Here’s where a spoiler warning might go to warn you that this post will inherently be spoiling School Days, and indeed this introduction acts as a disclaimer of sorts.
Before you click away I want you to consider that perhaps spoilers can enhance your experience with particular works. In the case of School Days it turns the story into a psychological thriller about feral sexuality that will leave you shaking by the time the final credits roll.
I’m about to tell you exactly the spoiler I knew before stepping into School Days the first time I watched it. It’s vague and doesn’t paint the whole picture but changed my approach to the narrative in such a way that I now consider it one of my favorite anime series.
Ready? Here it is:
The final episode of the series culminates in the protagonist being killed by yandere girl, an anime character archetype describing a character that shows sociopathic/psychotic affection towards their crush, willing to do anything and even kill anyone in order to win their love. Or at least this is what they’ve deluded themselves into believing.
If you have anything beyond a passing knowledge of anime this likely isn’t news to you. The show is notorious for its shock ending and extremely divisive because of it. It’s the overwhelming element that has made this series so polarizing. What you wouldn’t know if you haven’t seen the series is that that without context the spoiler actually creates whole new layers of tension as you watch the series, as well as being only thematically relevant to what makes School Days a (highly) worthwhile watch.
I’m about to dig deep into the finer plot points of the series. If you have any intentions of watching it I recommend doing so and then coming back to read on. Need further convincing on the show or just here for a read? I’ll lay out some early plot points before analyzing the series and spoiler culture to get you up to speed.
To understand why School Days benefits from spoilers we first need to discuss the show’s set-up. School Days first appears to be steeped in romance tropes gone increasingly awry. Makoto Itou, our protagonist, is an awkward high school boy in his first year who’s been eyeing his peer Kotonoha Katsura every day on his train commute. It borders on creepily obsessive when Makoto takes a picture of her to use as his cellphone background. At school that day his desk buddy Sekai Saionji (who has an unrequited crush on Makoto) sees this picture and resolves to make a couple out of them as her last futile effort to try and get closer to him.
For the next few episodes the story becomes more and more unsettling while feigning the impression of spinning its wheels as a story of budding romance. But for every moment that would be played for heart warms in a series with purer intentions there’s a sense that unrest is building within the characters, that there’s a monster stewing in their subconscious.
Makoto’s shyness gives way to creepiness as he realizes his affection towards the full-bodied Kotonoha is actually lust. Kotonoha proves to be secluded despite the projection of popularity some would place upon her thanks to her physical attractiveness, causing her to feed off of what she believes is genuine affection from Makoto. Sekai increasingly steps over the line as she “coaches” Makoto in dating, taking the opportunities to teach him how to kiss by example and stripping down on the school roof to let him fondle her breasts. Makoto, bored of Kotonoha due to her uncomfortableness with his sexual advances, abandons her as he starts having sex with the love-stricken Sekai.
By placing characters that gradually uncover their unsavory urges and act upon them into a series of romance tropes, School Days provides the perfect subversion that breaks its illusion to the viewer right at the end of its first act. It’s a slow, plotting burn that pays off as the series transitions into the most uncomfortable harem in the medium. Makoto’s increasingly sociopathic and disconnected confidence makes him an attractive sexual partner which leads him to having sex with a variety of girls at the school who, to put it bluntly, want his dick.
Quite literally they want his dick and nothing more. Through this culture of desensitized sex washing over the school we see the result of adolescent urges acted upon to their fullest, most emotionless extent. Sex in School Days is emotionless and characters who succumb become emotionally repressed until they reach an epiphany of what the show argues are their sins. It subverts the harem genre by stripping the characters of their sexuality by the very means of the act. You’ll find little in the way of fanservice throughout this show, only the cold act of two bodies in unified motion.
