Anime Cliches 17: The Highschool Setting

Type: Setting/Premise cliché

What made it popular: In the period of 1990-1994 there was an economic crisis, which affected the medium of anime. The studios could no longer afford to push out the same quality and expensive shows that they were previously airing, as doing so would have obviously led to bankruptcy. In order to cope with the economic situation, the studios reached towards anime and genres that were easier to make and produce, these anime were school comedies and the early harems. Yes this is where the cancer began with shows like Ranma 1/2 pioneering the way. Even after the economic crisis was solved, school anime after school anime kept getting produced without a stop and this trend only continues in the present as anime studios have became even more solidified in their nature of rarely taking risks. School Settings have became the norm for modern anime. An anime now can be considered unique for simply not being set in a goddam high-school, which is honestly laughable. But this is one of the sad truth of modern anime, it doesn’t matter what genre we are talking about, they mixed it all with high-schools in some way or another, which is why this is the only cliché that I will rate with the following:

Cliche Level: Legendary

Pretty much everyone who has ever watched or heard of anime in some way or another, is aware of the frequency of this cliché. I’m pretty sure I would not be lying if I were to make such a statement that 50% of modern anime are set in a high school.

Where can you find it?: Just pick a random anime that was made after 2000 and it is probably set in a goddamned high school.

Description: Do I really need to explain it? High school is a place for learning, an anime with  Highschool setting is obviously set in a high-school for the large part of the story, with the characters either being students, teachers or various adult, supernatural, alien characters pretending to be teachers or students themselves.


Why it’s bad: There are so many things wrong here that I don’t even know where to begin…..

……Many anime purely have a highschool setting just for the sake of having a highschool setting, there is literally no meaning or excuse for a high school in many anime that have a high-school setting. Not to mention how they combine completely unrelated genres with high school for inexplicable reasons, this is how we get Mecha Driving Vampires in a Space…..School, a brutal battle royale to the death? You mean a brutral battle royale to the death in….school! A tournament between 7 mages and 7 legendary heroes for the omnipotent wishgranting holy grail? You mean a tournament between 7 mages and 7 legendary heroes for the omnipotent wishgranting holy grail … with high schoolers. This is honestly getting ridiculous. Every anime feels the need to have a highschool for stupid reasons, not to mention that many times they are done solely so that the audience can self insert more easily, since the majority of anime viewers are in fact high schoolers themselves. It is impossible to not get tired of high school anime after a while, I mean there are just so many of them and most of them are the same repeated shit with little to no variation whatsoever, which is why I cant understand why some people still enjoy them after their 1000th anime.

This cliché is actually so bad that it includes almost a hundred sub clichés that usually come with the High-School setting, a true package deal! Let me just list a few of them.

  1.          The let’s form a club type of premise cliché: Anime starts in a school setting with several characters forming some club for various reasons or with characters forced to join a club by another character(s) (Haruhi, Haganai, Ouran HighSchool Host Club)
  2.         The smart-ass glasses guy: Character Cliché, usually the top of the class and excels in everything, frequently arrogant and condescending towards his classmates, tends to frequently adjust his glasses while talking. (The World God only Knows, Toradora etc)
  3.         The class president: Character cliché: Usually a girl, either a tsundere or a himedere, she is the class president to the mc class and most likely a potential love interest or otherwise she can be there for  the comedic effect (Noucome, Code Geass, etc)
  4.        The Seven Mysteries: Mystery Cliché, many school anime tend to have 7 mysteries related to the school, like if you wander the corridors alone during night a ghost will appear before you and eat your soul, etc. This is a cliché that comes from Japanese culture and urban legends such as Hanako of the toilet or the piano that plays itself. (Jigoku Sensei Nuube, Dusk Maiden of Amnesia)
  5.          The various festivals in schools: Plot Device and episode cliché, if the anime is heavily school centered then it will most likely have atleast one of these, most of the time they are done so to advance the plot, deepen the characters relation to each other or give a chance to the characters to confess their feelings.
  6.           The Tomboy/Athletic girl: Character Cliché: A girl that is really fit and athletic, a girl who also acts like a boy and can beat the boys in every physical related activity or fight on part with them, they are always part of some sports club like the basketball or kendo club.
  7.           The Weird/Wacky Teacher: Character Cliché: A teacher who is by the normal standards weird, he/she may be the main character him/herself or the teacher to the actual main characters, they can be weird because of their behavior, appearance or origins, such as a teacher who dresses and acts like a slut or an ex biker delinquent ( Nyaruko, Mahou Sensei Negima, Zetsubo Sensei, Onizuka, Jigoku Sensei Nuube etc)
  8.           “The Monster of the School”: Character Cliché: A character that for some inexplicable reason are feared by the school and their classmates, this may have a base or it may be a complete misunderstanding, it is usually played mostly for the comedy, the monster may or may not be a part of the 7 mysteries of the school, sometimes he or she is actually a delinquent and thus righteously feared. (Toradora, Haganai)
  9.           The Delinquent but actually a good guy: Character Cliché, just what It sounds like, many of these are also monster of the schools.
  10.          Class Trip: Plot Device and Episode Cliché: Same deal as festival cliché (Also see beach episode)
  11.         Abruptly powerful student council: As the name implies, a student council that has even higher authority than the teachers and the staff, they sometimes can even make life and death decisions in extreme cases. (Zegapain, Prison School etc)

There are many, many more but this is honestly enough for now as I could write an entire article about each of them.


