スクールデイズ/School Days, full series

[Screenshot]There are three important things to know about School Days. First, it’s based on an eroge*. Second, the eroge it’s based on is infamous for having really bad endings. Third, the anime series is based on one of those bad endings.

I don’t play eroge, but I get the impression a bad ending is usually “you don’t get laid”, or perhaps “you get laid, but skeeve people out to the degree that the epilogue makes it clear you’re not getting laid again any time soon”. School Days has these, apparently, but it also has really, really bad ones. Think about the worst relationship you ever had. This is worse.

I forget who recommended School Days to me, but they clearly hate me and wanted me to suffer, because this is an an enticing horror, like a car wreck. It’s actually a fairly seductive work, particularly because for three episodes it really is kind of sweet, with a pleasant Cyrano de Bergerac-flavored love triangle shaping up. It has a low-level pervasive lechery in its dialogue, but watching teen anime one kind of tunes that part out. Somewhat more distressing is its awful male-gaze shot-framing, where I keep expecting the female characters to break their dialogue to inform the animators that, no, their faces are actually about 2 feet higher up.

And then at the end of Episode 4, it all starts to go downhill, and gets really skeevy really fast. But by then it’s drawn you in enough to want to see the fate of these people. In fairness, I went in mildly spoiled. I knew (or thought I knew) what happens, but didn’t know who did it, and as the series progressed, I got an idea for who it was (I was wrong, BTW). So I wondered at first, “how are things going to get that dysfunctional?” but around episode 7 was wondering, “how do they keep from getting that dysfunctional for a whole 5 more episodes?”. Around episode 9, however, the producers evidently realized that for a series based on an eroge, there hasn’t been a lot of sex, so over the course of the next two episodes, Makoto fucks all but two of the named characters, including a character whose entire plot up to that point has basically been about being into a guy who is not Makoto. By the time the big Game Over was rolling around, I was actually cheering for it to happen, because he’d gone from being a sweet naïf to a thoroughly unlikable character. It was very cathartic but there wasn’t much time to enjoy the catharsis, because fuck me there’s the second ending nobody warned me about and ow good God I think I didn’t need that.

This is a series which is bad for your soul. It will draw you in with its innocent charms and then blast your psyche at close range with vile characters doing awful things to each other. And you won’t even want to look away. I warn you for the sake of your own sanity.

Of course, with a warning like that, how can you resist the urge to watch? It’s insidious how it works. But if you must watch a series based on a dating sim, could I instead suggest the mostly inoffensive and pleasant Diamond Dust Drops?

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Anime News Network, AniDB.

* For those not acquainted with the many names for varieties of computer games in Japan: an “eroge” or “H-game” is a dating sim with explicit sexual content. A “dating sim” is a visual novel whose main plot involves finding romance. A “visual novel” is a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure with pictures. [back]

Strings Attached, by Nick Nolan

This was in the Kindle free-books section (for a limited time, now passed), and had halfway decent reviews, so I snagged an e-copy. It’s a pretty easy read, as teen fiction ought to be. It’s even got a mostly solid plot, with our protagonist suffering both fish-out-of-water drama and disentangling a nefarious plot involving his family, and getting to be the Big Hero and save the day. It’s all very structurally solid on teen-fare issues, but it’s somewhat problematic in its elephant-in-the-room issue.

Namely, it’s gay fiction; not fiction with a gay protagonist or homoerotic themes, but which is explicitly dealing with the whole concept of gay self-discovery in America around the turn of the millennium. There are aspects of this it does very well (for instance, Jeremy’s failed attempt at a heterosexual relationship feels pretty organic), but it’s ignoring what I would imagine gay teens most want to understand and sympathize with, which is the isolation. Among the characters in this story, there are a lot of gay men. Jeremy is not without role models, and he’s surrounded by people who sympathize with his position. He actually seems much more out of place in his new society socioeconomically than sexually, which I don’t think is terribly representative of the experience of gay teens. I’d expected Cody to be the Voice of Homophobia and become the linchpin for violent drama and an obvious villain, but he comes across as (if sociopathic in a completely different dimension), actually fundamentally queer-friendly, and when there finally is a burst of the expected violence, it comes from entirely anonymous villains. While it’s nice that Nolan dodged the predictable way to build his characters, it was a bit unnerving to have a story about growing up gay almost completely devoid of major characters who disapproved, and I think it weakened the relevance of the book for the demographic that would find it most interesting. I can appreciate the limits of the medium of teen fiction, and the set of themes one can easily engage with, but this work seriously needed more teeth.

But, hey, it was definitely worth what I paid for it.

Bridge to Terebithia

[Screenshot]Bridge to Terebithia and I have a weird, haunted relationship. I remember being very emotionally upset by the 1985 version as a child (I was a pretty sensitive kid). I have no memories of reading the book, which is odd, since most people of my age and of similar formative experiences have very powerful memories of the book. Maybe I was so skeeved by the movie that I never read the book as a child. I have read the book, though, almost exactly a year and a half ago, on the eve of my departure from San Diego, when I was dossing in a friend’s vacant apartment which she generously let me stay in for the one night when I was without a home. Bits of what I read are hazy, though, so I’m not sure I’m equipped to do the whole compare-and-contrast thing.

So, aside from this roller-coaster ride down memory lane that my own psyche has taken me on, what is there to be said about the new movie version of Bridge to Terebithia? Well, it’s generally faithful plotwise and themewise, which means it hits all the right points: imagination, loss, family, and suchlike. It’s effectively sentimental, teetering but neverf quite falling over the edge of bathos. The acting is likewise pleasing: while Hutcherson’s a bit bland, his character comes aloive through interaction with his family, who really do work, although his elder sisters have a sort of simplistic unmotivated-villain wicked-stelpsister script. AnnaSophia Robb is awesome — maybe too awesome, actually, making her role as a loner a bit unbelievable. One might argue the narration is through Jess’s eyes so she should radiate awesome, and I can buy that (in contrast, ISTR the book hinting at a certain amount of dark loneliness in Leslie’s home life).

As for technical issues, on that point this production’s fine with no complaints. Much was made of the CGI and whether it was appropriate or not, but, hell, it’s pretty obvious to anyone paying attention which parts are fantasy.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.