Sunday, August 3, 2014

August 2, 2014 -- Back To School!

It's August, which means that the end of Summer is upon us. I've been all over (the middle of the northern part of) the country, I planted a vegetable garden, did some dogsitting, helped people move, attempted to build a PC, failed at building a PC, and began the arduous task of writing the most nonsensical crossover fanfiction ever written. Despite all of that, I'd be lying if I said it's been a busy time. Really, the bulk of my time has been spent doing this:


Now it's August, which means that soon many of us (At least those of us in the United States will be heading back to school, so to celebrate this time of year we're doing another theme month! Welcome to August:

School Days Month

So it goes without saying that there absolutely will be spoilers in this month's post, especially this one. If you're one of the five anime fans who hasn't seen school days, I would recommend you stop reading and watch the series-- all twelve episodes-- before reading this. It's on Crunchyroll, and you can watch it there. I can't honestly say that you'll be glad you did, as School Days is a very polarizing show, but everything you read here will make a lot more sense (and be easier to get mad at) if you've at least seen the show. It goes without saying that there will be MAJOR SPOILERS.

We'll start this journey after the break!

DISCLAIMER: Since you're reading this, you've either watched School Days or don't care about spoilers and want to get right to being mad about the things I write. Fortunately, no matter what your story may be, I have you covered. For this first post, I'm going to give you a semi-brief (at least compared to a 12 episode series), CliffNotes version of School Days. It's still not a substitute for actually watching the show, so I still recommend that you take time to watch it. Whether you like it or not, I really think it's something that every anime fan should watch at least once. It would be much more meaningful for you if you watched it and formed your own opinions and interpretation of its characters and their actions. If you read without watching it, I guarantee that it won't have the same impact being as this post is a clean-cut synopsis.

I watched this show in a very short amount of time over the course of a few sick days. I was simultaneously fascinated and frustrated by what I was watching. On one hand, the show managed to take an often mundane, cliche-laden genre of anime and take the plot in directions I hadn't entirely anticipated. On the other hand, it features one of the least-likable protagonists and head-poundingly stupid cast of characters who all inhabit one of the most toxic social spaces I've ever seen in an anime. More on that later, but I want you to know going in that while I did like School Days overall, I still don't consider it a masterpiece.

What it is, though, is fascinating from a character perspective, and I'll try to offer my view of the basic events of the show as best I can.

Episode 1

The story begins by introducing us to our hero, Makoto Itou, as he takes the train to school. He takes notice of a classmate, Kotonoha Katsura. He is instantly smitten with the girl but is too afraid to approach her and talk to her. Instead, he simply decides to take a picture of her without her knowledge and set it as his cellphone wallpaper, content to watch her from afar.
I would've taken a picture of just the head, and then held my phone up so
that it looked like some super buff weightlifter guy had a really womanly head.
Clearly I am a role model.
Okay, we can all agree that this is kind of creepy and far from some grand romantic gesture, but we can also admit to ourselves that it is far from the worst thing that could be done to someone on a public train in Japan.

Incidentally, there is a rumor among students at his school that if you take a picture of someone you like, set it as your wallpaper and nobody finds out about it for three weeks, you will have good luck in love with that person. One might think that from there, it becomes a really dumb quest for him to never let someone see his cell phone which leads to a series of "wacky" misunderstandings...

But his cell phone is seen immediately after the narration tells us about the urban legend. A classmate, Sekai Saionji, looks over his shoulder and sees the phone. Sekai sits next to Makoto after a seating change in their class. After teasing Makoto about it for a bit, she agrees to help set Makoto up with Kotonoha. I'm apparently in the minority here because I really like Sekai. She's energetic and interesting and I honestly found her very funny. She seems eager to help Makoto (for reasons that turn out to be less than pure-hearted) but is still able to call him out on his bullshit when he acts like an idiot with the girl he likes.

Sekai is able to befriend Kotonoha in order to talk up Makoto. She finds out, much to Makoto's disappointment, that she already has somebody she likes, but she's too afraid to talk to him. She advises him that if he's going to confess his feelings to Kotonoha, he should probably do it soon. Mokoto, being an indecisive pussy, isn't sure that he wants to, but eventually works up the courage to confess.

Kotonoha tells Sekai about it, and admits that the boy she liked was Makoto all along!

Later, while Makoto is waiting for Kotonoha at the train stop, he runs into Sekai and thanks her for her help, offering to pay her back in whatever way he can. Sekai has already thought of a way for him to pay her back, apparently, as she leans in and kisses him as her train pulls up to the station. That makes them even.

Pictured above: Equivalent Exchange?
At this point, some anime nerds would be like "Boy, I wish I could have that problem!" And they would be sooooo fucking wrong.

Episode 2

We rejoin Makoto about to go on a date with Kotonoha, which he prepares for by reading one of those "Dating for Dummies" style books. The date goes about as well as you'd expect, and the experience is punctuated by a botched kiss from Makoto. Sekai finds out what a dumbass Makoto is and immediately asks for her kiss back, reaching into his mouth and pulling it out, devouring it hungrily.

Or not, I'm not 100 percent sure about that. I was running a 102 degree fever at the time.

She sets him up with some movie tickets for the following day so that he can try and fix his mistakes. It does not go well. Makoto seems to think his problem was that he didn't come on strong enough, so while the two of them go to see a movie about a love triangle, he does what he thinks he's "supposed" to do on a date and holds her hand during quite what is quite possibly a rape scene in the movie, and is rightfully denied.

Sekai, who I can't believe hasn't punched Makoto in the face yet, informs him that he's trying to move too fast, and that he needs to apologize and address his actions with his girlfriend. He catches Kotonoha on the way to a student council meeting and invites her to meet him after school at the train station. Kotonoha is uncomfortable at the idea of meeting with the boy who tried to get handsy with her during the last two times they've been alone together for some reason and goes out of her way to avoid him. Sekai runs into her at a playground and convinces her that Makoto has good intentions and that she should meet him to hear him out.

It's a scene that only becomes hilarious if you rewatch the anime.

Kotonoha meets Makoto at the train station and kisses him right on the lips as Hall & Oates plays in the background probably. Sekai is also lurking in the background, wistfully watching this unfold.
"You see that, Daryl? We did that."
"Sure did, John. We done good. Hey, loosen up, Sekai!"

Episode 3

In the following episode, we get to meet Kotonoha's family, particularly her little sister Kokoro. She invites Makoto over to her house and the two of them spend a nice evening with Kokoro. After that night, Kotonoha asks Makoto if they can start referring to each other by their first names, as they've been calling each other by their family names up to this point. Makoto agrees, they have a good laugh over it, and then they return home.

Makoto calls Sekai to tell her about the date and confesses that he's starting to get bored with Kotonoha, and doesn't particularly enjoy spending time with her on their dates.

Episode 4

He evidently gets over it, as Kotonoha and Makoto share a secret makeout session on the roof of the school. Continuing the proud Makoto Itou tradition, he completely messes it up by trying to grab a handful of her breasts, which based on the imagery presented in the scene is bad for two reasons:

1) Kotonoha is shy and insecure and doesn't like relationships that move too quickly, as has been established from what we've seen so far.

2) He's using only one hand for something that is clearly a two-handed job.

Waka waka!

Again, he goes to Sekai for advice. I scream my own advice through streams of sick-people mucus, something to the effect of "You grabbed her boobs like you were checking produce, you asshat! Gee I wonder what could have possibly offended her about that!"

It is then that we learn what we already knew: Makoto would very much like for the relationship to advance into more intimate territory. He really wants to get his rocks off.

It is then that Sekai has her best idea yet: "I know!" she says. "We can go on a practice date together! That way you'll know when it's the right time to make your move!" This cannot possibly backfire in any way.

They go to the park, they go out for Karaoke, but ultimately they end up on the roof of the school. And that's where things start to get problematic. Eventually, the two give in to the suppressed tension between them, and Sekai allows Makoto to make out with and fondle her on the roof.

By now you might begin to see why many people take issue with Sekai. Certainly she made a dumb decision, and I'm not about to defend her profoundly stupid idea, but always remember that all of this is happening because Makoto wanted to get his rocks off. Really, I can just stop writing right now, because that single sentence is at the background of everything that is about to happen. Whenever you're about to blame any other character for any bad decision, repeat to yourself:

"Makoto wanted to get his rocks off."

When your rocks remain on for too long, you eventually blue yourself.
Episode 5

Kotonoha invites Makoto to go to a water park, and are joined by Sekai and her friends, Setsuna and Hikari. Also joining them is Taisuke, Makoto's perverted friend. Kotonoha is starting to warm up a bit more to Makoto and begins to show more affection towards him. In spite of this, Makoto is a miserable prick, conflicted about his relationship with Kotonoha and trying to reconcile it with wanting to get some action from Sekai on the side. Did I say reconcile? I meant rationalize.

Sekai notices smoke coming out of his penis, the result of the brain he's most familiar with using straining itself to try and resolve his relationship troubles. She pulls Makoto to the side and reminds him that Kotonoha is his girlfriend and that what happened the night before was only practice. They are still nothing more than friends.

Even this dog isn't buying that. And this dog still believes
that I'm about to throw a tennis ball even after I've faked him out
for the last hour.
Makoto can't accept things the way they are and begins to send her multiple text messages. Things like "I like you more than Kotonoha," and "I want to be with you", and "Just the tip." He rushes to meet her at the train station and share a kiss in the rain. It would've been kind of romantic if it wasn't so very sleazy at its core. The episode ends with the two going back to Sekai's apartment and having sex.

Episode 6

As Makoto and Sekai begin to see more and more of each other, Sekai begins to feel guilty for having lied to her friend and stolen the boy she likes. This is because Sekai has a conscience, unlike the walking, sentient penis that she is dating, and as a result, she begins to pressure Makoto into telling Kotonoha about the affair. She knows that it will hurt her, but it's better than continuing the lie.

Unfortunately this is Makoto we're talking about, so none of that shit happens. Instead, he takes the easy road of not telling her. On their way home that night, Kotonoha catches a glimpse of the two making out on the train. She think's she was mistaken. After all, her boyfriend and her best friend would never betray her like that? Why would they do that? Unfortunately, she has not yet realized that all Makoto wanted to do was get his rocks off.

See, Kotonoha hasn't had much of a chance to be with Makoto lately, being that she's on the student council. Her responsibilities as a class representative have left her busy with preparations for the upcoming school festivals. Worse than that, Kotonoha is still kind of a pushover and has trouble with the relentless bullying of a group of her classmates, who refuse to do any work and make her shoulder the burden of doing the class's festival work on her own. Unable to get out of her responsibilities, she texts Makoto that she's busy with festival preparations and will not be able to eat lunch with him on the roof.

This is great news for Makoto, who promptly uses the opportunity to solicit Sekai on the rooftop. Makoto, who presumably whipped out his teeny peeny right there in class and sprinted to the roof, narrowly avoiding having to use his head brain for feelings and stuff.

As he's getting his icky on, Kotonoha manages to get out of her responsibilities early and rushes to the roof to surprise Makoto. Just as she's about to open the door to the roof, she hears Sekai tell Makoto that she loves him.

Haven't had to do this one for a while!

Episode 7

One person is quite pleased with the turn of events surrounding Makoto's relationship with Sekai: Sekai's friend Setsuna.

She is convinced that Makoto and Sekai are now officially dating, and begins telling people that he broke up with Kotonoha. She goes to great lengths to keep Kotonoha away from Makoto, asking for his help with festival preparations, and even taking Makoto's cell phone and adding Kotonoha's number to his block list. Even Makoto, who has shown great judgment up to this point, thinks that this is kind of a dick move. This only seems to serve to make Makoto more indecisive, still not wanting to offer Kotonoha a face-to-face breakup, but also not willing to give up sexytimes with Sekai.

