A fascinating story that somehow keeps your interest despite starring completely unlikable characters.
What They Say
It was at the entrance ceremony of Sakakino High School that Makoto Ito met Kotonoha Katsura for the first time.
Kotonoha was in the class next to Makoto's, lived along the same railway line, and caught the same train to school every morning. Although Makoto had a little crush on her, she was to be looked at from a distance...that was all she was.
Then, a message on Makoto's cell phone appeared:
YOUR ROMANCE WILL COME TRUE IF YOU KEEP YOUR LOVE INTEREST'S PHOTO ON YOUR CELL PHONE SCREEN FOR THREE WEEKS WITHOUT ANYONE KNOWING.
As ridiculous as Makoto thought it was, he took a shot of Kotonoha on the train and made it his wallpaper, only to be discovered by Sekai Saionji, his classmate at the next desk, the next day.
Though the portent seemed to turn out to be of little consequence, Sekai volunteered to play matchmaker between Makoto and Kotonoha to make up for sneaking a look at his cell phone. From that day on, Makoto's ordinary life started to take a new turn...
While perusing Crunchyroll’s library for titles to watch, School Days jumped out at me because of stories I had heard regarding a controversy about the ending (which I will get into in the final review). So I decided to check it out to see what the fuss is all about. After the first four episodes, School Days certainly has some lighthearted moments, but it is mostly a serious, slice-of-life drama with hints at some potential dark days ahead.
Makoto Ito likes Kotonoha Katsura, a girl in his year who rides the same train to and from school that he does. He watches her every day but never actually approaches her. On a whim, he tries out a local legend that claims that if he takes a picture of her with his phone and makes it his wallpaper for three weeks with nobody noticing, then he will surely get the girl of his dreams. He does not really believe in the legend, but he figures trying it cannot hurt.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, as it turns out), Makoto does not even make it a day as Sekai Saionji, the girl that sits next to him in class, sees the photo. At first, she thinks it is amusing that Makoto is trying out the legend, but then feels bad that she messed it up for him and offers to help. She befriends Kotonoha, introduces the two, and then steps back and lets nature take its course.
As it turns out, Kotonoha had noticed Makoto watching her at times and had been flattered by it, so she is happy to accept Makoto’s request for a date. There is just one problem: they are both inexperienced in matters involving the opposite sex, and it quickly becomes apparent that they are looking for different things out of a relationship. Makoto, like any horny teenage boy tends to think with “his other head” (as Sekai not-so-delicately puts it) and seems to want nothing more than sexual relations with Kotonoha; she, on the other hand, is very shy and has trouble with even little physical contacts such as holding hands. So she prefers to take it slow, and it frustrated Makoto.
So Sekai is forced to step in on many occasions. As their matchmaker, she also ends up becoming their love counselor, and it becomes her job to make sure their relationship does not fall apart. But, as might be expected, there is a problem here too: though she denies it every single time anybody tries asking her about it, it is obvious that she also has a thing for Makoto. She puts on a brave face and does not let on about her own feelings to the burgeoning love birds, but it is there, and it is likely only a matter of time before she presses her own claim.
Up to this point, School Days is equal parts compelling and frustrating. It is frustrating because it is a character-driven series, and up to this point, I am not sure how much I like any of the main cast. I understand the point that Makoto is supposed to be a horny teenager, but the zest with which he pursues his desires almost makes him a caricature of teenage boys. Within just a few episodes, he is already tiring of Kotonoha’s shyness and ready to move on to another girl. There does not seem to be one truly decent bone in his body.
And on the flipside, there is the incredibly uptight Kotonoha. She shies away from virtually any physical contact or affectionate gestures. For all of his faults, Makoto does try to restrain himself for her sake and keep things as comfortable for her as possible, but up to this point, she has yet to make any concessions for him. There is shy and inexperienced, and then there is puritanical, which she looks like anyway with her conservative, black school uniform which just happens to be different (read: more conservative) from all of the other girls in the school. I refuse to believe this is a coincidence.
And then we have Sekai thrown into the mix. On the surface, she is the most likeable of the three characters because she is everything that Kotonoha is not: bubbly, outgoing, and realistic. She works hard to try and keep Makoto and Kotonoha together, but her methods are questionable. For starters, her affection for Makoto is something that is there from the start rather than something that grows over time, but rather than press for his attentions, she happily offers to hook him up with Kotonoha. So from the start, she has a reason to actually see them fail.
And it is uncertain right now how much she is trying to help and how much she is messing with them (I am leaning towards the latter). On the surface, she is trying to help when she tells Makoto that he needs to slow down, but then she turns around and subtly pushes Kotonoha to lose her inhibitions. It might seem like she is just thinking logically about how to progress their relationship, but it is curious that she seems to take the horny male perspective more often. And that does not even take into account the “training” session she gives Makoto on how to physically seduce somebody.
So for all of her outward protestations about her relationship with Makoto, it seems that she is doing what she can to slyly break Makoto and Kotonoha up. Toss in that she has a habit of watching the two of them from the shadows (though she does not necessarily stalk them—yet), and it seems like there is a dark part of Sekai’s personality that has yet to outwardly manifest itself.
What it all boils down to is that we have a main cast of three characters, and there is not one of them that I watch and root for. And that is generally a major problem for me as character can sell me on a story much faster than any other element. Typically, if I cannot find any characters to get behind and root for, then I check out pretty quickly.
But, for all of my disdain for the main cast, I am so far utterly enthralled by the story. It is incredibly well put together, and frankly, I am not sure how well it would be working up to this point without such a detestable cast. The story is solid, and they are doing a good job of building some great tension between the characters. Outwardly, there is no true tension yet, but I am expecting that tension to explode soon. It will not be slow building in anyway. So I will continue to watch with fascination, while at the same time wanting to punch the principle characters in the face.
With four episodes gone, School Days has set up a nice foundation from which to leap into the final eight. I cannot really stand any of the characters, but the strength of the story is enough to make me forget that for the moment. Hopefully it keeps it up. I would not think that it would be good for somebody looking for something lighthearted; while not too heavy yet, my guess is that it is going to get there soon. But if you are looking for something a little more serious, and particularly like slice-of-life dramas, then this might be one to check out. The final eight episodes will tell that.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles