35-sai no Koukousei
Series Review by David Cirone
No Dropping Out -Back to School at 35- (35-sai no Koukousei) aims for shock value and social relevance, framing the struggles of modern high school students inside an outrageous premise — what if a beautiful, smart, world-experienced 35-year-old woman put on a school uniform and came to class with these impressionable teenagers?
The result is a flat, predictable, and meandering middle-school play, the kind where every kid gets one line to justify their presence on stage and make their parents happy. Each episode focuses on a different member of the senior class at Kunikida High who reveals his or her secret troubles (bullying, self-esteem, academic pressure) to the mysterious new student Ayako Baba (Ryoko Yonekura). By the end of each episode, somebody cries, Baba gives some inspirational advice, and then smiles come back again.
Why is Baba here? What is the secret story that motivates her? Her enemies are determined to find out, and the slow build to the climactic revelation is ever-so-slow. It’s clear that the scriptwriters just didn’t know what to do with this character when she wasn’t in the classroom. Repeated shots of Baba sitting alone in her dark room, slowly turning the pages of her secret diary, seem to hint at at intense depression, maybe even psychosis. But there’s no real person here, just an mouthpiece for judgmental speeches about self-empowerment and accusatory rhetoric about the injustice of the high school caste system.
The parents are missing in action during all this chaos, and no one seems to care that much about a full-grown woman sitting in the middle of the classroom (of course, the boys don’t complain). The teachers in this story are impotent, obvious targets to show you that “kids are right” and “adults can’t be trusted”. There’s an episode late in the series where the students literally take over the school — prison-riot style — to put Baba on trial, and of course no adult takes action because… well, we’ve still got some episodes to fill.
Manipulative piano scoring for sentimental moments, Final Fantasy-like choral music for the dramatic moments — every point of this story is signposted to let you know what you’re supposed to be feeling. But it’s a hollow enterprise, barely held together by Yonekura’s star power and charisma.
Watch on Crunchyroll: http://www.crunchyroll.com/no-dropping-out-back-to-school-at-35-