Watching the characters spiral out of control as they fail to cope with their toxic interpersonal relationships steeped in pained betrayal is what makes watching School Days worthwhile on an immediate level. Knowing vaguely how things will end only adds to the tension. Meanwhile, its thematic discourse on the emotional backfiring of sexual repression gives you a lot to think about in the long term. And it’s a series that deconstructs both romance stories and harem tropes with real craft.
If you’re worried that the ending will fall flat because you know Makoto dies then I’ll give you this: there’s more that comes after that is arguably even more shocking. But even that doesn’t truly matter as the main characters have completed their arcs by the time the events are set into motion. That’s not to say it’s a bad ending; on the contrary it’s brilliantly gutsy in a way that has etched itself into my mind. It’s big and bold, the way I like my narratives.
Some might say, “But the shock of seeing these crimes of passion happen unexpectedly is where the excitement happens.” To this I put forth that shock is overplayed in modern media and has created a void where people watch shows to see what the next big moment will be.
Now I don’t want to downplay shock and surprise as important elements of storytelling. As a student of screenwriting myself I understand that these are among the strongest of emotional responses you can elicit in a person. But because of this they’re also overwhelming emotions that risk disproportionately sticking out in one’s mind once they’ve walked away from the story.
Unfortunately our popular culture has seemed to become infatuated with playing up these moments in such a way that they’ve lost value for the sake of social media blitzes (and if I’m being particularly cynical, blog clickbait). This is particularly prevalent in Western culture where the discussion around Game of Thrones and its ilk largely revolves around gruesome bloodbaths and who the next character to kick the bucket will be. The rest of the show can often be viewed as requisite build-up to those moments. I won’t say that people engage with these stories solely for the purpose of being part of these discussions but it has undeniably impacted the way Western dramas are written. And being part of this culture myself its the one I’m addressing here.
School Days has very little in the way of big shockers but they all take place in the last few episodes which makes them particularly prevalent in the minds of people who have finished the show. They’ve inevitably overtaken the Western-based anime community’s discussion of the series in the decade since it aired. It’s created two tribes behind the show: those who like the ending and those who don’t, a shallow dichotomy that ignores the journey of the series and what it has to say about its themes and characters. Unleashed sexual repression is ever-relevant in today’s society which makes discussion of the show’s finer points as relevant as ever but this is rarely happening.
By removing at least some semblance of the shock’s fleeting momentary impact the viewer of School Days gets breathing room to hone in on other elements of the series. I believe it to be the case that many people who watched the series unspoiled might have a more positive and analytical outlook on the series if they were prepared for its jarring conclusion. And as a concession you get the best of both worlds by the spoiler not giving away the whole picture. I won’t act like shock can’t be fun in moderation!
That moderation is the key to successful use of shock. To use Game of Thrones as an example again it’s become harder to invest in characters throughout its run as we’ve become conditioned to expect their demise at a moment’s notice. They’ve started to feel like chess pieces with personalities. It remains a good watch when focusing on its turbulent politics but has also become cloying when big moments fall flat, which they increasingly do. Granted, anime series (and at that especially the heavily story-driven type) rarely run nearly as long as Western dramas so stagnation is less of an issue in this medium.
While I feel that spoilers in School Days enhance the series it’s certainly not a belief that fits every series. I recently saw La La Land and if I had known the final sequence of the movie going in it wouldn’t have struck the chord it did (hah). The same goes for the finales of Cowboy Bebop or The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya’s first season (broadcast order, the only order that exists).
This is because these series end with clear emotional resolutions whereas School Days puts its focus on its big ideas… which in this case also happen to be the antithesis of emotional engagement from the viewer. As an aside, that’s not necessarily the point here but I have a hard time imagining people actually feeling a personal stake in the outcomes of these characters; it’s really the side players that invoke compassion which is why I’ve avoided spoiling their spotlight moments.
Even if you’ve read this far and haven’t seen School Days I stick by my guns that any story beats I spoiled largely won’t take away from the reasons to watch this show: its themes, social commentary and large-scale genre deconstruction. It’s one of my top anime series and thus it comes with my highest recommendation.