I have always viewed Harem anime as absurdist comedies.
I’ve said this many times on this blog and I believe it is true. From the highs of High School DxD, to the lows of Master of Ragnarok, I do believe that all harems work because they embrace the idea of being absurdist comedies. They allow themselves and the viewer to suspend disbelief, which you have to do, because if you look at a harem anime, the idea of one guy with multiple girls all in love with him, the premise would never work if real world logic was applied. If a harem anime happened with real-life, one of three things would happen.
- The guy becomes a massive egotistical asshole and treats the girls like absolute garbage
- The girls tear each other apart over trying to get the guy.
- The girls get sick of the guy and ditch him, or just start fucking each other.
There have been almost no harem anime that have actually attempted, in some form or another, to play things straight, because the absurdity of the concept is what brings people to watch (and the fanservice). Yet there is one anime that attempts to do so, and that is what we are talking about today. Join me after the cut as I dive into the anime series School Days.
“Cause we can just never be adult and look at each other and go: We’re fucking over aren’t we? You go that WAY and I’ll go this way. It was good times” – Dane Cook.
If there is a central theme to School Days, it is simply “the failure to communicate.” That is at the very heart of what this anime is, and it is bonded to his series right down to the very marrow of its bones. What starts off as a very simple (and well worn) concept: a guy likes a girl and is set up by his friend who is actually in love with him, soon morphs into a tragic, brutal and most of all, honest look at teenage relationships, and teenage life. Heartbreak, betrayal, lies, deceit, all of them are linked to that very theme: the simple inability to sit down and talk their feelings.
There is no villain, no big bad guy, no person with whom the entire blame for everything that transpires. Each and every character in this story is at fault, some more than others yes, but there is no innocent party, no person absolved of guilt, because all of them are just unable to fucking talk to each other.
For Makoto, the young boy in the throes of puberty. His indecisiveness and courage to confront his girlfriend about his needs and desires sets him down a path of arrogance and self destruction, not helped by an environment which submits to his every carnal desire and lust. There is no wise old man to help him, no parents to guide him.
For Sekai, the young girl who sets the entire story in motion. A naive fool who cannot accept the choices she made, and doesn’t have the courage to stand by her convictions or accept a situation. She becomes wrapped up in excuse after excuse, lie after terrible lie, until the metaphorical kettle boils over, and she can no longer take it.
For Setsuna, the girl who lives only for someone else. A woman unable to properly talk about her own feelings, to confront someone about how she feels without regard to how it may affect her friends. Her good intentions become blemished by her own desires and end up making a situation far, far worse.
And for Kotonoha, the quiet and withdrawn girl who is unable to properly talk to anyone. Who holds all her emotions inside, who lacks the courage to stand up to her boyfriend’s advances, and the bullying of her peers. Who cannot accept that her relationship is flawed and not healthy. Who clings to the reality of having a boyfriend so much that it consumes her very sanity.
This anime is about these teenagers, young souls with no support system left to fend for themselves at a time of their lives where their bodies are a hurricane of emotions and hormones. Where a cellphone is the mightiest weapon, sex is the ultimate trophy, and their minds are like the very trains they ride on day to day: always barreling forward with no regard for what is behind or past them. It is at times melodramatic, at times maybe a little unrealistic, but at all times, every time. It feels real. These emotions, these feelings that all of these characters go through are real things. They are things have happened, and will happen to real people. To young boys and girls who are not properly guided, and who cannot see things from beyond a narrow and selfish view of the world, who are unable to communicate their feelings, to tell people how they feel and understand that you cannot always get what you want, and that it is not the end of the world when it happens. There are points where you want to reach through the screen and just yell at them to talk. To beg them to just sit down and be honest with each other, to be upfront and true with their feelings, but it doesn’t happen, and it can never happen, which makes the ending all the more powerful.
School Days is the harem anime without a happy ending, without that absurdist law that has governed ever single harem anime that has come before and after it. I do not know if it fully succeeds in being the tear down of the genre that ReZero was for the Isekai, but it is the only harem anime that has ever, ever come close to even attempting it. That alone makes it an important part of not only the harem genre, but for anime in general. Yet beyond that, School Days is a visceral, brutal and honest look at teenage relationships that too often have been romanticized by anime and beyond. It was thrilling, engaging and made me ponder and think about it far more than I ever expected. Like with Yosuga no Sora, this is an anime that should be more than what the internet and memes have made of it, and should be judged and looked at for what it is, not what people have made it become. I do not know if it is a true masterpiece, but it is probably one of the most thought-provoking anime I have ever watched, and that I think, can be no higher praise.