Oh boy, I finally have to write about this, don’t I? To those of you who have also seen School Days (may your faith in humanity some day return), I probably won’t be saying anything new in this post, because is there really anything new I can say about it? Did this show actually contain anything worth anyone’s attention, aside from the shocking elements of it?
Yes, I think so, but I don’t mean that in a positive way. To use a vague but well-established term, the characters (the main character Makoto in particular) are so problematic that I feel it’d be irresponsible not to talk about them. I don’t know much about the universe School Days is set in, but it’s apparenty in the anime that Makoto is really (for lack of a better word) fucked up, and for the most part he doesn’t seem to realise it himself. Either that, or he secretly (by which I mean unknown to the viewer) uses his shyness to absolve himself of moral responsibility. In either case, it’s good that he is a fictional character, because were he real he would be what we call a “dangerous person”.
In fact, I think he’s so problematic that the fact that he is horribly murdered and decapitated in the end serves in no way to make his previous actions any less problematic, even though I must admit that at first glance I thought the show did a good job of leading by example, showing that bad people always get punished in the end. Now, however, I think that this aspect of the show is counterproductive in itself. The reason I felt catharsis and pleasure when watching the finale for the first time was not because I felt that morality or karma prevailed, it was a kind of perverted “justice orgasm” fueled by the intense hate I felt for Makoto. And sure, it’s understandable that I felt that way, but I don’t think it’s a very helpful feeling. I don’t think we should be talking about how much of a scumbag the fictional character Makoto is, I think we should be talking about how to stop this kind of abuse from happening in real life (because it does happen in real life, it happens everywhere, and it happens frequently). I say this because I want something good to come out of my experience with the show.
Later addition: To be completely fair, School Days is by no means the only visual novel/anime with a bad end scenario and, though as far as I know its series is the only one that really wants the audience to feel pleasure due to the murder instead of feeling sad due to the tragedy of someone dying, I think that using tragic death as a game mechanic in itself is to some degree disconcerting. It’s not that bad in fantasy or sci-fi role playing games (like in the ARPGs I play from time to time), but when it comes to visual novels in which the details, the tragedy, the reactions, the grief and the despair are not downplayed, it always kind of rubs me the wrong way, or at least in retrospects, with regard to all the VNs I’ve read.
That said, I think there are different degrees of seriousness when it comes to this disconcerting aspect of visual novels: A genuine accident, like getting drunk and falling off the roof, is not that bad. Being killed by a hostile entity or person in combat makes me a little uncomfortable, but I’m used to it from other games, movies, books, TV shows, basically everything. But having the main character psychologically torment their girlfriend until she murders him, that’s all kinds of f*cked up, so to speak. I don’t think it’s healthy, even in a story that is complete fiction.