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School Days (Crunchyroll Link) 

The Basics

 Ahh, Makoto.  If only you stayed this innocent.
 Ahh, Makoto.  If only you stayed this innocent.
School Days starts off as a tale of three people: Makoto, Sekai and Katsura.  Makoto sees Katsura on a train and immediately falls in love with her.  Sekai has a crush on Makoto but when she finds out that he's in love with someone else, she works hard to help their relationship succeed... which always ends up leaving you satisfied, right?
 

Described in Anime 

Pick a harem, any harem.  Now imagine that the male lead isn't afraid of girls.  Imagine, what would if the male lead wasn't satisfied with just being up to bat and always wanted to get to the next base?  That is School Days.
 

Why I Like It 

 School Days benefits greatly by not taking the entire series to get here.
 School Days benefits greatly by not taking the entire series to get here.
School Days takes a lot of cliches of the genre and flips them.  One of the most important ones is that characters don't spend the bulk of the show not being in a relationship.  It is incredibly difficult to progress the story of a relationship when there is no actual relationship.  When 11 episodes of a 13 episode show are two people being too shy to even hold hands, all you can really offer is gags.  School Days doesn't suffer from that at all.  
 
 This is why your parents tell you not to have sex until you're ready.
 This is why your parents tell you not to have sex until you're ready.
A major thing that really helps the show out is sex, which may seem perverted, but School Days uses it very well.  School Days isn't hentai and neither is it just, "woo hoo boobs on screen."  Sex in School Days is used to add complexity and seriousness to the relationships that the characters are in.  In most other harem shows, the relationships are very light to the point where people aren't really in relationships at all.  It's very hard for me to get attached to a couple that technically doesn't exist.  When you haven't kissed or even held hands or even said that you like each other, you're not a couple.  However, when School Days throws sex into the equation the relationships seem very real for me and I care about what happens to the people involved In other shows, even when a character isn't making some emotional plea on screen, which is what it usually takes for me to feel sad about a situation in other harems.  
 
 *sigh* I hate this guy yet I feel sorry for him at the same time.
 *sigh* I hate this guy yet I feel sorry for him at the same time.
If you're not ready to take it to that level, sex can really wreck a relationship.  Especially when it's between teenagers.  The couple that I was originally rooting for went completely off the rails once sex was in the equation.  Makoto went from being a guy I could identify with and rooted for to a guy I loathed.  To a guy I hated.  He really made me upset that I was rooting for him at some point.  He's completely irresponsible and only cares about himself... but at the end of the day, and it pains me to say this, I almost can't blame him.  He was a real-life high school kid thrown into a harem situation and he acted as irresponsible as real-life high school kid probably would in such a wild scenario.  I don't think there's ever been an anime character that I legitimately hated as much as Makoto.  But that character arc wasn't just for him.  My allegiances and liking of most of the characters in the series was constantly transitioning back and forth between cheerfulness, disgust, pity and everything in between.  The only other show that triggered that level of emotional response out of me with that many changes along the ride was Nana, which I consider to be one of the best romantics tales I've seen or read, regardless of medium. 
 
School Days isn't so much of a harem as it is a precautionary tale about teen sex.  It's not for everyone.  Despite the first few episodes, it is not a happy show.  Once sex is introduced all of the lighthearted or silly things that you've come to expect in a harem are gone (perhaps a subtle message about teen sex), never to return again.  There is no picture-perfect Disney romance for your favorite pairing at the end.  But if you enjoy romance or harems to any degree or if you just like to see bad stuff happen to good people, or if you've gotten tired of super happy romantic anime, the series is well worth viewing.
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