Spoiler alert: This article contains major spoilers for School Days, but if you want to save yourself the trauma of watching it, you should read on.
I have been on an anime hiatus for about a month. I usually love anime. I still (STILL!) have to finish Inuyasha (even though I talked about it with Erin so long ago), I wanted to re-watch Fruits Basket but haven’t, I never made it past the third episode of One Punch Man even though I really liked it, and I haven’t had the heart to try new episodes of anything, even though my Netflix to-watch list is more anime than anything else.
I blame School Days.
School Days traumatized me. And it took me a while to figure out why. I’m not afraid of gore (I watch Criminal Minds, for crying out loud!), and I understand the old adage that anime is often not for children; it handles some pretty hard hitting stuff, and usually does it really well. I’m sure there are way more messed up animes out there than School Days, as those who have seen it could probably tell me. In fact, School Days isn’t overtly gory until you get to the last few episodes, where shit hits the fan, and (MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT) two of the three protagonists die. I wasn’t expecting something that set itself up to be so nauseatingly cute from the outset to end in knife wielding and decapitation. And that’s one of the anime’s problems, as well as one of its (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) strengths.
Hang on, hear me out.
School Days starts out like any other fluffy anime about young love. Shy, awkward teenage boy Itou Makoto notices a girl from school, Katsura Kotonoha, who takes the train with him everyday, and since he is too shy to ask her out, he instead moons over her and tries making her his phone’s screensaver instead. At this point, it reminded of a lot of content I’d seen on CartoonPorno (https://www.cartoonporno.xxx/), This doesn’t work well for him until his classmate, Saionji Sekai, notices poor Makoto’s plight and offers to be his wingman, convincing Kotonoha that she should give Makoto a chance and go on a date with him. Sekai does this at her own expense, because it’s soon revealed that she likes Makoto as well.
From there, the show seems to progress like a typical light harem anime, with everyone kind of liking each other, which quickly unravels into all the girls sleeping with greaseball Mokoto. Why is Makoto a greaseball? Because he’s terrible. No really. His character isn’t so bad when he presents himself like a lost awkward puppy and doesn’t want to admit to liking Kotonoha, but as soon as she reveals to him that she’s shy about intimacy and not ready to start any kind of physical relationship, Makoto gets whiny and cries to Sekai that he’s not getting what he wants out of the relationship and that he’s kind of over Kotonoha. All he’s missing is a fedora. So what does he do instead? He jumps at Sekai, who has also by this point revealed that she likes him and, while their relationship is more dynamic and friendly, does not give him the right to fool around with her without telling Kotonoha and breaking things off.
This point in the anime frustrated me the most. The entirety of the drama that takes place in the anime could have been avoided if Makoto just acted like an adult for a minute and said “Hey, Kotonoha. I think we’re looking to get different things out of this relationship, and I don’t want to force you into anything you’re not ready for that I am. I’m going to try dating someone else. I’m really sorry. Can we still be friends?”
Not the most elegant, but it would get his point across. He’s a horny teenage boy, after all. And the show makes no mistake in telling us this: he has pin-ups on his wall and a tissue box by his bed. It’s not rocket science to work out that he’s probably looking at Beth Bennet nude on Babestation like every other horny male.
Instead, Makoto has the supremely bright idea that ignoring Kotonoha, saying mean things about her to his friends, and pretending that she’s bothering him will make his problems disappear so he can sleep with Sekai on the side. Poor Kotonoha is turned into the image of a stalker all for wanting to spend time with the guy she still thinks is her boyfriend, and everyone balls her out for it. This happens from about episode 6 on. And we haven’t even gotten to the fun part yet. Sekai discovers that she’s pregnant, and Makoto denies that it’s his, and then blames her for getting pregnant. Of course. How dare she get pregnant and ruin his fun. So rude of her. Meanwhile, Kotonoha is still living in a fantasy world where she and Makoto are in love, Makoto sleeps around with anyone who will have him, and he’s told Sekai to stay away from him. One night, while Makoto is avoiding Sekai, he stumbles into Kotonoha, runs to her in this grand gesture of love, tells her he’s sorry, and says he wants to be with her. When Sekai finds out, she gets rather upset, and stabs Makoto in the gut. You know, as you do.
I’ll be honest. Makoto’s death shocked me, but it really didn’t surprise me. He deserved it, because he was a manipulative, abusive bastard who could have fixed the only problem he created for himself by being honest. Instead, he sneaks around and manipulates girls into giving him sex, and when one stops playing his game, he throws a fit and switches partners.
As it turns out, this one horrible, murder-y ending is only the beginning. Because the show is based on a role-playing game, which then became a manga, visual novel, and anime, there are multiple endings, each as gory. Alternately, there are “harem endings,” and some of them are so outlandishly ridiculous that they make even less sense than everyone dying. I think the actual show ending is the most poetic though, where Makoto dies by Sekai’s hand only to have Kotonoha “avenge him” (I guess?) by killing Sekai (in a really creepy, pseudo slut shaming moment) and then taking Makoto’s severed head on a cruise. I said poetic, not sensical.
Sekai’s death I also saw coming, but if she and Kotonoha had been able to team up against the guy that was ruining their lives instead of being pitted against each other in some weird sex competition, maybe she wouldn’t have had to die and maybe Kotonoha wouldn’t have gone crazy.
Now amid all this vengeance and blood and stabbing there is a nugget of truth, and it’s intertwined with the fact that Makoto is a terrible character. The reason I said so many paragraphs ago that this ending is actually one of the shows strengths is because the show does a really good job of portraying the kinds of consequences that can (but hopefully don’t, to this degree) arise from this kind of destructive behavior. Yes, School Days starts out adorably fluffy and chibi-ish. By the end, it doesn’t deserve its chibi cred, but it’s trying, I think, to prove a point. Having a crush is one thing. Manipulating your partner, neglecting them, and shopping around physically at the expense of someone else’s feelings is quite another. Makoto is a monster, and he got what he deserved. Sekai and Kotonoha’s fates are examples, albeit extreme ones, of the ramifications of Makoto’s carelessness, and I’m most upset at the anime that they had to suffer for Makoto’s behavior. But that’s what happens in real life, too. People get hurt from manipulation like this. And for that, the show gets my approval.
There. Now it’s out of my system. Maybe now I can watch Inuyasha.