I recently picked up (and finished within two days), the first season of Seitokai Yakuindomo, a highly crude, irreverent and sex-obsessed anime about the student council of the recently turned co-ed high school, Ousai High.
First off, why did I pick up the show? I honestly couldn’t tell you. The second season is currently simulcasting on Crunchyroll and I had wandered into the show thread, just to see what people were saying and, although I didn’t really think the show would be to my tastes, thought I would at least give it a look. The first episode was just about as bad as I thought it would be (excepting the stellar animation from GoHands), and I didn’t really think about going back to the show until the other day, when I for, as I said, inexplicable reasons went and watched the whole show.
I gave Seitokai Yakuindomo a 4/10 (ranking here), and my opinion of the show didn’t really change from the first episode of the first season to the last. So why did I continue watching it?
Because of these guys.
Let me be clear. Seitokai Yakuindomo is not a great show. It’s not even really a good show. The writing is pretty stiff, the jokes rely heavily on the shock value of their remarkably explicit sexual references (even with the censorship considered). But where the show wins is in the characters.
The weird thing is that the characters work, despite their obviously archetypal roles. We have Shino, the beautiful and accomplished student council president; ditzy gorgeous Aria; hot-tempered short girl Suzu and generic nice guy Tsuda. Shino and Aria work because of their sexually inclined teenage brains, Tsuda works because he actually goes through some character development over the course of the series, and Suzu works because…well…she’s cute. The balance between the straight men (Tsuda and Suzu) and the absurd jokes that come from Aria and Shino is quite good, and although the format of joke+straight man comment=laughs is a worn-out one and not particularly that I enjoy.
But it still works. For all the gripes I have about the show, for all the issues I have with the content and for the ease with which I can see through their set-ups, it was still a show that got me from episode 1 to episode 13 without it feeling like a total drag. Without the characters, Seitokai Yakuindomo would be unwatchable.
The reasons archetypes exist is because they work. Archetypes, by nature, strike some chord within the human person and draw us into the story. Seitokai Yakuindomo is a good example of the archetypes placed in perfect harmony with each other. The result is that the characters make each other stronger and their interactions make us relate to them and love them. Despite how vulgar Aria and Shino can be, they are still lovable because they are a fun caricature on the hypersexualized youth trope while still being allowed to have their good traits. And watching slacker Tsuda grow into a more capable vice-president and seeing the whole student council grow closer was a happy experience.
Seitokai Yakuindomo is certainly not the only potentially bad show propped up by its characters. Outbreak Company, Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere, Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta and Servant x Service are all examples of middling shows in various aspects that work simply because they have fun, relatable and entertaining characters. The degree to which characters can improve a show varies from show to show (Yozakura Quartet, for example, is a 6/10 mainly on the strength of its characters), but the simple rule is the character is the most important part of any story. Characters are people, and no matter how archetypal they may be (archetypal, not cliché), we can relate to people simply through our shared humanity.
That’s how bad shows avoid being dropped. And it’s how they still manage to be engaging despite our logical selves telling us that they aren’t worth our time. Likable characters save bad anime.