Throughout all of this, the basketball team seems to be obtaining expensive video equipment and discussing some plan they have for the school festival. In addition, Makoto's friend Taisuke begins to make moves on Kotonoha, asking her to dance with him at the folk dance at the end of the festival. This is a big deal, as dancing with somebody at the festival is a tradition that students use to make their status as a couple official. Taisuke explains that since she and Makoto had broken up that it should be okay. This is news to Kotonoha, who rejects Taisuke, insisting that Makoto and her never broke up. Makoto overhears all of this, and shows signs of jealousy over this exchange. Again, this would be humanizing if it weren't Makoto.

Later that night at Makoto's apartment, Kotonoha decides to drop by for a surprise visit to check up on the boy who, as far as she is concerned, she is still supposedly in a committed relationship with. Inside the apartment, Sekai and Makoto are having a disagreement about Makoto's handling of his feelings for Kotonoha, but have to put it on hold when the latter shows up at the door. Makoto apologizes to her and says that his phone is acting up but that he should be able to get calls from her from now on (leaving out the part where her number was blocked on his phone).

Sekai is in the next room listening to all of this.

He attempts to end the conversation by pretending to be sick, but as he's about to shut the door, she notices an extra pair of shoes in the entryway. Still in denial despite knowing deep down that Makoto is a cheating piece of gutter trash, she asks to dance with him at the school festival, which he halfheartedly promises to do. Sekai, less than impressed by this, grabs her bag and storms out of Makoto's apartment in tears. As she leaves, she runs into Kotonoha, who thanks her for everything she's done for her and Makoto up to this point with what I still think might be the loudest, angriest slap across the face I've ever heard in an anime.

Episode 8

Makoto, who at this point I am still holding out hope will be redeemed in some form by the end of the series, is still struggling with being a complete dick. Setsuna is desperately trying to keep Makoto away from Kotonoha and convinces him to visit Sekai, who has been home sick that day. Apparently this isn't unusual for Sekai to do, as Setsuna explains that she often stays home sick whenever she's anxious or upset about something in her life. Turns out, Sekai may be just as insecure as Kotonoha, but it manifests itself in a slightly different way.

Through all of this, Makoto insists that he still has stronger feelings for Sekai than he does for Kotonoha.

Festival shenanigans ensue, breaking the dramatic weight of the overarching plot, possibly to give the viewer hope that things will end happily for our heroes (and Makoto). Makoto and Setsuna go to fetch supplies for the cafe they were running as a class and explains why she is so adamant on helping Makoto and Sekai get together.

Setsuna is about to move to France with her family, and knows that Sekai needs somebody to support her. As her best friend, she feels bad about having to move but believes that Makoto can take her place and make Sekai happy, not realizing that (say it with me now):

"Makoto wanted to get his rocks off."

She believes that Makoto can do this because of an experience she had when they first met, when Makoto defended her when classmates were picking on her due to her short stature. In fact, Makoto was the one who encouraged her to join the student council and become the class representative.

Later than evening, Setsuna finds Makoto taking a nap against the wall. Lost in the memory of the day they met, Setsuna leans down and kisses Makoto while he sleeps. The biggest problem with that is that somebody sees her do this:

Remember, this all started over a grainy cell phone picture.
Episode 9:

Festival funtimes continue as Makoto and Sekai prepare baked goods for the class cafe. I would not recommend eating anything from their cafe, though, considering that Makoto is handling both the ingredients and Sekai's ass simultaneously.

Taisuke goes to get supplies for the class and runs into Kotonoha, once again suggesting that she and Makoto are no longer dating. Kotonoha's insecurities won't allow her to admit this, and she is adamant that they are still dating.

Here's where my belief that Makoto can reform and redeem himself dies a horrible death. Makoto goes on break and meets up with a student from Kotonoha's class, Otome Kato. Otome is one of the many girls who relentlessly bully Kotonoha. Moreover, she's had feelings for Makoto since middle school. Otome and Makoto walk around the festival grounds.

Sekai catches them and breaks them up, but Makoto slips away to find Kotonoha after noticing that he's missed a large number of texts from Kotonoha. Otome catches Makoto and invites him to go to the "break room" that is a part of her class's festival activity.

The break room is another school tradition, much like the folk dance. It's a chance for couples to break away from the festivities and enjoy "alone time" with each other. It is not something that the teachers know about or condone. It is, however, a way for students to have sex on school grounds. Makoto, of course, agrees to Otome's proposition because

"Makoto wanted to get his rocks off."

