
Drama only ever works when you care about the characters. School Days makes it very hard to care about any of its characters. Sure, the likes of Kotonoha and Sekai are sympathetic but they are still poorly fleshed out characters only distinguishable by their hair. (Sekai’s is short, Kotonoha’s is long). Who can blame them though when main character, Makoto Ito, is such a piece of shit. Makoto is a selfish, wilfully ignorant and borderline sadistic child. He starts out as a regular guy; not too popular but not disliked either. Over the course of the series something changes that makes Makoto irresistible to women, even those he cruelly spurns and throws aside.
In the space of a few weeks Makoto goes from a composed, mild-mannered, and generally respectful student to an apathetic, callous, and narcissistic sex addict. As a character, he is easy to hate which is a problem considering he is the protagonist of School Days. As a rule, male characters in anime, specifically the protagonists, are generally quite boring. They often lack personality and even when they have one it’s usually drowned out by the overblown personalities of the supporting characters around them. A singular goal also usually drives them to save the world, win at a ridiculously overhyped card game or have as many girlfriends as possible. Makoto Ito’s personality drives him to break as many hearts as he can while still maintaining a sexual relationship with the heartbroken.
It is important to note that School Days is based on a game. A game that serves the same basic function as the anime. The game was a visual novel, essentially a motion comic with multiple storylines and endings. Most of the endings are horrifically violent and a there are multiple sexual scenes between sixteen-year-old characters (legal in Japan) effectively making it illegal in the West. School Days could have been a generally boring anime had it gone with the happier ending in the game that being a polyamorous relationship between Makoto, Sekai and Kotonoha. Instead it went with the worst: murder.
School Days is only admirable for its balls-to-the-wall final episodes. For the first ten episodes Makoto plays the field with several girls hopping in and out of relationships (and beds) and tangling himself in a web of his own lies and selfishness. The final two episodes are crunch time for the show’s Back Widows to move in on Makoto. Driven to depression and despair by Makoto’s disregard and callousness both Sekai and Kotonoha effectively go insane. Sekai is suffering from a phantom pregnancy while Kotonoha has been raped by Makoto’s best friend, Taisuke.
The finale of School Days was pulled from Japanese TV in 2007 after a schoolgirl axed her father to death. Regardless of whether this incident would have happened the final episode of School Days is still horrifying in its violence. At Christmas no less Makoto completely rejects Sekai, phantom baby and all, in favour of Kotonoha. Understandably Sekai’s mind shatters and she rips into Makoto with a butcher knife. Upon finding Makoto’s body Kotonoha also goes off the deep end and attacks Sekai. After butchering the poor girl Kotonoha then opens her up to see if she really was pregnant. She wasn’t.
It’s hard to feel sympathy for anyone except maybe Makoto’s victims. His vicious and conniving actions isolate his only friend and ensure his own demise at the hands of the only two women who ever loved him. School Days is a deeply misogynistic, violent, and boring anime. Along with others of its ilk such as Elfen Lied, Kite and Legend of the Overfiend; School Days shows us how deeply we can travel into a morally depraved cesspit. School Days showed us so that we know where the limit is; now let us never speak of this again. Andrew Carroll