2 comments on “Anime Cliches 17: The Highschool Setting

  1. Right, so I had plans to write a fiction set in a japanese high school setting and will comment on this.

    I don’t think it’s impossible to make a interesting high-school-setting fiction as long as the school is actually the focus of your story. And with this I don’t mean a warped magic mecha combat high-school, I mean an ordinary school, where people study and have actual career goals, as in Japan you’re usually supposed to already know what your job will be once you get to high school. You can make a drama around getting used to adult responsibilities, getting and handling a part-time job, going to a “cram school”, the MC’s parents not liking their career plans, and so on.

    I don’t see any problems with having a festival or trip at some point of the story, given that this happens in real japanese schools. The character archetypes, however, are boring, unrealistic and uninteresting, and I’ll be careful to not include any in my fiction.

    On the other hand, you have this High School-set anime called Sakamoto Desu Ga which is absolutely hilarious.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alma Elma says:

      “I don’t think it’s impossible to make a interesting high-school-setting fiction”

      Certainly it is not impossible. I am more on the line that an interesting school anime is very unlikely to happen, mainly because of the nature of the anime industry and the people consuming it. I have such confidence in this statement that I would go as far as to say that out of the 500 school anime that will come out the following years, at maximum only one will be interesting and different from the rest. I am not being biased here; I am actually basing these statements on my knowledge of the industry and the Japanese studios, as I will explain below.

      “I mean an ordinary school, where people study and have actual career goals, as in Japan you’re usually supposed to already know what your job will be once you get to high school. You can make a drama around getting used to adult responsibilities, getting and handling a part-time job, going to a “cram school”, the MC’s parents not liking their career plans, and so on.”

      See, that is the exact kind of thing that you will never see coming out of this medium. The reason being is that almost every anime studio is only interested in making money, not creating something that is actually good, interesting, meaningful and potentially educational. What you are describing simply would not sell in this medium, and therefore anime studios will never make such a thing, unless they do not mind losing some money and are prepared to take some sacrifices in order to create something unique and new (like the creators of Tatami Galaxy were prepared).

      The Japanese and their otaku, who are the only important and meaningful audience for anime, are mostly people who seek either some kind of wish fulfillment from anime or escapism; it is either one of the two or both. As a result, modern anime is filled to the brim with escapism, fantasy, fanservice, self insert characters and self insert stories, which are exactly what this kind of audience wants and what sells as a result. The logical follow up to this statement is that anything that does the opposite of what I just described is something that is not wanted by the Japanese and the Otaku, and as a result of this, it would not sell and companies refuse to make such things in fear of losing revenue.

      Stories that generally deal with real issues and problems, and try to carry some kind of meaningful message to the audience are typically not popular with the Japanese and tend to sell like shit. One of the most obvious examples I can bring up to this fact is Welcome to the NHK, which is a title that is popular in the west, but never gained any real traction in Japan and sold like shit. Why? Because Welcome to the NHK was about otaku and NEET lifestyle, something that a very large and important portion of the anime audience are part of. The Japanese otaku and NEETs did not like NHK’s portrayal of their lifestyle and the heavy messages it carried. Consecutively it is obvious why NHK sold only 1000 DVD copies in 2006, while the generic fantasy wish-fulfillment harem anime, Zero no Tsukaima sold 6000 copies also in the same year.

      The anime community has time and time again made clear statements with their wallets and purchases; they do not want anime that actually deals with real issues (and real life in general). The only thing they want is more escapism. Therefore if a school anime like the one you described was made, it would be ignored by the majority of the anime audience and it would also sell like shit. One additional thing to consider is that anime loves to idealize high-school as this dream-fulfilling place of adventures and fun, which is in a stark contrast with how strict and regulated actual Japanese high-schools are. I honestly feel as if many Japanese watch high-school anime to get the successful high-school experience that they never had in their actual life.

      “I don’t see any problems with having a festival or trip at some point of the story, given that this happens in real japanese schools.”

      My problem with them is not that these festivals and trips happen; my problem is that they are just an excuse to push the story forward, or a lazy tool to deepen the relationship of the characters. It feels very cheap and can be seen from miles away, which does not make for good storytelling. A good story flows like water and feels natural. Easily detectable tools and plot devices are the hallmark of an inferior writer who has not yet learned how to naturally forge a story. And if it is not used for story or for character related reasons, then those trips are typically the standard fanservice episodes where we get to see all the girls in revealing clothing at the beach or naked in the onsen, which is just as bad if not worse, considering it is essentially nothing more than filler (read: not necessary).

      “On the other hand, you have this High School-set anime called Sakamoto Desu Ga which is absolutely hilarious.”

      Do not be offended by the things I am about to say, but having read and watched both the manga and the anime, I have to say that I did not see anything special about Sakamoto, other than the possible theory that Sakamoto-kun might have been dying throughout the whole story and was trying to live a fulfilling life while facing his impending death.

      But if we put that unproven theory to the side, what we have is a quite standard high school anime, which is basically about an abnormal student doing his abnormal hijinks in his high school life and the normal classmates reacting to the said hijinks, it is basically a small sub-genre in high school anime and I can name dozens like it, such as Tonari no Seki-kun, Saiki Kusuo no Ψ-nan, Angel Densetsu, Cromatie Highschool, Plastic Nee-san etc.

      Of course we have to consider that humour is very subjective, and that comedy is the most subjective and divisive genre to begin with. What one person might find humorous, another might find in bad taste or the opposite of hilarious, and I am generally the kind of person who can sit through the usual comedy anime without ever laughing or giving a smile, not because I do not have humour, but because my sense of humour is very different from most. But still whether I find it hilarious or not, I must bring attention to the fact that there are many high school anime like Sakamoto Desu Ga.


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