Wednesday, August 13, 2014

August 13, 2014 -- What We Most Fear

Late update, as per usual! This week we'll be taking a look at the star of this show, Makoto Itou. As you'll recall, I did not have very kind things to say about Makoto last week. I used some strong names such as "dumbass," "miserable prick," and "sentient penis" to describe the main character of this anime. However, I have resolved to put my personal feelings behind me in the interest of analyzing this character.

When asking who the most responsible for the horrible events that transpired in School Days, any discussion should begin and end with Makoto Itou. Let's go into the hows and whys behind this student's sexual coup d'edouche after the break!

At his most basic, Makoto Itou is simply a coward. At his worst, he is manipulative and duplicitous, stringing along everybody he meets and ultimately betraying them. He's a danger to himself and others, and he's widely regarded as one of the least likable anime protagonists of the last decade.

And that's what makes him so fascinating to me. Throughout the show Makoto slowly transforms from a generally likable, if a little bit dirty-minded, ordinary high school student into something out of a bad Michael Bay movie. He's not a character you're supposed to like, and the reason why I didn't like him at first was because he made terrible decisions, mistreated every girl he spent any meaningful amount of time with, and it seemed his only reason for existing is to find new and exciting places in which to hide his salami.

Makoto Itou is terrible because he's a man we cannot bring ourselves to identify with. He got everything we ever wanted in life and he pissed it all away, abusing his partners and losing everything through his irresponsible actions?

Wait, what? "Everything we ever wanted?" Did that cross your mind at any point watching the series. I can almost guarantee that most of the men who watched this anime, assuming they went into it with no knowledge of how it ended and whether they liked the show up until that point or not, I'll bet that many of them had a thought to the degree of "Lucky bastard. Wish I had that problem. Women falling all over me and having to decide who I wanted to be with." I sure did, and I know for a fact that I'm not alone in that.
Let's not be naive. The music isn't the reason iDOLM@STER is so popular.
Think about that for a second. Is that not a disgusting thought to have? Once I looked back at my initial thoughts and impressions with full knowledge of how the show ended, I was shocked at having thought that. It was enough to make me angry because I realized that I was more like Makoto than I cared to admit. Many of you are more like Makoto than you realize.

That infuriated me. It should infuriate you as well. Maybe the reason we hate Makoto so much is because we saw a little bit of ourselves in Makoto, at least at first. We don't hate him because he's a dumbass and an asshole, though he is both of those things. We hate him because at any point we could've ended up just like him: abusive, manipulative, and so desperate to get off that we don't care who we have to step on to do it.
Though certain people don't necessarily have to
be the ones doing the stepping in order to get off. #Cringe
As a character, Makoto is driven almost entirely by Id and actively seeks to fulfill whatever baser desires he craves at the time, consequences be damned. All of his activities are driven by the short-term desire to get his beak wet, and it's only when he's faced with any sort of consequences to his actions that he begins to show what a despicable person he is.

Enter Sekai. After missing school following her viewing of Break Room Sex Tape Vol. 1, she approaches Makoto and informs him that she's missed her period and is more than likely pregnant with his child. It is at this point that Makoto's entire world comes crashing down on top of his head. The same rumor mill that enabled him to sleep with every girl in his class in the first place makes it so that nobody wants anything to do with him, realizing how pathetic he is. Try as he might, jumping from bed to bed can't erase the fact that his actions may have had a dramatic effect on the lives of somebody he once considered his best friend.

This shouldn't come as a surprise to the viewer, as Makoto had previously taken the easy way out throughout the course of the show. Initially dating Kotonoha, he becomes bored with her when he realizes his sexual advances are making her uncomfortable and alienating her. Dating isn't a matter of taking someone to the movies and then getting to feel them up as much as you want. Makoto didn't want to face the reality that even though another person may be attracted to you, that doesn't necessarily mean that they are ready for the physical aspects of being in a relationship. Rather than trying to understand why Kotonoha behaved the way she did or try to respect her boundaries in their relationship, he moves on to what he thinks is the easier option: Sekai.

Put simply: Sekai puts out. Kotonoha doesn't. Realizing that Sekai lacked Kotonoha's insecurities about sex (though again choosing to ignore the obvious insecurities that Sekai did possess), he began his affair and began to push his once-girlfriend away.

