After all the delays in its production, School 2021 was finally able to premiere before 2021 ended. And I’m glad to meet this generation’s School alum.
Continuing the theme of its predecessors, School 2021 follows a group of high school students and how they deal with the uncertainties and struggles of being a youth. In this version, we were introduced to Gong Ki-joon (Kim Yo-han), Jin Ji-won (Choi Yi-hyun), Jung Young-joo (Choo Yeong-Woo), and Kang Seo-young (Hwang Boreumbyeol). All have different personalities and struggles but they are all students of Nulji Science Technical High School. The setting was what differentiate this series from the other installments in the School franchise. Aside from the usual subplot about school politics and corruption, the series tried to show that high school students could take a different path other than attending college and universities. It was the series’ way of continuing the franchise’s goal of showing the current struggles of this generation’s youth. This certain subplot would probably be boring or predictable to some but it was at least bearable for me, enough to continue watching the series.
I think what really made me stay are the characters, their individual storylines, and of course, the romantic subplots. The main characters have interesting and intertwining storylines. Like how Ki-joon and Young-joo were best friends in the past before tragedy tore them apart. But as their carpentry club forced them to stay together, the two learned to let go of their past wounds and mend their friendship. This part was dragged on a bit in the series, considering a lot of things were happening in every episode. But seeing how they grew closer again and mend their friendship was worth it. Especially when these two and the other Nulji students worked together to protect their school. The friendship between the main characters as well as the supporting characters was a delight to watch.
Their story with their teachers too was a welcome addition to its plot. It was good to watch the backstories of the teachers Lee Kang-hoon (Jun Suk-ho) and Song Chae-rin (Kim Gyu-sun) and know their motivations for their actions. Lee Kang-hoon’s progress with the students was part of what I look forward in every episode. And I’m glad that he embraced his calling of being a teacher in the end despite his reluctance at the start of the series.
The part that I enjoyed the most in this series is the romantic subplots. We got at least four couples in this series and all of them were adorable in their own way. Two of them were composed of the supporting characters Go Eun-bi (Seo Hee-sun) and Ji Ho-sung (Kim Kang-min) and Lee Jae-hee (Yoon Yi-rae) and Jeon Jong-bok (Kim Nu-rim). Lee Jae-hee and Jong-bok have shorter and thinner plots compared to others. All of their screen time though was cute to watch, especially because it’s part of Jae-hee’s individual character development. She was a loner who only wants to have friends but because of her family connection, she became sort of an outcast. In the end, she didn’t just become popular with friends but got a boyfriend adoring her too.
Another character who adores his partner is Ji Ho-sung. He was also friends with Ki-joon and Ji-won. But when she’s not busy teasing these two or joining them in their extracurricular things, Ho-sung is a dedicated “manager” to aspiring idol Go Eun-bi. These two were really good at giving comic relief when things with the main characters become too dramatic. But they also have their serious moments especially with Eun-bi’s struggle as a trainee and Ho-sung becoming a young dad. The latter was actually a unique story development for me. Although they used a light-hearted approach for it, I’m still amused that they were able to write this kind of story.
Now with our main lovelines – Ki-joon and Ji-won and Young-joo and Seo-young. With them, they used romantic tropes that I personally like such as the semi-cohabitation and fake dating tropes. I squeal in delight as I watch Seo-young ask Young-joo to be her pretend boyfriend. The class’ top student and the newbie “troublemaker” in a contractual relationship has been used in other series but I won’t get tired of watching it. I think what made this subplot work is Seo-young and Young-joo’s backstories. Both may come off as aloof and uncaring but these two protect and stay loyal to people they care about. Young-joo, though, had to deal with his family issues and an unrequited crush on Ji-won first before he finally realized his feelings for Seo-young is more than just being grateful to a newfound friend. The development was slow but it was satisfying to watch how the uptight Seo-young fell in love and became happy with Young-joo.
Our main couple Ki-joon and Ji-won were adorable to watch too. We got the friends-to-lovers trope and yes they live under the same roof too so that counts as a semi-cohabitation. These two have a lot on their plates in every episode. Ki-joon had to deal with their family’s financial struggles and the eventual death of his grandfather. On the other hand, Ji-won is in conflict with her mother, who is the director of an academy. They couldn’t meet eye-to-eye when it comes to Ji-won’s decision to focus on carpentry instead of going to universities like the other kids her age. But what I love about this couple is that there is progress in their loveline in every episode. They dealt with their individual struggles and at the same time, understand the feelings inside their young heart. And this is the core of School 2021 – to show the ups and downs of being young.
The series may be cliché and predictable in some parts but it never really portrayed itself as something else rather than a light-hearted coming-of-age series. It’s goal was to make its audience laugh, cry, and fall in love like it was the first time, like they were young too. One would surely be left with a smile on their face after watching School 2021.
-They really had to kill Park In-hwan’s character here too eh. Haraboji, waeyo?!