Makoto realizes that he has to meet up with his other piece of side-action and heads to the festival bonfire to dance with Sekai.

The night does not go as well for Kotonoha. Taisuke finds her, and he's no longer taking no for an answer. Overcome by his lust for Kotonoha, he forces himself upon her and has his way with her. It's a very intense and uncomfortable scene, though thankfully it isn't I Spit On Your Grave levels of graphic. I joke around a lot, but there's nothing funny I can say about where this episode goes. It's the most horrifying thing that any human being can have to go through and that unfortunate reality is even present at the high school level.

A lot of anime that I watch treats sex and perversion like a punch line, and honestly, the way that this anime handles the progression of the behaviors of its main characters was one of its strongest points. When you treat groping, trying to peek up skirts, and other perverted behaviors like its a joke, guess what is going to happen in real life? At some point it stops being a joke and starts being dangerous. I'm not saying that's always the case, that going into the girls' bathroom as a joke in elementary school is a guaranteed gateway toward sexual assault in high school, but the environmental and social conditioning that surrounds those events can make all the difference. Taisuke was a punchline for much of the show. Now he is something far worse.

Before we move on, let's lighten the mood with this dancing Homura. We're almost done, so hang in there!
It is a sad day when something involving Homura Akemi is less depressing than
whatever it is you're talking about.
Episode 10:

Kotonoha's rape is immediately followed by the lighthearted scene of her seeing Sekai and Makoto dancing around the bonfire and breaking into tears. The next morning, Makoto encounters Kotonoha and essentially tells her that he doesn't like her anymore.

Setsuna, previously reassured that his time with Kotonoha is truly over, gets a wake-up call when she catches him in the gym having more sex with Otome. This serves to make her even more desperate, as she still feels that he's the best person to help Sekai through Setsuna's move to France. Setsuna goes to Makoto's apartment and demands that he break off his affairs with Otome and stay loyal to Sekai.

In what is brilliant idea #242 of this show,  Setsuna offers to sleep with Makoto if he agrees to only be with Sekai from that night onward. It is at this point that I completely give up on Makoto. He's in too deep, so to speak.

The next day, the girl's basketball team hosts a video screening and invites all the girls at the school to see it. It is then that we confirm what had been hinted at throughout the school festival story arc. Remember the part where I mentioned the basketball team kept planning something that required them to procure video equipment? This year, they modified the tradition of the break room by putting a hidden camera in the room and recorded the couples having sex, and now they're showing the footage for all to see.

Sekai sees Makoto's rendezvous with Otome and tries to call him to give the piece of shit a piece of her mind to no avail. He's too busy screwing... just everything. Sekai runs into with Kotonoha, who hints that Makoto is with Setsuna.

Episode 11:

Sekai starts missing school once again, upset that Makoto was unfaithful (though how surprising should that really be to her?) and that Setsuna has moved away.

We then learn that he's also begun sleeping with another classmate, Hikari. Basically Makoto has now advanced to the point that he's pretty much willing to put his dick wherever it'll fit.

Sekai meanwhile, gets nauseous one night and begins vomiting. She reasons from this that she must be pregnant with Makoto's child. She brings this news to Makoto in class, and in fact proclaims it loud enough for the entire class to hear. Makoto doesn't want to hear any of it, as this would mean having to take some kind of responsibility for treating his penis as if it were a toy sword.

It proves effective, however, and all of Makoto's booty calls begin to break contact with him. This of course causes him to further resent Sekai, who visits his apartment to cook dinner, seemingly excited at the prospect of having Makoto's child. Makoto wanders through town in a cold stupor, looking for anyone to spend time with until he finds

I'm starting to think this is a cautionary tale

Kotonoha, broken and alone, still unable to come to terms with Makoto's complete abandonment of her. Makoto breaks down crying, embracing Kotonoha and apologizing for everything he did to her. It is largely an empty gesture, brought forth out of desperation to cling to anything from his past and ignore the blowback from his sexcapades, but it is enough to bring Kotonoha back to her senses (we assume).