Sekai remains the easiest option for the better part of the series, but it doesn't last forever. She increasingly pressures Makoto into telling Kotonoha about their affair so that he can officially break up and stop stringing her along. He continually finds ways to postpone doing this, and begins to increasingly distance himself from Sekai when faced with the possibility of having to cut off his relationship with Kotonoha. After all, even though she's not the easiest option, he still considers Kotonoha an option and doesn't want to eliminate the possibility of one day also sleeping with her. He's a class act.

It isn't until both girls offer to dance with him at the festival bonfire that he tries to distance himself from both girls. They want to make their status as a couple official and exclusive. Makoto just wants to get his rocks off. Faced with the minor inconvenience of having to think about his actions and how they might affect the future, he instead decides to run away with Otome into the break room and have the high school equivalent of sleazy anime con sex, and from there pushes on to the exciting and trashy world of one night stands. It's a shame that Tindr wouldn't exist for five more years at the time of this anime; one can only imagine what kind of wacky hijinks and shenanigans Makoto would get himself into. Much as I hate the guy and think he's despicable, I would totally watch a show where he has dumb adventures on Craigslist.
This brings us back to where we started: Makoto is faced with the possible pregnancy of Sekai, once his best friend and trusted confidant, and reacts by lashing out at her and everybody. He blames Sekai for ruining his life with the shocking piece of news, as though he is a victim being wronged by a society that doesn't want him to have consequence-free sex with everything that gives him a half-chub.

All of this is what brings him back to Kotonoha, who in a twist of irony is now Makoto's last hope for a simple relationship. Not a stable relationship, Kotonoha is well past her breaking point by now, but something that he wouldn't have to put too much thought into. It's not that he actually loves Kotonoha, despite his claims to the contrary, but because he desperately wants to go back in time to when things were simple, when he was just a dumb kid with a crush.

When once again confronted with the reality of his actions with Sekai, he shoves her to the side, kissing Kotonoha in front of her, unable to look ahead. We all know what happens next.

His selfish actions having finally pushed Sekai past her breaking point, Makoto is brutally stabbed to death in his own apartment-- his final reward for his actions. All things coming full-circle, this leads to Kotonoha killing Sekai in an act of vengeance and condemning herself to death on a yacht drifting out to sea with the severed head of her once and future "boyfriend".

Now where does this leave us? I said before that one of the reasons the viewer can find Makoto so unlikable is because he represents what it is that we fear most. What is it that we're afraid of? What about Makoto represents our own reality? After all if we're not a sociopathic sex-maniac, then how can we be anything like that monster? Am I a huge asshole for even suggesting such a thing?

Yes, I'm a gigantic asshole, but not because of this. Those of us who are close to or have graduated college know precisely two things:

1) Free pizza is great no matter how terrible it tastes.
2) Adult life and the prospect of responsibility is FUCKING TERRIFYING

As adults, many of us (myself included) are in a near-constant state of reminiscing about the past. Hell, all you see on Buzzfeed and similar websites are just lists of things that "Only true 90s kids will understand". Youtube, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant, and other services make it possible to watch every show we ever watched as children. Why do we do that? Were the shows just that good? Usually they weren't.
But some of them were and still are.
The generation before us was the same way with 70s and 80s stuff. Everybody longs for the good old days, not because they were especially awesome but because things were simpler then. We didn't have to think about jobs and bills and getting yelled at by republicans for thinking that people should be paid a living wage. Makoto is the exact same way, just replace "watching cartoons" with "boinking" and you have the same attitude of escapism taken to a horrifyingly abusive extreme.

We don't want to admit to wanting to run away and escape all of our problems. Many of us fight that urge every day of our lives, but we soldier on. We don't want to admit that this coward lives inside of us all, that if we had taken a wrong turn at any point in our lives we could have wound up as awful as Makoto did, treating people like pieces of meat. We want things to be easy, but we can hopefully gain the maturity and perspective to understand that retreating for the sake of convenience does nothing to solve the very real problems that may face us later on.

Whether its frustrations with work, relationships, or your general situation in life, don't be a Makoto Itou. Don't be a person who abandons something special they might have just because it becomes challenging to deal with. Escapism is fine every once in a while, but trying to maintain the illusion of simplicity to ignore a complicated reality will only end up hurting yourself and others.

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