Episode 12:

Here's the part where all the events leading up to this point finally boil over and explode in an uncontrollable, unstoppable tornado of destruction.

You girls seem different somehow... Haircut?
Makoto treats Kotonoha to a dinner date, which is interrupted by a call from Sekai, who wants to know where he is. Makoto can take no more and demands that she leaves his apartment, blaming her for ruining his life, blaming her for getting pregnant. Sekai does what she's told and leaves the apartment but sees Kotonoha and Makoto on the train together. Now it's Sekai's turn to not be able to take any more.

She returns to Makoto's apartment to confront him there as he returns with Kotonoha. As the two argue, Makoto continues blaming Sekai for his misfortune and dismisses everything she ever felt for him by making out with Kotonoha in front of Sekai, who screams for him to stop. She flees the apartment, unable to cope with losing the last thing that she cared about in her life.

Later that night, Makoto provides the icing on the cake by sending her a text suggesting she get an abortion from a clinic that Kotonoha recommended. She's done. It's time for Makoto to get what's coming to him. She texts Makoto to arrange to meet him at his apartment the next day.

Makoto returns home and can't find Sekai anywhere. He goes into his room and receives a text from Sekai that reads only,



Sekai stabs the hell out of Makoto in an act that serves as a final comeuppance to the grand douchebag who fell from his lofty perch of being a kind of perverted awkward dork. After brutally stabbing Makoto to death with a kitchen knife, she panics and flees the apartment.

Kotonoha arrives at the apartment some time later and discovers the body. It doesn't take her long to figure out who the culprit was.

Later that night, Sekai gets a text from Makoto's phone asking her to meet him on the roof. Even knowing that Makoto is dead, she travels to the school to check out the roof, bringing the knife to defend herself. In her final confrontation with Sekai, she asks why she never went to the clinic, accusing her of lying about the pregnancy. Kotonoha insists that Sekai couldn't have Makoto's baby because he was always her boyfriend.

Sekai rabidly explains that she wanted to be Makoto's girlfriend as well, which is why she put up with all his bullshit and let him get away with everything.

Kotonoha offers the chance for her to clear everything up with Makoto, telling Sekai that he's there with them. She notices a bag next to her, and slowly approaches to open it. Inside she finds the severed head of Makoto, which proves too much for her to handle. After presenting Makoto to her, Kotonoha ends Sekai's life by slitting her throat. As Sekai's life drains out of her, Kotonoha slices into her abdomen and concludes that her pregnancy was a lie when she finds nothing inside.

And so this story ends the next morning at sunrise, as a boat sails away into an endless expanse of ocean. Kotonoha cuddles with the severed head of Makoto on the deck of the boat, whispering that the two of them can finally be together. We presume that she's sailing off to her death, to die at sea with the boy she likes.

Okay, I know that post was kind of vanilla, and now that I've given a very bare bones summary of the show, what's left to discuss. Well, the truth behind School Days month is that I want to look beyond the events of the show. The story of School Days is a jumping off point to look at what caused all of this to happen. This is the internet, and I know that if there's one thing the internet needs, it's someone to blame. This month is devoted to solving a mystery: the mystery of who is most responsible for the horrible events that ended the lives of Makoto, Sekai, and Kotonoha, and maybe in the process we'll gain a better understanding of why this anime is so strongly disliked by most anime fans.

Like I said, it's no masterpiece, but I'd also argue that it really isn't deserving of all the hate that it gets. The animation is decidedly mediocre, and the music isn't anything memorable. It suffers from relatively poor pacing and the goofy romantic-comedy moments really break the dramatic weight of the story. All of that serves to make the anime of average to just below-average in terms of quality. That said, I still emjoyed it largely because the actions of the characters within the story intrigued me. Something about this anime really made me think. Maybe I just happened to watch it at the right time, but it definitely left an impact on me.

Next week we'll start with the most likely suspect for who was most responsible for the awful things that happened in this show. We'll start with the idea that was at the center of it all:

"Makoto wanted to get his rocks off."

Join me next week when we'll study Makoto Itou's character.

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